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Hand-colored Thomas Jefferson portrait 1907

This hand-colored photograph of a portrait of Thomas Jefferson was exhibited at the 1907 Jamestown Ter-Centennial Exposition and is now in the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation collection.

It seems that college students will be college students, even in 18th-century Williamsburg, Virginia, and even if one of those students would become one of our country’s most esteemed revolutionaries.

All around the Tower (east) entrance to Bruton Parish Church, you can see many initials carved into the soft bricks.  A close examination of this early graffiti will reveal the initials “TJ.”  In the 18th century, the east gallery of the church was reserved for students at the College of William and Mary.  If you are seated in the east gallery today, and your eyes begin to wander, you might spy the initials “TJ” carved into the gallery’s railing.

One of the longest-standing legends around Bruton Parish Church is that these two sets of initials were placed there by Mr. Thomas Jefferson, principal author of the Declaration of Independence. 

After attending the College of William and Mary and reading law, Jefferson quickly became one of youngest of political thinkers who became involved in the conflict between British authority and American rights.  In his 1774 Summary View of the Rights of British America, Jefferson defended self-government, asserting that political power ultimately derived from the people and that “the God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time.”  Two years later, Jefferson expanded this philosophy in the Declaration of Independence, where he set forth the principles behind America’s revolution and justified to the world its bold bid for independence.

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