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Monticello honors Jefferson’s birthday

Laura Dean Bennett
Staff Writer

This Friday, April 13, will mark Thomas Jefferson’s 275th birthday. 

Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, and served as this country’s third president – 1801 to 1809.

The founding father was born April 13, 1743, in Albermarle County, Virginia, at Shadwell, his family’s plantation.

He was one of the finest minds of the 18th century – a true Renaissance man.

Jefferson was an author, inventor, lawyer, politician, architect, farmer, scientist, diplomat, educator and epicure.

As it does every year, Monticello – the museum that was once Jefferson’s beautiful Charlottesville home – will celebrate the day with pomp and circumstance.

Not that Jefferson would have approved.

He made it quite clear that he did not care for birthday celebrations.

A friend once recalled hearing him say that the only birthday he was fond of celebrating was that of his country – the Fourth of July. 

In 1803, while president, Jefferson mentioned how he felt about public knowledge of his birthday when he told his attorney general, in writing, “I have declined letting my own birthday be known, and have engaged my family not to communicate it.”

There has been no reference ever found in his or his family’s papers that there ever was a birthday party or gathering of any sort to celebrate the day, before or after he became president.

An interesting note about Jefferson’s date of birth is that, officially, he had two birthdays.

His birthdate is inscribed as “April 2, 1743 O.S.” on his tombstone at Monticello.

Jefferson was born before we began using the Gregorian calendar, when we were still using the Julian calendar – what came to be known as the “Old Style” calendar. 

The “Old Style” calendar was in effect in England and her colonies until 1752, when the Gregorian or “New Style” calendar was adopted.

The calendar change happened when Jefferson was nine years old, and his birthday then became April 13 to reflect the “New Style” calendar. 

A ceremony to mark the 275th  anniversary of Jefferson’s birth will begin on the West Lawn at Monticello at 9:45 a.m. with a performance by the Fife and Drum Corps.

The University of Virginia and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello will present their three highest honors, the 2018 Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medals in Architecture, Citizen Leadership and Law.

An address will be given by Cary Fowler, this year’s recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Citizen Leadership.

Fowler is the founder of the famous Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which is the world’s largest collection of crop diversity, housing more than 930,000 distinct varieties. 

The Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medals recognize the outstanding contributions of recipients to the endeavors in which Jefferson excelled and held in high regard.

The medals are the highest external honors bestowed by the University of Virginia. The university grants no honorary degrees. 

The awards are presented each year by the president of the University and the president of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, the nonprofit organization that owns and operates Monticello.

April 13 is known at the university as “Founder’s Day” – celebrating Jefferson’s life and his founding of the school in Charlottesville in 1819.

The celebration is free and open to the public. 

For those who cannot attend, it will also be live streamed online at

As though he purposefully waited to see one more Independence Day, Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, only a few hours before President John Adams, his old friend and one-time political rival, passed away.

To put us in the mood to celebrate Jefferson’s birthday, here are a few of his most famous quotes:

“Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.”

“I hold it, that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.”

“He who knows best knows how little he knows.”

“On matters of style, swim with the current, on matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

“He who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attending to it, and truths without the world’s believing him. This falsehood of tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all its good dispositions.”

“Every day is lost in which we do not learn something useful. Man has no nobler or more valuable possession than time.”
“The whole art of government consists in the art of being honest.”

“Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst and cold.”

“When the subject is strong, simplicity is the only way to treat it.”

“I find friendship to be like wine, raw when new, ripened with age, the true old man’s milk and restorative cordial.”

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