10 things you didn’t know about Thomas Jefferson

Monticello watercolor by Gail McIntosh - Thomas Jefferson played games with his grandchildren at Monticello, his Virginia home.

Thomas Jefferson was the third president of the United States.

That’s the most boring thing you’ll read about him in this story.

Consider this: For most of the people who have been president of the United States (and there have been only 43, and they’ve all been men), that title would be the highlight of a lifetime, the accomplishment to be most proud of, the first thing to appear on your gravestone.

Not so with Jefferson. He chose three accomplishments to be recorded on his tombstone, and being president didn’t even make the list.

What did?

Keep reading. We’ll get around to telling you.

KidsPost’s Tracy Grant recently spent a day at Monticello, Jefferson’s beautiful mountaintop home (Monticello is Italian for “little mountain”) in Charlottesville, Virginia. This article isn’t meant to tell you his life story, because endless books have already been written about him. It is meant to give you a sense that this fun, funny, endlessly curious man would have been an in­cred­ibly cool person to know.

10 cool facts about Jefferson:

10. He totally would have had an iPad. Jefferson loved science, technology and innovation. One of his favorite devices was a rotating bookstand that could hold five books at once. Kind of like having five windows open on your computer.

9. He was a great grandfather. He had 12 grandchildren, and many of them lived with him at the same time. He would organize races for the kids on the enormous lawn of Monticello. He also taught them how to play chess and a game called Goose, one of the first board games in the United States; it’s a bit like today’s game of Chutes and Ladders.

8. He loved to play. As a boy, the freckle-faced Jefferson played with his friends on the land where he would eventually build Monticello. He would explore the woods, creeks and streams.

7. He was an early archaeologist. He had the bones of a mastodon, an animal from 40 million years ago that looked a bit like an elephant, sent to him at the White House. He laid the bones out in what is now known as the East Room in an attempt to build a skeleton.

6. He loved books. And we really mean he LOVED books. How many books do you have in your house? More than 20? More than 50? More than 100? In 1814, the original Library of Congress was attacked by British troops and all the books were burned. Jefferson offered his personal library as a replacement. In 1815, the Library of Congress was restocked — with Jefferson’s 6,487 books.

5. He loved to write letters. We’re not talking e-mails, tweets or text messages here. Jefferson wrote about 19,000 letters during his lifetime. He also used a machine called a polygraph that made copies as he wrote.

4. He loved vanilla ice cream. He probably first tasted ice cream while traveling in France. He brought home a recipe for it, which is now in the Library of Congress.

3. He would have loved Home Depot. “Putting up and pulling down, one of my favourite amusements,” Jefferson said about the building of Monticello. It took him more than 40 years to complete the house’s 33 rooms on four floors. Many of the rooms are octagonal, because he loved the shape. He had doors equipped with a special handle so that he could close two doors using just one handle. He had skylights put in the ceiling because he wanted to bring the beauty of the outside in.

2. He kept pet mockingbirds. He loved their singing and often had at least four at a time. His favorite bird was named Dick.

1. What he was most proud of: Now that you know how much Jefferson loved to read and to write and how much he valued knowledge, here is what is inscribed at his grave: “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom and Father of the University of Virginia.”

 
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