Thomas Jefferson had very specific instructions for the obelisk that would mark his grave upon his death. He stipulated it should be made of coarse stone and inscribed with his proudest accomplishments (“Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom & Father of the University of Virginia,” notably omitting serving as president of the United States). He did not specify where the tombstone should be located in perpetuity, however, and perhaps he should have.
The granite obelisk was supposed to mark the founding father’s grave at Monticello, his Virginia estate, but today it instead resides on the campus of the University of Missouri, where it is locally famous but otherwise largely unknown.
The grave marker and accompanying marble epitaph were originally erected at Monticello, seven years after Jefferson’s death in 1826. But in 1883, Jefferson’s descendants donated the tombstone (which at this point was in desperate need of repair thanks to visitors’ proclivity for chipping off parts of it for souvenirs) to the university in Columbia, Missouri.
To this day the reason for the choice is not entirely clear, but it’s not entirely random either. Missouri was the first university founded within the territory acquired in the Louisiana Purchase during Jefferson’s tenure as president. The school’s design was even inspired by the founding father’s plans for the University of Virginia, of which he was so proud.
Know Before You Go
The tombstone can be found in front of the Residence on Francis Quadrangle, while the marble epitaph is on display at Jesse Hall. A replica of the obelisk was erected at Jefferson's grave at Monticello.