Physical Descriptions of Jefferson

From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia

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Peale portrait of Jefferson
Peale portrait of Jefferson

1781-1824. (Isaac Jefferson, slave at Monticello) "Mr. Jefferson was a tall, straight-bodied man as ever you see, right square-shouldered. Nary a man in this town [Petersburg] walked so straight as my Old Master. Neat a built man as ever was seen in Vaginny . . . . a straight-up man, long face, high nose.[1]

1790. (William Maclay) "Jefferson is a slender man; has rather the air of stiffness in his manners; his clothes seem too small for him . . . one shoulder elevated above the other (while sitting)..."

1801-09. (Samuel Harrison Smith) "The stature of Jefferson was lofty and erect; his motions flexible and easy; neither remarkable for, nor deficient in grace; and such were his strength and agility..."

1802. (William Plumer) "a tall, highboned man"

1806-22. (Edmund Bacon, overseer at Monticello) "Mr. Jefferson was six feet two and half inches high, well proportioned and straight as a gun barrel. He was like a fine horse; he had no surplus flesh. His countenance was always mild and pleasant."

1807. (Sir Augustus John Foster) "...appearance being very much like that of a large-boned farmer was very tall and bony..."

1808. (Frances Few) "...he is a tall thin man very dignified in his appearance...his face is short and his nose and chin approach each other -- his teeth are good he shews but little of them when he laughs -- he stoops very much but holds his head high..."

1809-26. (B. L. Rayner) "...a strong and sprightly step...the tall and animated, and stately figure..."

1815. (Francis Calley Gray) "His figure bony, long and with broad shoulders, a true Virginian."

1816. (Francis Hall) "I found Mr. Jefferson tall in person, but stooping and lean with old age, thus exhibiting the fortunate mode of bodily decay, which strips the frame of its most cumbersome parts, leaving it still strength of muscle and activity of limb."

1820. (Isaac Briggs) "His 77th year finds him strong, active and in full possession of a sound mind. He rides a trotting horse and sits on him straight as a young man."

1820. (Adam Hodgson) "Mr. Jefferson's appearance is rather prepossessing. He is tall and very thin, a little bent with age..."

Sully portrait of Jefferson
Sully portrait of Jefferson

1822. (Reverand S. A. Bumstead) "...his hair is quite thick...his features regular...he was remarkably erect and had every appearance of antiquity about him."

1822. (D. P. Thompson) "Mr. Jefferson a tall, straight [man]."

c. 1822. (Judith Walker Rives) "...his tall figure had lost none of its uprightness..."

1823. (Alexander H. H. Stuart) "...raw boned man, with rather large hands..."

1824. (Daniel Webster) "Mr. Jefferson is now between eighty-one and eighty-two, above six feet high, of an ample, long frame, rather thin and spare. His head, which is not peculiar in its shape, is set rather forward on his shoulders, and his neck being long, there is, when he is walking or conversing, an habitual protrusion of it. It is still well covered with hair, which having been once red, and now turning gray, is an indistinct sandy color.</p>

His eyes are small, very light, and now neither brilliant nor striking. His chin is rather long, but not pointed. His nose small, regular in its outline, and the nostrils a little elevated. His mouth is well formed and still filled with teeth; it is strongly compressed, bearing an expression of contentment and benevolence. His complexion, formerly light and freckled, now bears the marks of age and cutaneous affection. His limbs are uncommonly long; his hands and feet very large, and his wrists of an extraordinary size. His walk is not precise and military, but easy and swinging. He stoops a little, not so much from age as from natural formation. When sitting, he appears short, partly from a rather lounging habit of sitting, and partly from the disproportionate length of his limbs...His general appearance indicates an extraordinary degree of health, vivacity, and spirit.[2]

1824. (Samuel Whitcomb, Jr.) "He is tall and very straight excepting his neck which appears limber and inclined to crook. His hair is long and thin."

Ante 1826. (George Tucker) "In person he was above six feet high, thin and erect."


  1. This article is based on Zanne Macdonald, Monticello Research Report, July 1992.
  2. Peterson, Visitors, 97.