Jefferson: The Scene of Europe, 1784 to 1789

Jefferson: The Scene of Europe, 1784 to 1789

Jefferson: The Scene of Europe, 1784 to 1789

Jefferson: The Scene of Europe, 1784 to 1789

Excerpt

WHEN THOMAS JEFFERSON sailed out of Boston harbor at dawn on July 5, 1784, he was at last realizing a dream he had cherished for many years--that of visiting Europe. The idea had haunted him since early manhood. Although farther away in time than now, Europe was spiritually near to the eighteenth- century American. Many, in their hearts, still considered it home, even though their families might have been settled in the New World for several generations. The more conservative of the Virginia planters continued to send their sons to England for education until the latter half of the century, and after that a European tour continued to be very much de rigueur.

In his dream, to be sure, Jefferson had not pictured himself as going to Europe in the exalted station of minister plenipotentiary to France. He had, however, been appointed to that post just two months before and was now proceeding on the Ceres, a vessel belonging to Captain Nathaniel Tracy of Newburyport, to take up his post. With Jefferson was his little daughter Martha, whom he called Patsy, now nearing her twelfth birthday. He was likewise accompanied by a servant named James, one of his slaves, whom he subsequently had trained in Paris to become the cook at Monticello, and later freed. If Patsy had a maid, as she probably did for every Virginia girl of that period was given a colored girl to act as such when she was eleven or twelve years old, no mention is made of her.

"We had a lovely passage in a beautiful new ship that had made only one voyage before," Martha writes her old friend, Elizabeth Trist of Philadelphia. "There were only six passengers all of whom Papa knew, and a fine sunshine all the way, with a sea which was as calm as a river." Jefferson observes that it was "remarkably short . . .

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