Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson, Portrait by Rembrandt Peale1

President Thomas Jefferson wrote to Nicholas Fitzhugh for information about a route to travel from Washington, DC to his home at Monticello, passing through Ravensworth and avoiding the public roads wherever possible. The letter dated Sunday, March 25, 1804 said that he proposed to depart on Thursday or Friday (March 29 or 30).

Nicholas Fitzhugh replied on Tuesday, March 27. He enclosed a map covering part of the journey through Northern Virginia to Ravensworth and gave specific instructions for navigating through several properties, gates and stream crossings. Fitzhugh offered to meet and accompany Jefferson part way, if his own court schedule allowed, saying there “can be no obstacle” to joining him if Jefferson departed on Saturday or Sunday (March 31 or April 1). The letter further extended an invitation from Nicholas’ brother Richard Fitzhugh for Jefferson to dine and spend the evening.

Jefferson answered on March 30 indicating satisfaction with the instructions and accepting “Richard Fitzhugh’s friendly offer of a breakfast or a bed, as the case may be.”

The trip apparently occurred as Nicholas and Richard Fitzhugh proposed, with Jefferson setting out on Sunday and dining and staying the night with Richard at Oak Hill; then continuing on toward Monticello on Monday, perhaps with Nicholas as guide part of the way. Jefferson’s personal account book recorded payment for “Ferrge. & ferrymen Geo T. 1.25.” on Sunday April 1 and “Richd. Fitzhugh’s vales 1.” on Monday, April 2.2 (vales – tip of money to a servant.)

A topic of discussion would certainly have been the recent Louisiana Purchase (1803) and the Lewis and Clark Expedition just getting under way to explore the new territory. More pressing for Jefferson, however, was his daughter Maria Eppes illness and declining health following birth of a daughter in February. He was hurrying home to be with Maria, who died two weeks later on April 17, 1804.3

The Letters

Original letters – The Library of Congress, American Memory, The Thomas Jefferson Papers:

  • Transcriptions – the letters transcribed
  • Map interpreted – analysis of Nicholas Fitzhugh’s hand drawn map and Jefferson’s route to and through Ravensworth
  • This was just one of Jefferson’s many trips between Washington and Monticello. An article in the Thomas Jefferson Foundation’s ( Research and Collections describes the four-day trip and route he typically followed. Citations quoted from several of his letters describe services available to travelers and encounters with challenging road conditions and bad weather.
  • Map of roads in and near Ravensworth circa 1800


  1. Rembrandt Peale, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons ,
  2. Thomas Jefferson, Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767-1826 (Princeton University Press, 1997), 1123.
  3. Dumas Malone, Jefferson the President (Little, Brown and Company, 1971), 413-15.