Declaration House - An Exact Replica of Where Thomas Jefferson Stayed in 1776

Declaration House

Declaration House, 7th and Market Streets, Philadelphia. Yes, as difficult as it is to believe today, this was once a rural section of the city, at the time of Thomas Jefferson's residence here.

Declaration House, meticulously reconstructed for the nation’s Bicentennial in 1976, is a thoroughly faithful reproduction of the lodgings of Thomas Jefferson - then aged just 33 - during the summer of 1776, while he was writing the Declaration of Independence. And it’s yet another free place to visit in Philadelphia.

A History of Declaration House

Ironically, the original Declaration House - i.e., the one that Jefferson actually lived in, not the current replica - was built shortly before Jefferson moved into it. It was constructed in 1775 by a bricklayer named Jacob Graff.

Nowadays, Declaration House is a tiny 18th-century style building, engulfed by contemporary Philadelphia. But as hard as this is to believe in the 21st century, it was once located on the outskirts of town, back in the 18th century.

In fact, Jefferson decided to move there, precisely because of its bucolic location. Previously, he had been living closer to the population center of Philadelphia, and he thought that he could write more effectively with more peace - which he would have been used to at Monticello, his palatial mansion in Charlottesville, Virginia.

At the time, Declaration House was engulfed by fields, not by office buildings. (And despite his enthusiasm for things rural, Jefferson was apparently irritated by the flies from the horse stable across Market Street.)

In June 1776, Jefferson moved into the residence, with the Graffs residing on the first floor. He lived on the second floor, which had two rooms. His rent was likely somewhat higher, as the second floor was already furnished. And in a three-week span or so, he drafted the document that would inspire a nation and a world.

When you visit, the first floor - where the Graffs resided - has exhibits and a short movie on the Declaration of Independence. Upstairs, the pair of rooms which Jefferson rented, have been furnished with 18th-century period pieces; one is a bedroom, one is a parlor, joined by a staircase. If other delegates to Congress felt like making the then-arduous trek out to 7th and Market, they would be entertained by Jefferson in his parlor.

But Jefferson also came to them. He had a running account at City Tavern - which by the standards of 18th-century Philadelphia, was a very long trip - all the way over at 2nd and Walnut. It was the main hangout for the delegates to both the First Continental Congress which met in September 1774 at Carpenters' Hall (to which Jefferson was not one of the seven Virginia delegates, ironically) - and the Second Continental Congress which convened in May 1775, at the Pennsylvania State House, which we know today as Independence Hall - since it was the site of the adoption of the Declaration on July 4, 1776.

(In a further irony, the original City Tavern was also razed, and a replica is currently on the site - just like Declaration House.)

There are also replicas of Jefferson's swivel chair and desk, where he composed the Declaration. And this piece is original - the key to the front door.

Unfortunately, the front door, and the rest of Declaration House, didn't thrive the way the rest of the United States did, as a result of the Declaration of Independence. In fact, it didn't even make it past the 19th century. After Jefferson's occupancy, it was not revered as a historic site. It was home to a print shop (ironically) and a Tom Thumb diner. Victorian Philadelphia did not preserve it, and it was demolished in 1883, just a little more than a century after its famous author's residence.

To its credit, the Independence Hall Association lobbied for the building's reconstruction, as part of the Bicentennial celebration in 1976. Fortunately, Declaration House had managed to survive to the age of photography, and the National Park Service was able to accurately reconstruct the building, due to photographs taken before its demolition, nearly a hundred years earlier.

Thomas Jefferson in Philadelphia

In a supreme irony, it was an accident of fate that Jefferson was even selected as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress at all. He had not been a delegate to the First Continental Congress, after all. As historian Thomas Fleming notes:

....the [Virginia] delegates re-elected the same men to represent them at the second meeting of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. Almost as an afterthought, Jefferson was elected as an alternate, in case Governor Dunmore called a meeting of the House of Burgesses and the delegation's leader, Peyton Randolph, was forced to return to Virginia...

Fleming, p. 35

And as it turned out:

... the Virginians decided to stay in session and provide the state with a central government. This meant Peyton Randolph had to remain in Williamsburg... Jefferson jolted north in his phaeton [a carriage] toward Philadelphia and a rendezvous with world history.

Fleming, p. 37

Jefferson had made his first visit to Philadelphia in 1765, when still a very young man of 22. He had done so, in order to be inoculated from smallpox, although the trip also permitted him to do some sightseeing not only in Philadelphia, but Annapolis and New York.

