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In 1772, Thomas Jefferson married a beautiful widow, Martha Wayles Skelton; she died ten years later. Jefferson was a devoted husband, and the marriage produced six children, two of whom lived to adulthood. The loss of his wife buried Jefferson in a deep, lasting depression, and he promised that he would not marry after her death. He never did.

Shortly after their marriage, Jefferson and his wife moved to Monticello, where all their children were born. Monticello became his passion; his happiest occupation was building and perfecting his mountain-top plantation. By1775, he owned close to 10,000 acres and between 100 to 200 slaves, and with both came the debt and financial concerns that often plagued Southern planters. Jefferson maintained meticulous records of plantation life, from the activities of his slaves to the temperature, foliage, and migratory patterns of birds and wildlife. He was a naturalist and scientist with a passion for education. This pursuit of learning led him to charter the University of Virginia in 1819, a project he had envisioned since at least1800. He wanted his college to be “temptation to the youth of other States to come and drink of the cup of knowledge and fraternize with us.” Even more important, Jefferson wanted his fellow Virginians to be educated in their own state, to be free from the corruption of the “dark Federalist mills,” such as Yale, Harvard, and Princeton. The University of Virginia, he believed, would perpetuate the agrarian order of Virginia. He listed the founding of the institution as one of his most important contributions to his state.

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