Thomas Jefferson’s Life & Times

Thomas Jefferson

“I continue in the enjoyment of good health, take much exercise, and make frequent journies to Bedford, the only journies I now take, or ever expect to take.”
—Thomas Jefferson, age 68, January 10, 1811

A Personal Pursuit of Happiness

Thomas Jefferson was a man of relentless curiosity—fascinated by the world around him, always learning from what he encountered, and never saying no to the call for public service. At the young age of 36, during his tenure as governor of Virginia, Jefferson began to think about retiring from public life. Retirement would not come, however, until 1809 when he was 65 years old. He described his feelings, “Never did a prisoner, released from his chains, feel such relief as I shall on shaking off the shackles of power.”

When Jefferson visited his Poplar Forest property in 1801, a rainstorm left him cooped up in the overseer’s house—with numerous dogs and children. Jefferson spent his time—in what was undoubtedly a cramped and noisy setting—computing how long it would take to pay the national debt. It was then that he began to realize the advantages of building a more tranquil place. Five years later, construction began on the house and grounds at Poplar Forest.

Poplar Forest was an important part of Jefferson’s life after age 65: a private retreat, situated far from the public scrutiny, where he could indulge in his favorite pastimes of reading, studying and thinking. This was a creative time in his life. He wrote to friends and colleagues, oversaw his farms, exchanged plants and seeds with fellow gardeners, read ceaselessly and designed his most personal landscape and architectural creation at Poplar Forest—a place where he came to find rest and leisure, rekindle his creativity, and to enjoy private family time. Jefferson loved having his grandchildren accompany him to Poplar Forest where they would spend quality time together.

Explore Jefferson’s personality, his talents, and his personal pursuit of happiness at Poplar Forest.