Thomas Jefferson Papers

Epitaph for Martha Wayles Jefferson, [after 6 September 1782]

Epitaph for Martha Wayles Jefferson

[after 6 Sep. 1782]

To the memory of
Martha Jefferson
daughter of John Wayles
born Oct. 19. 1748. O.S.
intermarried with Thomas Jefferson
Jan. 1. 1772
torn from him by death
Sep. 6. 1782.
this monument of his love1
is inscribed.

εἰ δὲ ϴανóντων πєρ καταλήϴοντ᾿ εἰν Ἀΐδαο

αὐτὰρ ἐγὼ καὶ κεῖϴι φίλου μεμνήσομ᾽ ἑταίρου.

[on verso:]

to be engraved on a marble slab.

MS (Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, on deposit ViU); written entirely in TJ’s hand on both sides of a small sheet; undated.

TJ recorded the death of his wife in an entry in one his notebooks: “My dear wife died this day at 11:45 a.m.” (MB description begins James A. Bear, Jr., and Lucia C. Stanton, eds., Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767–1826, Princeton, forthcoming in The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , 6 Sep. 1782; see also Malone, I, 396–7). For reports of his grief at the time and for months afterward, see Vol. 6: 199–200n. The Editors know of no evidence indicating when TJ set down this epitaph.

The lines in Greek are from the lament for Patroclus spoken by Achilles after his triumph over Hector, as given in the Iliad, 22.389–90: “Though the dead forget their dead in the House of Death, I will remember, even there, my dear companion” (Homer, The Iliad, trans. Robert Fagles [New York, 1990], 554). TJ’s transcription does not depart from what was the received text. Except for minor differences in capitalization, punctuation, and the arrangement of lines, the tombstone inscription in the cemetery at Monticello followed TJ’s wording exactly (Randall, Life description begins Henry S. Randall, The Life of Thomas Jefferson, New York, 1858, 3 vols. description ends , i, 383).

1TJ here canceled “and […].”

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