On June 11, 1775, he left Williamsburg, Virginia - its capital, but with a small population of about 2,000, and journeyed ten days to Philadelphia. Once he arrived on June 21, he stabled his horses with a Philadelphian named Jacob Hiltzheimer, and found lodging with Benjamin Randolph, a cabinetmaker, right in the heart of the city. Randolph's place of business was called The Golden Eagle, and was located on Chestnut Street between 3rd and 4th Streets. It was a short walk around the corner, then as now, to City Tavern at 2nd and Walnut Streets that evening, as Jefferson ate at there with his fellow Virginians, as well as a smattering of other delegates.

On June 22, Jefferson officially presented his credentials at the Pennsylvania State House, and became officially a delegate to the Second Continental Congress. (Fleming, p. 38) It was extremely hot in there, given that "the doors and most of the windows were closed to guarantee the secrecy of the deliberations"... (Fleming, p. 38)

On August 2, 1775, Congress adjourned, and Jefferson went home to Monticello. Jefferson's records indicate that he made rent payments to Benjamin Randolph - his Chestnut Street landlord - on June 8 and July 29, the latter payment being for Jefferson's "lodging in full, for six pounds, eight shillings, and six pence."

Later that month, Virginia made him an official delegate - third out of seven, in fact. While Congress re-convened on September 5 (ironically - one year exactly from when the First Continental Congress had convened in 1774), Jefferson did not reach Philadelphia for nearly three weeks, on September 25. His daughter, Jane Randolph Jefferson, had tragically died, at 18 months. (Fleming, p. 45).

Jefferson was now back at his previous Philadelphia lodgings with Benjamin Randolph, the cabinetmaker. "Jefferson left his grieving, disconsolate wife... in Martha Jefferson's emotional nature the impact of grief left her too weak or listless to write her husband a letter... Jefferson had set aside one day a week to write letters home. A month of wearying debate and committee work crept by and he got not a single answer... on November 7, he wrote to Francis Eppes in a tone that was nothing less than frantic. 'The suspense under which I am is too terrible to be endured. If anything has happened, for God's sake let me know it.' Eppes quickly reassured Jefferson that Martha was not seriously ill. But he wanted to hear the words from her own hand."

Fleming, p. 45

As the political situation between Britain and the colonies, continued to deteriorate throughout the remainder of 1775, Jefferson's personal life remained in terrible turmoil. "In the last week in December, Jefferson abruptly abandoned Congress and Philadelphia, and headed back to Virginia." Since each colony had only one vote in Congress, he did not need to fear leaving Virginia unrepresented -

"but the paramount motive was his continuing anxiety about Martha... For the next four months [January - April 1776] he remained at Monticello... His wife was not Jefferson's only worry during these private months. On March 31, he recorded in his account books the loss of his mother, who died suddenly at the age of 57....

Shortly after her death Jefferson experienced a blinding, debilitating pain that coursed from his temples through his entire head, and throbbed relentlessly day and night for the next five weeks... Today we would call it migraine.... almost certainly the migraine points to a more profound and continuing worry - Martha. Jefferson had planned to leave for Philadelphia at the end of March... one might almost think that the attack was brought on by an unconscious desire to find some excuse, not matter how torturous, to delay his departure."

Fleming, p. 47

As it turned out, another Virginia delegate, Thomas Nelson, Jr., had decided to bring his wife to Philadelphia, and he suggested to Jefferson that he do the same. But apparently, due to concern that Philadelphia - like most 18th-century cities - was unhealthy, and despite an offer from Nelson that his own wife would look after Martha, Jefferson respectfully declined the proposal. Jefferson left Monticello on May 6, without Martha - and arrived in Philadelphia a week later, on May 13.

Ironically, Jefferson would write two letters - both lost to history, regrettably - in which he requested that Virginia replace him in Congress, so that he could return to Monticello to take care of Martha. Fortunately, for America and the world, the Virginia Assembly not only turned down Jefferson's request- in fact, it re-elected him to Congress, for yet another year. "Thus, with an irony which often seems to be history's favorite sport, Jefferson remained at his post, bemoaning his fate and fretting over every post rider who arrived from Virginia without a letter from Martha." (Fleming, p. 50)

Aside from these weighty public responsibilities, Jefferson was also in excruciating anxiety, over Martha's health and well-being. (Fleming)

Even before he was given the assignment to write the Declaration, Jefferson had decided he wanted more peace and quiet, than Randolph's cabinetmaking business on Chestnut Street could offer. His final record of rent paid to Randolph was dated May 27, 1776 - "Paid Randolph for 8 days lodging."

According to Fleming (p. 52-53), the landlord had skillfully crafted for his soon-to-be-famous tenant, a customized item that would ultimately be the instrument for liberating the world from oppression - a portable desk. Jefferson would later describe Randolph's desk as "plain, neat, convenient and taking no more room on the writing table than a moderate quarto volume, and yet displays itself sufficiently for any writing." "In Mr. Graff's sunny second-floor parlor he set up this self-designed 'writing box' on a convenient table beside a supply of paper, ink, and pens."

