Andrew K. Smith’s Account of Thomas Jefferson’s Funeral
Mr. Andrew K. Smith, of the General Land Office, having noticed the death of Col. Thomas Jefferson Randolph, of Virginia, sends the Washington Republican the following interesting personal remembrances of the deceased and of Jefferson. They constitute a valuable contribution to the current literature of the day:
I well remember the last time I saw him, in the summer of 1826. He was then a tall, fine-looking person, about thirty-five years of age. It was at Monticello, the residence of his grandfather, the immortal Thos. Jefferson, and the singular circumstances attending the funeral of the latter is fresh in my memory. Nearly fifty years having elapsed since then, and the greater portion of those present at the burial having passed to their reward, I have thought I would give you and the readers of your valuable paper the benefit of the recollections of my younger days, should you think them worthy of publication.
Mr. Jefferson had been for some time confined to his house, and about the 1st of July, 1826, the sad news was brought to Charlottesville and the University of Virginia that Dr. Dunglinson, professor of medicine at the University, and Mr. Jefferson’s family physician, had pronounced his case a hopeless one. You may imagine the grief of his old friends from Charlottesville who had known him from youth to old age, and of the students of the University who [. . .]1 him as the rector of their Alma Mater.
On the third of that month the doctor, having stated that his illustrious patient was calmly yet fast sinking, was importuned to try his skill to prolong his life, at least until the next day, that he might see the sun rise upon the fiftieth anniversary of the day when he framed the Declaration of Independence. All was done that care and skill could do, but about one o’clock, P. M., on the 4th of July, 1826, while the cannons were booming around us, we were notified by the tolling of the court-house bell that the spirit of the author of the Declaration of Independence had taken its flight from its tenement of clay.
The time of the funeral was fixed for 5 o’clck, P. M., July 6, and it was arranged that the procession should form on the court-house square at 4 o’clock, but a difference of opinion arose as to whether the citizens or students were entitled to the right in the procession, and much time was lost, and several of us, becoming tired of the discussion, turned our horses’ heads to the mountain. On arriving at the cemetery, we found that the coffin had been removed from the house and was resting on narrow planks placed across the grave, (with a view of enabling the great number expected to have a better opportunity of seeing it.) Ex-Governor Thomas Mann Randolph (who was not on good terms with Mr. Jefferson,) thought it the duty of his son to inform the clergyman that they were awaiting the arrival of the citizens, professors and students, and his son, deeming it the duty of his father to do so kept silent [and] the services went on to the close of the same. The grave was filled up, and the thirty or forty persons who witnessed the interment started for home, and met the procession, numbering about one thousand five hundred persons, coming up the mountain. They were sorely disappointed, and, in some cases, angered at the report we made, and were only satisfied when an explanation was made the next day in the Charlottesville Advocate.
Mr. Jefferson died poor. Monticello was sold to the late Dr. James Barclay, who, with his family resided there a year or two. He subsequently became a minister of the “Disciples,” now called “Christian Church,” and was sent to Jerusalem, in Palestine, where he remained seven years, having previously sold Monticello to an officer in the navy by the name of Levy. I have not seen the place for more than thirty years, and do not know who is the present owner of it. Among the students present at the funeral, I recollect seeing Edgar A. Poe, a high-minded and honorable young man, though easily persuaded to his wrong; also, Robert M. T. Hunter, of Virginia, and Colonel John S. Preston, of South Carolina. I believe the last two persons are still living.