Thomas Jefferson lived in four different residences after locating in Paris in 1784. The last and the most enduring was the Hotel de Langeac, where he moved in October 1785 and remained until his departure from Paris in September 1789. The French use the word “hotel” to refer to a variety of large buildings, from mansions to hospitals to city halls. They also use it to refer to “hotels” in the way that the English and Americans do.
A minister to Louix XV, Louis-Phélypeaux de La Vrillère, Comte de Saint-Florentin, later the Duc de La Vrillière (how’s that for a mouthful?) began construction of the mansion in 1768 for his mistress, the Marquise de Langeoc. The house was designed by Jean Francois-Therese Chalgrin. When Louis XVI ascended the throne in 1774 the Marquise’s husband was exiled from the royal court for reasons that are unclear and Vrillere halted construction on the house. In 1777 the Marquise’s son, the Compte de Langeac (full name, Comte Auguste Louis Joseph Fidèle Armand de Lespinasse Langeac) took possession of the house and resumed its construction. In 1785 he rented the place to the Ministre Plenipotentiaire des Etats-Unis, Thomas Jefferson.
Jefferson’s new address was 92 Champs-Elysses, at the corner of today’s Rue de Berri. It had two large oval rooms and, quite unusual for the time, two indoor bathrooms. When Jefferson moved in to Hotel de Langeac it sat on the very outskirts of Paris, just inside the Grille de Chaillot toll gate (Paris at that time was much smaller than it is today, and surrounded by city gates made of iron at which city officials collected tolls from those bringing in products for sale at market. These gates are remembered in the names of many of today’s subway stops – Porte Dauphine, Quai d’Issy, Porte de Passy).
While living at Langeac Jefferson had a 15 minute walk to the Seine, a 30 minute walk to the Tuilleries from where he could watch the Hotel de Salm being built, and a 40 minute walk to the royal palaces of the Louvre where he would sometimes have official meetings. The walk to the Abbaye Royale de Panthemont, where Patsy was enrolled in school and where she lived, would have taken Jefferson about an hour.
Jefferson’s home served as both a personal refuge and a public meeting place. The artist John Trumbell lived there while in Paris. Most famous perhaps is the impromptu visit in August, 1789 by General LaFayette and seven of his distressed colleagues from the National Assembly’s Committee on the New Constitution. Things were heating up on the eve of the French Revolution, and these men looked to Jefferson for counsel. They also looked to him for dinner. Jefferson’s appointment as minister to France required that he interact with the government of King Louis XVI and not with those seeking to alter that government. Despite the discomfort inherent in the circumstances, Jefferson later referred to the conversation that evening as one of the most enlightened of his lifetime.
When Jefferson left the Hotel de Langeac on September 26, 1789, he fully expected to return. It was during his trip to the United States that the new president, George Washington, asked him to serve as the nation’s first Secretary of State. Jefferson never went back to Paris. His furniture and possessions were packed up in forty-six crates and shipped to Monticello.
The Hotel de Langeac was demolished in 1842. The building that replaced it houses, among other things, a Monoprix store – a combination department store and grocery store chain.
As one walks along the front of this building toward Place de la Concorde, past ritzy shops, the Arc de Triomphe at your back, dodging dense throngs of focused Parisians and wandering tourists, one passes an iron-gated doorway. To its left is a marble plaque with gold letters.
When translated it reads:
In this place resided Thomas Jefferson
Minister of the United States to France 1785–1789
President of the United States 1801–1809
Author of the American Declaration of Independence
Founder of the University of Virginia
This plaque was affixed on the 13th of April 1919, by the care of former students of the University of Virginia, soldiers of the World War, in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the university.
Bruce Pitts grew up in Rhode Island, attended Yale and then attended medical school at the University of Pennsylvania and completed his residency in internal medicine at Temple University. In 1982, he joined the Fargo Clinic where he has practiced for the past 30 years. He is married and has two children.
His lifelong interest in American history comes from two sources: growing up near Plymouth Colony and the seven years he spent in where he became fascinated by American revolutionary history and the found of the nation.
Read Bruce Pitts' blog, Pitts in Paris.