From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia

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Thomas Jefferson first mentions tomatoes in Query VI of his Notes on the State of Virginia: "The gardens yield muskmelons, watermelons, tomatas, okra, pomegranates, figs, and the esculent plants of Europe." [1] One of our research historians notes that "Jefferson does not single out tomatoes as unusual objects in Virginia gardens, and in other parts of the country, the fruit was also available."[2] He recorded planting tomatoes all of the years that he kept his Garden Kalendar (1809-1824), and included them in his chart of vegetables sold in the markets in Washington, D.C.[3] Tomatoes commonly appear in the Jefferson family recipe collections. Two varieties Jefferson planted most often were the “dwarf” and the “Spanish,” which was described as “very much larger than the common kinds.

Jefferson himself never mentioned the belief by some that tomatoes were poisonous. There is a story that, on a visit to Lynchburg, he terrified one of the locals when he paused to snack on a tomato on the steps of the Miller-Claytor house;[4] our researchers have found no proof that this incident ever happened.

Primary Source References[5]

1811 February 11. (Memorandum for Poplar Forest). "prepared bed next Southwardly for tomatas."[6]

1813 March 2. (Jefferson to Randolph Jefferson). "I sent enough to put you in stock...tomatas..."[7]

1814 March 21. (Seed & Grain committed to care of W. McAndrews for Mr. Jefferson). "Lare white cabbage, white onion, tomata..."[8]


  1. Notes, ed. Peden, 43.
  2. Damon Lee Fowler, ed., Dining at Monticello: In Good Taste and Abundance (Charlottesville: Thomas Jefferson Foundation, 2005), 122.
  3. Copy at the Library of Congress.
  4. Saga of a City: Lynchburg, Virginia, 1786-1936 (Lynchburg, Va.: Lynchburg Sesqui-Centennial Association, 1936), 57-59.
  5. Please note that this list should not be considered comprehensive.
  6. Betts, Garden Book, 465.
  7. Ibid, 506.
  8. Ibid, 613.

Further Sources