Relic of the Revolution: Jefferson's letter to Dr. James Mease


Thomas Jefferson and Dr. James Mease, who was the first antiquarian of Philadelphia, exchanged letters in 1825 on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration. Mease wrote to Jefferson to inquire as to where Jefferson had resided in Philadelphia when he penned the Declaration. Already at this time there was a strong sense of nostalgia for the revolutionary period and therefore was a heightened interest in discovering the details of where this important event took place. In his response, Jefferson considers the historical significance of the writing box in the history of the creation of the Declaration.

It is not for me to estimate the importance of the circumstances concerning which your letter makes inquiry. They prove, even in their minuteness, the sacred attachments of our fellow citizens to the event of which the paper of July 4th, 1776, was but the declaration of the genuine effusion of the soul of our contry at that time. Small things may, perhaps, like the relics of the saints, help to nourish our devition to this hold bond of our Union, and keep it longer alive and warm in our affections. This effect may give importance to circumstances, however small.

At the time of writing this instrument, I lodged at the house of a Mr. Graaf [sic], a new brick house, three stories high, of which I rented the second floor, consisting of a parlor and bedroom, ready furnished. In that parlor I wrote habitually this paper, particularly. So far I state from written proofs in my possession. The proprietor, Graaf, was a young man, son of a German and then newly married. I think he was a bricklayer, and that his house was on the south side of Market street, probably between Seventh and Eighth streets, and if not the only house on that part of the street, I am sure there were few others near it. I have some idea that it was a corner house, but no other recollection throwing light on the question, or worth communicating.


Jefferson to James Mease, September 16, 1825, The Thomas Jefferson Papers Series 1. General Correspondence. 1651-1827, Library of Congress.