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Thomas Jefferson was the son of a Peter Jefferson who was also a Surveyor. This statue depicts Jefferson at the age of 74 laying out the plan for the University of Virginia

Location of statue

The statue, in the Flagler Court garden at the Darden School of Business, depicts Jefferson at the age of 74 surveying the land that became the University of Virginia.

Rob Firmin who created the statue together with Eugene Daub and Jonah Hendrickson provided the following description of the details for the statue:

In my studies I discovered an unpublished history dissertation at UVA that included details about the founding that fascinated me—details regarding how Jefferson rode over to the newly purchased site on July 18, 1817, three years after he had completed his initial architectural drawings for it.  The source revealed that he took the 1814 drawing with him for reference as he conducted the first survey of the grounds that would later be known as The Lawn.


He stood at the north end of the expanse from where he directed his plantation supervisor’s movements, using his Ramsden theodolite.  The survey clearly indicated that the designated space was too narrow to accommodate his intended layout.  The fundamental design feature of the sculpture is that it captures the very moment, immediately upon coming to this realization, that the spot on which he was standing required a magnificent building.  That building is known as the Rotunda—the centerpiece of the university and a heritage site.  Our original bronze maquette (model) for the sculpture is on display in the main hall.


All of this is taken from a note Jefferson wrote as soon as he returned to Monticello after the survey.


As to your questions about his tools:


Jefferson was known to carry a number of useful implements in his pockets.  The sculpture shows four: his architect’s rule, a pocket watch, sunglasses, and an ivory scratch pad.  Jefferson often carried his architect’s rule in a pocket, and would likely have done so whenever he had an architectural plan with him.  Just as with modern architect’s rules, his has multiple scales engraved.   


The right pocket of his waistcoat holds his ivory scratch pad which served some of the functions of a contemporary PDA (Personal Digital Assistant).  It consists of several ivory slats pinned together at one end like a fan.  Jefferson wrote temporary notes on it with a grease pencil, transcribed them to his journal, and rubbed the slats clean.  He apparently did this on the morning of July 18.  Also in the right pocket is his pair of darkened glasses which he called his “goggles.”




Jefferson used the theodolite acquired from Jesse Ramsden of London.  It was a sophisticated instrument for its date of construction and remained relatively so for many decades.  It has a compass, two viewing tubes for sighting two reference points simultaneously, and calibration for elevation of the tubes.  It was calibrated in fractions of degrees around the sloped edge of the compass body.  The theodolite in the sculpture is based on direct inspection of the actual theodolite at Monticello.


I added two details on the theodolite: to have the compass needle pointing in the estimated correct direction, with magnetic declination adjusted for shifts in the magnetic north pole since 1817; and two inscriptions placed on the upward facing surface of the compass by Jesse Ramsden in London.  I pointed the main tube toward Monticello.


The following on Ramsden is from:  Encyclopedia Britannica On-line Ramsden, Jesse:


Ramsden (1735-1800) was apprenticed as a boy to a cloth worker, but in 1758 he apprenticed himself to a mathematical instrument maker. He went into business for himself in London in 1762. He designed dividing engines of great accuracy for both circles and straight lines and produced highly accurate sextants, theodolites, and vertical circles for astronomical observatories. He also built barometers, manometers, assay balances, and other instruments. He was elected to the Royal Society in 1786 and awarded Copley Medal in 1795.

Please see the attached file: Lisa Jacobs Comments on Thomas Jefferson Surveying Technique.pdf for more details on the survey.




Jefferson is holding his two-sided architectural plans, drawn by his own hand three years earlier and approved by the Board of Visitors (the college trustees).  Updated drawings came later in 1817.  The side of the drawing facing you is of the first pavilion to be built, number VII, now The Colonnade Club, (where we stayed for the dedication that took place on September 22, 2007).  The side facing Jefferson shows his original concept for the “Academical Village” layout.  Note that the North end does not include The Rotunda.  I sculpted an exact as I could enlargement of both sides of the drawing in wax, which was cast into bronze and placed into his hands.


Riding crop


I got the details of the riding crop from the historical Jefferson impersonator-character at Williamsburg,

Bill Barker.  Bill is a walking record of Jeffersonia—he offered a number of invaluable insights, including how Jefferson habitually stuffed his riding crop into his boot upon dismounting.


Mount Rushmore

Location of statue
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