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Jefferson’s letter front (top) and back (bottom). Click image for larger view.

In this March 1820 letter from Thomas Jefferson to Dr. Thomas Cooper, Jefferson writes about the progress of the construction of the Academical Village. He tells Cooper, who was the first professor appointed to teach at the University of Virginia, that his “pavilion is finished except plaistering and painting.”

The letter explains delays caused by lack of funds and complains about the reluctance of the Virginia legislature to provide the resources necessary to finish building in time for the next academic year. Jefferson wrote, “this malencontre of the Treasurer’s default at so critical a moment will, in my opinion, have the unfortunate effect of delaying the opening (of) the institution another year, say to Feb. 20. 22.” Indeed, funding woes would continue and it would actually be another five years before the University would open its doors.

Cooper, who had been educated at Oxford, was one of Jefferson’s trusted consultants during the planning of the University and they corresponded about education for more than a decade. Though Jefferson appointed Cooper to teach natural science and law, he never taught a class at U.Va. He resigned his position after conflict with the Virginia clergy regarding his unorthodox religious views.

The letter was part of the James S. Copley library and will be auctioned by Sotheby’s in October 2010.

Read the full transcript of Jefferson’s letter [pdf] »