Moreover, Jefferson's highly inventive mind actually had provided the specifications for the writing box, and Randolph constructed it accordingly. (Malone, p. 70)

With his made-to-order writing box in tow, Jefferson relocated to the distant Declaration House in June.

"Few other houses had been built in the vicinity and he had been hoping to gain the benefit of a 'freely circulating air'. Jefferson, who was capricious in his spelling, wrote the name of his landlord as 'Graaf' and remembered him as a bricklayer. At any rate, he [Graff] had a brick house, three stories high, along with a young wife and an infant son who was afterward told that he often sat on the great man's knee. The lodger had the whole of the second floor, consisting of a bedroom and parlor with stairs and a passageway between them. Jefferson wrote in the parlor, using a portable writing-box which has been preserved through the years... We may assume that the the parlor on the second floor of the Graff house was quiet and airy..."

Dumas Malone, p. 70, The Story of the Declaration of Independence, New York: Oxford University Press, 1954.

"There were other more personal emotions fermenting in Jefferson's mind. One was the lurking sense that he was risking - perhaps even sacrificing - his beloved Martha to this cause. 'Every letter brings me such an account of her health, that it is with great pain I can stay here.".... It is clear that along with an intention to express the "American mind", Jefferson poured deep personal anguish and burning personal conviction into the Declaration...

When he bent his head over Ben Randolph's writing box on those hot mornings in mid-June in Philadelphia... he was an anguished, deeply involved human being who felt the momentous nature of the document he was writing, both for his personal and public self."

Fleming, p. 53-54

The Philadelphia into which Jefferson rode after a leisurely ten-day journey was not an entirely new world to him. He had visited it here ten years before, in 1765, to be inoculated for smallpox. But it was, nevertheless, a sharp contrast to the Virginia world he knew best. Williamsburg... was a village compared to this metropolis with paved and lighted streets and 34,000 inhabitants pursuing a dazzling variety of trades and professions.

Fleming, Thomas. The Man from Monticello: An Intimate Life of Thomas Jefferson, William Morrow & Co., 1969.

Why Was Jefferson Selected to Write the Declaration?

Despite his youth, Jefferson was not completely unknown within the circles of Revolutionary fervor. Historian Joyce Appleby writes that "the signaling, singling hand of reputation tapped Jefferson for prominence when his Summary View of the Rights of British America joined the polemics of the American resistance movement in 1774."

Massachusetts delegate John Adams cited Jefferson's "happy talent for composition and singular felicity of expression". Appleby also noted that Jefferson "and John Adams honed in on each other like talent-seeking missiles. Adams considered Jefferson his protege, but deferred to his gifts as a writer when it came time for the drafting committee to come up with a document explaining why the colonies intended to declare their independence."

(Source: Appleby, Joyce. Thomas Jefferson, part of the series The American Presidents, Henry Holt & Company, 2003, p. 13).

According to Fleming (p. 52):

Many years later, Adams recalled that Jefferson had told him that Adams himself - eight years Jefferson's senior - should write it, but that his reply was:

"Reason first - you are a Virginian, and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this business. Reason second - I am obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third - you can write ten times better than I can."

Adams also wrote in his Autobiography in 1805:

Mr. Jefferson desired me to ... make the Draught {i.e., draft). This I declined and gave several reasons for declining.

1. That he was a Virginian and I a Massachusettensian (i.e., someone from Massachusetts, although it's somewhat difficult to pronounce.)

2. That he was a southern Man and I a northern one.

3. That I had been so obnoxious for my early and constant Zeal in promoting the Measure, that any draught of mine, would undergo a more severe Scrutiny and Criticism in Congress, than one of his composition.

4thly and lastly that would be reason enough if there were no other, I had a great Opinion of the Elegance of his pen and none at all of my own... He accordingly... in a day or two produced to me his Draught...

Bernstein, R.B. Thomas Jefferson, Oxford University Press, 2003, p. 31-32.

On June 7, Congress had selected a committee of Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, and Robert Livingston of New York, to write a Declaration. After being talked into doing to, Jefferson spent 17 days in Declaration House, feverishly drafting something that he hoped would be acceptable. (According to Bernstein, though - Jefferson, "while he worked, he maintained his lifelong habit of recording each day's temperature and weather conditions, and he still found the time to make purchases for [his wife] Martha."

Another historian, Jack McLaughlin, writes that:

"During {Jefferson's) marriage... he dressed fashionably, and his wife Martha spent a considerable amount of money on clothing. When Jefferson went to Philadelphia in 1776 for the Second Continental Congress, he used the opportunity to buy the latest fashion accessories for her, including six pairs of shoes, seven pairs of gloves (purchased on July 4) and 18 pounds worth of 'sundries'. (He also bought toys for young Martha, then approaching her fourth birthday.)"

