Thomas Jefferson gave money to Christian ministries and churches all his life. He was very generous in this regard. And he kept meticulous notes in his account book.
On March 2, 1803, Thomas Jefferson’s account book shows: “Gave in charity to the Revd. Mr. chambers of Alexandria for his church…50 Dollars.” This gift of about $1200 in today’s dollars was to Rev. James Chambers who led the Independent Protestant Episcopal Church of Alexandria, Virginia. Plus Jefferson’s account book in 1803 said: “Gave Revd. Jacob Eyerman…charity.” He was a German preacher among Lutheran and Reformed congregations in northeastern Pennsylvania. But Jefferson also gave money “…in favor [of ] Revd. Mr. Coffin for a college in Tenissee.”
Charles Coffin was a Presbyterian professor of Greeneville College. But one of the most interesting donations was in March 1803 while Jefferson was back home. The local courthouse in Charlottesville was rebuilt that year in brick (and to this day is the only standing building in town where Jefferson is known to have worshiped). But in this same year his account book records that he “Paid…for meeting House.” This was not a term used for an Episcopal church, so it seems to be associated with the other Protestants who used plain style buildings.
Sometimes the term “union” or “free” was associated with meetinghouses and this was mainly due to the influence of the Restoration movement in Central Virginia that emphasized unity across denominations. It is interesting then to note that the day after Jefferson gave to the meetinghouse, his account book on March 22 also says he “Gave Cavendar in charity.” Rev. Thomas S. Cavender was, as already observed, a local Restorationist/non-Trinitarian minister. Jefferson’s donations to a local meetinghouse and the next day to Albemarle-based Rev. Cavender suggests that they were connected, and is the clearest indication that he was a friend and supporter, and perhaps a participant, with the Restoration movement in his area.
Missions and the Abridgement of Jesus’ Morals “For…The Indians” Presbyterian Rev. Samuel Miller of New York had previously urged Jefferson’s support of missions in a February 1800 letter, and then wrote Jefferson more on this theme on June 10, 1802, saying: “I do myself the honor to transmit herewith a copy of the annual publication of our Missionary Society. The information which it contains respecting our exertions, & the result of them during the past year, may, perhaps, not be altogether uninteresting to you.” Enclosed was: “A Sermon, Delivered Before the New York Missionary Society, at their Annual Meeting April 6th, 1802,” and also Miller’s publication of the report of the society.
On March 3, 1803, Rev. John Bacon wrote to Jefferson. Bacon was a Massachusetts Congressman at this time but previously had been an itinerant Presbyterian minister after graduating from Princeton and then the minister of the Old South Church in Boston for a short time. Bacon had also corresponded with Jefferson a year earlier and then sent to Jefferson in February 1803 two letters from Rev. John Sergeant, a Congregationalist missionary from Massachusetts to the Mohican Indians in New Stockbridge in central New York State, who collected information from as far west as the Mississippi River. Jefferson forwarded these letters to Secretary of War Henry Dearborn on February 15. And Rev. Sergeant himself wrote Jefferson later in 1803 on June 25. Jefferson appreciated keeping informed of the impact of missions to the Indians, but in his reply to Bacon on April 30 Jefferson also touched on religion stating that he wanted his government to “strengthen…religious freedom.”