New York City

From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia

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Jefferson first visited New York City[1]in May 1766, but little is known of his itinerary. He wrote that on the way his hourse ran away twice and he almost drowned in fording a river. He later mentioned that he stayed at the same boardinghouse at Elbridge Gerry, a future advocate for the Republican cause. [2] He then visited again in June 1784 on his way to Boston to sail for Paris. [3] He stayed at Dorothy Elsworth's boardinghouse on 19 Madien Lane, visited a bookshop at 1 Queen Street, took a ferry to and from Long Island, and on June 5 lodged "Wilson's" at Fort Washington. He did not return to the city until 1790 as a forty-seven-year-old international celebrity and secretary of state. Although Jefferson spent less than six months in residence, during this time he organized the first Patent Office, coordinated diplomatic affairs with Europe, served as Washington's assistant, and worked out a compromise with Madison and Hamilton on a Federal assumption of state debts in return for a permanent capital on the Potomac.

After leaving Monticello on March 1 and spending a week in Richmond, he arrived in New York City on March 21, accompanied by his slave Robert Hemings. On this journey, he encountered 18 inches of snow and had to give up his own carriage and horses in Alexandria; the roads were so bad that the stage he rode in did not go more than three miles per hour. [4] Upon arrival, he paid portage at the City Tavern (torn down in 1793) which was located on the block between Cedar and Thames Streets, at 115 Broadway, next to Trinity Church. He probably resided at Mrs. Dunscomb's boardinghouse on 22 King Street, however, until he moved into his own place in June 2. He wrote to his daughter Martha: "I find it difficult to procure a tolerable house here... I have taken an indifferent one nearly opposite Mrs. Elsworth's, which may give me time to look about me and provide a better before the arrival of my furniture." [5] His house, located at 57 Maiden Lane, was rented from Robert and Peter Bruce, grocers at 3 Front Street, "for 100 pounds per year." [6] St. John de Crevecoeur wrote that Jefferson "lived in a mean house in Maiden Lane and not approving much of the stiff style and etiquette of New York he gave up all his time to the establishment of his new department, foreign affairs, and home." [7] To his home he added a multi-windowed gallery in the back for his papers, books, and plants. A plaque erected in 1921 by the Home Insurance Company commemorates Jefferson's place of residence in the former capital.

Many venues have Jefferson associations. On July 10, Jefferson traveled to Fort Washington (near W. 183rd Street) on the northern end of Manhattan with President Washington. They dines at Washington's 1776 headquarters, the present Jumel Mansion on W. 160th Street Edgecomb Avenue. On July 13, he took plants to Charles Brannon's "Tea Garden" (Spring and Hudson Streets) and went on excursions to Brooklyn, Jamaica, and Flushing (site of William Prince's nursery). He borrowed a book from the New York Society Library in City Hall, went to Hell Gate, and purchased many items, including an engraving of Joseph Wright's portrait of Washington and Bartram's Travels through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East & West Florida. He dealt with many merchants, whose names and locations are generally known. For example, he purchased Madiera from James Farquhar, a merchant at 5 Hanover Square, a revolving chair and its companion sofa from Thomas Burling, the well-known cabinetmaker at 36 Beekman Street, and he acquired china and glass from William Williams at 80 William Street and 30 Madien Lane. He paid Ignatius Schnydore at 28 John Street for fresco painting and Effingham Lawrence, a druggist at 227 Queen Street, for red bark and toothbrushes.

Although Jefferson did not have extensive ties with New York City again, except as a starting point for his tour of upstate New York and New England at the end of May 1791, it was in New York City that the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation formed in 1923 to acquire Monticello and turn it into a "national shrine". The majority of people who signed the Certificate of Incorporation were New York City residents, and their offices were located on 115 Broadway, the former site of the City Tavern where Jefferson had "paid portage" 133 years ago.


  1. This article is based on Rebecca Bowman, Monticello Research Report, October 1998.
  2. Jefferson's Garden Book entry for May 11, 1766 records: "went journey to Maryland, Pannsylva New York. Betts, Garden Book, 1. See also Jefferson to Levi Lincoln, April 25, 1801.
  3. Jefferson's Memorandum Book entry for June 5, 1784 records: "Pd. Mrs. Elsworth 6. days lodging. Jefferson's Memorandum Books, eds. James A. Bear and Lucia C. Stanton (Princeton University Press, 1997).
  4. TH to Thomas Mann Randolph, March 28, 1790.
  5. Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph, April 4, 1790.
  6. MB, 1: 755.
  7. PTJ, 16:279.