Thomas and Patty (Martha) Jefferson had read Laurence Sterne’s novel Tristram Shandy. As Patty Jefferson lay dying in September of 1782, the two Jeffersons sat at her bed and wrote out together this quotation from the commonplace book. It started out in Patty Jefferson’s handwriting, on a little 4 by 4 inch piece of paper. Patty Jefferson began:

Time wastes too fast: every letter / I trace tells me with what rapidity life follows my pen. The days and hours / of it are flying over our heads like clouds of a windy day never to return…

[and written by Thomas]

and every time I kiss thy hand to bid adieu, every absence which / follows it, are preludes to the eternal separation which we are shortly to make!


For the remainder of his life, Jefferson kept this paper with a lock of Martha’s hair entwined around it. He kept it in a secret drawer beside his bed.

“On her deathbed, holding her hand in his, Mr. Jefferson promised her solemnly that he would never marry again. And he never did.” – Edward Bacon, overseer.


“Patty Jefferson died September 6, 1782. When she finally closed her eyes, Jefferson fainted and was carried insensible out of the room. For three weeks he did not leave his room. He couldn’t talk. At this time, a bond began to form between Jefferson and his daughter, Martha, who they called Patsy, and Patsy was the only one, apparently, who could get through to him.” Thomas Jefferson, Ken Burns.  (Below, Jefferson’s watch with hair from his wife.)

“He walked almost incessantly night and day, lying down only when nature was completely exhausted on a palette that had been brought in during his long fainting fit. When at last he left his room, he rode out, and from that time he was incessantly on horseback, rambling about on the least frequented roads and just as often through the woods, and those melancholy rambles. I was his constant companion, a solitary witness to many a violent burst of grief.” – Patsy Jefferson, his daughter.

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