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A Great Mystery in American History: The Coincidental Deaths of Two Founding Fathers

by | Jul 2, 2015 | For Families

Someone holding a sparkler in front of an American flag

In celebration of the Fourth of July, we would like to share some interesting history regarding two of our founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, and their coincidental deaths.

Jefferson & Adams: Friends ’til the End

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams initially met at the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1775 when they were tasked (along with Benjamin Franklin) with drafting the Declaration of Independence. On July 1, 1776, the Second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia and voted in favor of Richard Henry Lee’s motion for independence. The delegates then spent the next two days debating and revising the language of the Declaration of Independence drafted by Thomas Jefferson. On July 4, 1776, Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence, and as a result the date is celebrated as Independence Day.

After meeting at the First Continental Congress, Jefferson and Adams forged a strong friendship that continued until death, writing 380 letters to each other over five decades.  Their friendship, however, was interrupted briefly by extreme political differences and competition in 1800 when vice president Jefferson defeated the incumbent president Adams. In 1812, as retired old politicos, their friendship was renewed and continued until their deaths.

Hauntingly Coincidental Deaths

The deaths of Jefferson and Adams are arguably one of the most coincidental happenings in U.S. history.  Both men died within five hours of each other on July 4th, 1826, which also happened to be the fifty-year anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.  John Adams’ last recorded words were reportedly, “Thomas Jefferson survives,” though he was unaware that his friend had passed just hours before him.  Jefferson’s last recorded words were “No, doctor, nothing more.”  However, some believe that Jefferson’s last words were “Is it the Fourth?” or “This is the Fourth of July.”

One paper reported on their joint passing as follows:

No common event has clothed our columns in the habiliments of mourning. Two of the great and gifted of our countrymen, the venerated fathers of our Republic, THOMAS JEFFERSON and JOHN ADAMS, are no more! It is not amongst the least of the events so wisely ordered in the progress of this country, that the Author of the Declaration of its Liberties, and his eminent associate in that duty should be permitted not only to live, and to witness the prosperous experiment of half a century, but that on that day fifty years on which they signed and issued their Declaration to the world, they should be called, both together, from amongst a people so signally blessed by their labours. They were glorious in their lives, and in their deaths they were not divided. They have enjoyed in their life-time equal and the highest honours within the gift of a grateful country. In their deaths, the measure of their fame is full. Their memories are hallowed.

Mr. Adams was in the 92d year of his age. Mr. Jefferson was aged 83 years 3 months and 2 days.

Even Our Forefathers Preplanned for their Funerals

Interestingly, both men preplanned some details of their funeral arrangements.  Before his death, Thomas Jefferson left specific instructions for a monument to be constructed on his gravesite. In reference to the words to be placed on his gravestone, Jefferson said, “On the faces of the Obelisk the following inscription, & not a word more.”  He continued by writing, “because by these, as testimonials that I have lived, I wish most to be remembered.”  Jefferson’s tombstone reads:

Here was buried Thomas Jefferson Author of the Declaration of American
Independence for the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom and Father
of the University of Virginia

Notably, Jefferson did not include U.S. President as one of his most notable accomplishments.  Some surmise that “perhaps the three accomplishments on Jefferson’s gravestone are what he views as his best.”

A letter penned by John Adams’ son, John Quincy Adams, dated September 8, 1826, outlined his father’s burial wishes.  According to the letter, John Quincy Adams wrote that his father, who had died two months earlier, and his mother, Abigail Adams, wished to be buried in the United First Parish Church in Quincy, MA, and that a “plain and modest monument” be built in their memory. He was laid to rest there on July 7, 1876.

Thomas Jefferson was laid to rest in the Monticello Graveyard in Albemarle County, VA on July 5, 1876.  This graveyard had its beginning in an agreement between Thomas Jefferson and Dabney Carr, who were school-mates and friends.  They agreed that they would be buried under a great oak which stood on the property.  Carr, who married Jefferson’s sister, died in 1773.  His was the first grave on the site, which Jefferson laid out as a family burial ground.  Jefferson was buried here in 1826.  The graveyard remains the property of Jefferson’s descendants and continues to be a family burial ground.

Frazer Consultants wishes you and your family a very Happy Fourth of July! 


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