Natural Bridge

From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia

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Natural Bridge, 1808 engraving by J. C. Stadler, after William Roberts. Photo by H. Andrew Johnson
Natural Bridge, 1808 engraving by J. C. Stadler, after William Roberts. Photo by H. Andrew Johnson

When passing through what is now Rockbridge County, Virginia, on 23 August 1767, Thomas Jefferson viewed the Natural Bridge,[1] probably for the first time. At that time he took notes on the inside back cover of his 1767 Memorandum Book. These notes were the basis for Jefferson's famous description of this "most sublime of Nature's works" in his Notes on the State of Virginia. By 1773 Jefferson had taken steps to become the owner of the rock bridge and in 1774 he received a patent for a 157-acre tract which included it (MB. 10 June 1773, cash accounts, 15 September 1773, legal section; Land Patent Book, XLII, 657-68). Jefferson often thought of building there "a little hermitage" where he might spend part of every year (TJ to William Carmichael, 26 December 1786). Although this project was never carried out, he did make at least three more recorded visits to the bridge, in 1815, 1817, and 1821, and possibly in 1781.

In 1809, a financially disastrous year, Jefferson tried to sell the tract, and he periodically leased it for saltpeter mining and use as a shot tower. By 1815, however, he had "no idea of selling the land. I view it in some degree as a public trust, and would on no consideration permit the bridge to be injured, defaced or masked from public view" (TJ to William Caruthers, 7 September 1809; 15 March 1815). The Natural Bridge was sold in 1833 as part of Jefferson's estate.

How much was it?

On June 10, 1773, Jefferson recorded in his Memorandum Book: Pd. at S.O. returng. my own 157 as. for Natural Bridge. L2-15s-4d.[2] Jefferson paid at the Surveyor General's Office (he was paying the Sec. of the Colony) at Williamsburg for a survey warrant. Shortly thereafter Jefferson paid James Tremble L2-1s-8d "for making survey of my entry on Natural bridge." On July 5, 1774 a patent in the name of George III was issued to him.

L1=20s, and 6s=$1 (Spanish dollars). L2-15s-4d thus equals about 55s, or $9, and L2-1s-8d=41s, or $7. The grand total for the purchase is 96s, or $16, roughly $160 in today's money.


  1. This section is based on Lucia Stanton, Monticello Research Report, April 1995.
  2. This section is based on RLB, Research Report, March 1997.

Further Sources