Thomas Jefferson On The Farm

In 1794 Jefferson returned to his seven Virginia farms – Monticello, Shadwell, Tugton, Lego, Poplar Forest, Bear Creek, and Tomahawk following a decade of public service. Only about one thousand acres were under cultivation. Apparently there was profit in tobacco, but he refused to grow it. Instead, he turned to wheat because there was a ready market for it in England. However, two years of drought increased his massive debt owed to England and Scotland bankers. The third year the river barge carrying his wheat harvest encountered a heavy storm and ruined what was aboard. Eventually, he turned to nail making which required a small amount of startup capital. In a good year he could turn about one thousand dollars profit.

He employed a dozen boys ages 10 to 16 to manage the forges and anvils. Each morning he weighed out the nail rod and compared it to the weight on the nails. He speaks of beginning at dawn and quitting at dusk. (Perhaps that dark-to-dark was a normal day, but if I were a 16-year-old that would certain infringe on my love life). Without a doubt these boys were slaves because he makes reference to special awards to the best producers. So maybe there was time for chasing skirts after all.

All the while Jefferson was rebuilding Monticello. Once he wrote to George Washington that he was living in a brick-kiln. There were times when one hundred men were laboring on the house.

When he retired to Monticello many thought he would take up farming. In reality, however, he had little patience for farming. Instead his golden years were spent digging, building, and inventing.