The Lost (and Found) Library of Thomas Jefferson

It’s not often that the discovery of a collection of rare books makes national news – but when those books are Thomas Jefferson’s, even the Today Show takes notice.

This morning – on President’s Day – there was an announcement on the NBC news program that a large number of books belonging to our third president were discovered among the collections of Washington University in St. Louis.

That makes the university the third largest holder of Jefferson’s surviving book collection, after the Library of Congress in the District, and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

After a bit of sleuthing, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation – located at Jefferson’s home Monticello in Charlottesville – discovered 74 of those books at Washington University’s library. They had been donated in 1880 from the collection of a husband of one of Jefferson’s granddaughters, but lost to historians for 130 years.

It turns out that they took a circuitous route there – from Charlottesville to Washington, D.C. to Boston, and finally to St. Louis. Missouri was a fitting repository for the collection – it was part of the territory in the Louisiana Purchase bought by Jefferson during his presidency.

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