Thomas Jefferson Papers

Samuel A. Bumstead’s Description of Thomas Jefferson, [23 August 1822]

Samuel A. Bumstead’s Description of Thomas Jefferson

[Fluvanna Co., 23 Aug. 1822]

After I got about 3 miles from his house and was about entering the Richmond road, I saw a man on horse-back at a distance off; it was difficult to conceive what the matter was or whether he wanted anything of me by his making toward me with so much speed—as he advanced within plain sight I was well aware by the cut of his jib who it was. His costume was very singular—his coat was checked gingham, manufactured in Virginia I suppose. The buttons on it were of white metal and nearly the size of a dollar. His pantaloons were of the same fabric. He was mounted on an elegant bay horse going with speed—and he had no hat on but a lady’s parasol, stuck in his coat behind, spread its canopy over his head, which was very white—his hair is quite thick—his complexion sandy—and his eye, the eye of an eagle—his features regular and resembling very much the portrait you have in your parlor—He cast his very penetrating eye at me and gave a polite nod of his head as he passed. This was Thomas Jefferson—and as you may naturally expect quite gratifying to me in having my curiosity answered. Had he not have appeared in such a hurry I should have stopt and entered into conversation with him. I intended to have inquired the road that leads into the Richmond road of the first person that I met—but as soon as I saw him I forgot all about it—such a great man in such a plain and singular garb so struck me that I had not another thought about me but the request you made of me—I should have complied with your request if he had not appeared so much in haste—but I am told it is his usual gait. He does not appear as old as he really is—He is in his 84th year—He was remarkably erect and had every appearance of antiquity about him. I am told he always rides in this manner during the summer without any hat—often times many miles—it was very warm when I met him to-day and I thought he looked pretty well heated. Thus much of this extraordinary man of whom the world has heard so much—whose writings have made so much1 bustle. I think I can never forget his looks—indeed they are pretty well fixed in my minds’ eye. I am now at a public house in Fluvanna Co—there is no village here. I shall expect to reach a place called Beaver Dam tomorrow.

With affection Your nephew

S. A. Bumstead.

Printed in VMHB description begins Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 1893–  description ends 24 (1916): 310–1, and there described as an extract from a letter of 23 Aug. 1822 addressed to Bumstead’s “Aunt Lilly”; according to the editor’s summary of the beginning of the letter, Bumstead detailed “his travels from Staunton over the Blue Ridge by way of Fisher’s Gap, his visit to the Virginia University; his breakfasting at Charlottesville and noting his disappointment at not finding Mr. Jefferson at home and his disappointment at having to leave Monticello without meeting him” (p. 310).

Samuel Andrews Bumstead (1799–1894), clergyman, was born in Boston and graduated from Middlebury College in 1820. After teaching for three years at a classical school in Brookeville, Montgomery County, Maryland, he attended Princeton Theological Seminary, 1823–24. Although forced by illness to withdraw early, Bumstead was licenced to preach by the Massachusetts Congregational Association in 1823, ordained in Boston five years later, and subsequently ministered to Dutch Reformed congregations. In Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, he served as a pastor at Manayunk, 1830–53, and Roxborough, 1836–42 and 1849–53. Bumstead then moved to Illinois and preached at Spring Lake, Tazewell County, 1853–61, Raritan, Henderson County, 1861–74, and Norris, Fulton County, 1874–88. The owner of real estate worth $2,000 in 1850, he died of “paralysis” at his home in Raritan (Walter E. Howard and Charles E. Prentiss, comps., Catalogue of the Officers and Students of Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont … 1800 to 1900 [1901], 63; Necrological Reports and Annual Proceedings of the Alumni Association of Princeton Theological Seminary 2 [1890–99]: 243–4; Henry C. McManus, Roxborough Presbyterian Church [1904], 16–7; Middlebury, Vt., Religious Reporter, 19 Aug. 1820; DNA: RG 29, CS, Pa., Roxborough, 1840, 1850, Ill., Fulton Co., Farmington, 1880; gravestone inscription in Raritan Cemetery, Raritan).

On 3 June 1822 TJ purchased a parasol from the Charlottesville store of James Leitch (TJ’s Transactions with James Leitch, 12 Dec. 1821–12 Sept. 1822, entry for 3 June 1822). At this time TJ was seventy-nine, not in his 84th year.

1Printed text: “somuch.”

Index Entries

  • Bumstead, Samuel Andrews; describes TJ search
  • Bumstead, Samuel Andrews; identified search
  • Bumstead, Samuel Andrews; travels of search
  • Bumstead, Samuel Andrews; visits Monticello search
  • buttons search
  • clothing; buttons search
  • clothing; coats search
  • clothing; pantaloons search
  • clothing; parasols search
  • coats; gingham search
  • hair; TJ’s described search
  • horses; TJ rides search
  • household articles; buttons search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Descriptions of; appearance search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Descriptions of; by S. A. Bumstead search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Descriptions of; clothing search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Portraits; mentioned search
  • Leitch, James; store of search
  • Monticello (TJ’s Albemarle Co. estate); Visitors to; Bumstead, Samuel A. search
  • pantaloons search
  • parasols search
  • Virginia, University of; Construction and Grounds; visitors to search
  • weather; heat search