The Women Who Romanced Thomas Jefferson

A New Title Coming Soon: The Women Who Romanced Thomas Jefferson

During this evening’s program, I am going to introduce you to a new Thomas Jefferson – the brilliant and aspiring late-18th century widowed father of two young daughters.

His situation was complicated by the plan he devised after his wife’s pre-mature death. He decided, as I will explain, that he would start his life over as a member of the highly cultured and stratified society of the marquis de Chastellux. This was his purpose for going to France. He discovered when he got there that the French monarchy was collapsing and that the people of France were moving rapidly toward a political revolution like the one he had helped precipitate in America.

People who are familiar with Jefferson’s activities in France are acquainted with the lovely courtesan who enchanted him during their brief fling, which began and ended during the month of September 1786.

As I will show you this evening, his highly publicized affair with Maria Cosway was not his most important Parisian romance. During the five years he spent there, Jefferson formed two more important relationships.

His romance with Madame de Corny began soon after his arrival in August of 1784 and continue through his years in Paris. I believe that this most intimate relationship because it was on their shared love of his daughters.

Jefferson’s romance with comtesse de Tessé grew out of his friendship with Lafayette. The comtesse, the aunt of the marquise de Lafayette, was the just the sort of person Jefferson came to France to meet. An educated, charming aristocrat, her interests in horticulture and gardening mirrored his own. They formed the basis of a friendship that continued for the rest of the comtesse’s life.

The key to this story is, oddly enough, the daughter of Angelica Schuyler Church and John Barker Church. Catherine “Kitty” Church was born on 4 November 1779 and barely four years old when her parents enrolled her in l’Abbaye de Panthemont, which was a block from the Hotel de Tesse.

Little Kitty was the center of a social circle Jefferson entered in the fall of 1784 when he enrolled his own daughter at the school. The strongest and most enduring relationships Jefferson had during his five years in France were with women he met in this circle.

The adjacent reproduction of Angelica Church is a copy of a miniature painted by family friend Richard Cosway around 1785. Cosway probably painted the miniature of Angelica’s two oldest sons at the same time. Angelica Church was ultimately the agent who brought Richard and Maria Cosway into Jefferson’s social set.

The Women Who Romanced Thomas Jefferson

A painting of Comtesse de Tessé Adrienne Catherine de Noailles

Comtesse de Tessé
Adrienne Catherine
de Noailles

(b.1741 – d. 1813)
Wife of
René de Froulay, Comte
de Tessé (1736–1814)

Jefferson’s “spiritual affinity”

A painting on Madame Marguerite Victoire de Corny

Madame Margue-
rite-Victoire de

(b.1747 – d.1832)
Wife of
Louis Dominique Ethis de

Jefferson’s “parental partner

A graphite image of Angelica Schuyler Church

Angelica Schuyler
(1756 - 1814)
Richard Cosway

c. 1785

Mother of Catherine “Kitty” Church
born on 4 November

A Painting of Philip and John Church, the children of John and Angelica Church

Philip and John
Richard Cosway

c. 1785

Children of
John and Angelica Church