HE WOULD SET AN ALARM
Jefferson habitually rose by first light. He once told a visitor to Monticello that the sun had not caught him in bed in 50 years. In today’s world it is hard to imagine that he would even risk sleeping in. Maybe he would find a really fancy alarm clock with some whiz-bang contraption—better yet, invent it himself.
Bill Barker, who interprets Jefferson at Colonial Williamsburg, says that although religion was an intensely private matter to him, there is evidence that Jefferson would start the day with a prayer. “He said his first obligation is unto my Creator to assure him throughout the day I will do my duty unto him, which is simply to do good.”
HE WOULD CHECK HIS EMAIL BEFORE BREAKFAST
The day’s work began with a flurry of letter writing. (Kids, those are the messages that people used to write down on paper and send to each other through the mail. Ask your parents.)
Jefferson kept up a voluminous correspondence. He wrote an estimated 20,000 letters and undoubtedly received many more than that. We can only imagine how many emails he would have to respond to in today’s world.
Breakfast typically included hoe cakes (basically, pancakes made with cornmeal instead of flour), some cold meat, and coffee or tea. Jefferson preferred coffee, says Barker. “He said it was the drink of the civilized world.”
HE’D GO TO WORK
If Jefferson was holding office—which was most of the time—he would start tackling whatever administrative work the day held for him. Through his life, he held an impressive array of appointed and elected posts, including delegate to the Continental Congress, governor of Virginia, ambassador to France, secretary of state, vice president and, of course, president. Did you know that presiding over the newly created Patent Office was among his duties as secretary of state?
Dinner would be ready sometime 2:30 or 3 o’clock. This was the largest meal of the day, and more often than not it was shared with a large number of associates, visitors or colleagues. “He said he rarely dined with fewer than fourteen people at the table,” says Barker. Many of those at dinner were family members, but one wonders if today a business lunch would be more likely.
HE WOULDN’T MIND SHOPPING FOR DINNER
Farming was the life for most everyone in the 18th century. Perhaps in the computer age Jefferson would be keeping close tabs on a different kind of business, replacing his careful handwritten journals with an iPad or two.
Jefferson’s extensive gardens provided a rich variety of herbs and vegetables for meals. As president, he often rode to Georgetown to inspect the markets once a week, personally selecting some of the food he wanted prepared at the White House.
HE’D HAVE A HEALTHY SUPPER WITH FRIENDS
The early afternoon meal was the main one, but Jefferson “supped” with family and friends at the end of the day, picking over some of the leftovers from dinner. “He was a discerning diner,” says Barker. He ate relatively little meat, preferring well-cooked vegetables.
“Jefferson was an incessant conversationalist,” says Barker, and not overly formal. Although he was of course a well-mannered Virginia gentleman, in private company he was known for putting his leg over the occasional chair rail.