McLaughlin, Jack. Jefferson and Monticello: The Biography of a Builder, 1988 - p. 194.

Of the other four committee members, only Adams and Franklin provided their own input, and the committee presented the Declaration to Congress on June 28, 1776.

Nearly 50 years later, Jefferson wrote on May 8, 1825, to his friend Henry Lee, that the Declaration was "intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion." (Bernstein, p. 32.)

Ironically, at the beginning, there was little emphasis on the Declaration document itself- as opposed to the decision to declare independence, per se. It was not officially revealed to the public, that Jefferson had been the primary author, until 1784 - eight years later, and after the Treaty of Paris with Britain had been concluded, ending the American Revolution. (Bernstein, p. 35.) Fleming writes:

"But for the moment, Jefferson's authorship was known only to a small handful of his friends and fellow congressmen. In July, 1776, everyone was keenly aware that the declaration was nothing less than an act of treason... For another eight months, Congress kept even the names of the signers a closely guarded secret. But knowledge of Jefferson's authorship slowly filtered down to the common man, who read those opening phrases about equality and the pursuit of happiness as a promise of a better future, and began to admire both the words and the man who wrote them."

Fleming, p. 68

Jefferson in Philadelphia, After the Declaration

In August 1776, Jefferson was still consumed by concerns for Martha. She had finally written to him, pleading with him to return to Virginia. Jefferson pledged to return by the middle of August.

However, unfortunately for the couple, the other Virginia delegates began to depart, leaving only Jefferson and Carter Braxton left to cast Virginia's vote in Congress. On July 20, Braxton said that he would be leaving for home as well - thus compelling Jefferson to remain as Virginia's lone voice.

He wrote to Richard Henry Lee - one of the main drivers of independence - and implored Lee to return north and permit him to leave. On August 21, Lee wrote to Jefferson, saying that he would be leaving Virginia by September 3 - which was far too attenuated a timetable for Jefferson's mind. Jefferson replied, "For God's sake, for your country's sake and for my sake, come... I receive by every post such accounts of the state of Mrs. Jefferson's health that it will be impossible for me to disappoint her expectation of seeing me at the time I have promised... I pray you to come. I am under a sacred obligation to go home."

On September 1, Jefferson ultimately decided not to wait for Lee to arrive, and after having finalized his business arrangements - including some hats and guitar strings, he headed south for Monticello two days later, and was soon reunited with Martha.

Fleming, p. 69-70

Hours of Operation

At least by the standards of this historic city, Declaration House is an often overlooked Philadelphia attraction, because of its limited hours.

The visiting hours may change seasonally, but at the moment, they are highly restricted. In May 2010, it is open only five mornings a week:

Wednesday through Sunday, 10 AM - noon

Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

Getting to Declaration House

Even if you aren't there, during its very limited visiting hours, we still think Declaration House is worth your time. You may not be able to enter, but you can still see the reproduction of the 18th-century house. And you can consider that you're looking at the very image of the house that Jefferson saw as he came and went, during that hot summer of the American Revolution.

And you are standing at the very spot, where Jefferson conceived of some of the most inspirational phrases in world history. And you can have those experiences 24/7, every day of the year.

One reason why it's worth your time, is that the reproduction is clustered with many other great Independence National Historical Park sites.

Another is the fact that if you are taking SEPTA Regional Rail service to go to Old City attractions, you'll end up walking right past it. Here's how:

Nearly all inbound Regional Rail trains will stop at Market East Station, located at 11th and Market Streets. If you opt to walk to Independence Visitor Center which we strongly recommend that you do, because it's the only place to obtain your free, timed tickets for Independence Hall -

When you emerge from Market East at 11th and Market, just head east down Market Street (you can tell that it's east, if you are walking away from City Hall ) just walk four blocks to 7th and Market Streets. The reconstructed dwelling is on the southwest corner, so you'll have to cross to the other side of Market Street.

If you are taking the el/Market-Frankford Line/Blue Line (all the same transit line), you can take it to 8th Street Station, and walk one block east to the structure, at 7th and Market.

Also, since it is only open till noon, we'd recommend that you visit it on your way from Market East in the morning, since it will be closed by the time you are coming back to take the train home.

If you'd like to leave Declaration House, and return to the Home Page of Enjoying Philadelphia, please click here.

If You Like Our Content, Please Like Us on Facebook!

Sign Up For Free E-mail Updates For Philadelphia Events!

Enter your E-mail Address
Enter your First Name (optional)

Don't worry — your e-mail address is totally secure.
I promise to use it only to send you Enjoying Philadelphia - Events and Things To Do In the City and Region.

If You Like Our Content, Please Like Us on Facebook!