William Short

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William Short was born on September 30, 1759, in Surrey County, Virginia.[1] He studied law under George Wythe at the College of William and Mary, where he was a founding member and president of Phi Beta Kappa.[2] Short was related to Thomas Jefferson by marriage, and became a protégé of Jefferson’s while still in school.[3] Jefferson would eventually refer to Short as his adopted son, and Short would speak of Jefferson as his “second father.”[4] In 1784, when Jefferson became Minister to France, Short served as his secretary. He continued to look after American interests in France after Jefferson returned to the United States in 1789.[5] This launched Short’s career as a diplomat. He was named Minister Resident to the Netherlands in 1792[6] and also worked in Spain, where he helped negotiate the Treaty of San Lorenzo.[7] In 1802, he returned to the United States and settled in Philadelphia, often visiting Virginia, Kentucky, and Washington, D.C., and was a frequent guest at the Jefferson White House.[8] He was given a recess appointment as Minister to Russia in 1808, but was ultimately not confirmed; the position was later filled by John Quincy Adams.[9] Short settled in Philadelphia and spent his time managing his investments contributing to philanthropic causes.[10] He died on December 5, 1849.


  1. George Green, “Short, William”, American National Biography Online, Feb. 2000, accessed November 1, 2013.
  2. Ibid.
  3. “William Short”, Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia (Monticello.org), accessed November 1, 2013.
  4. Marie Goebel Kimball and Alexandre de Liancourt, “William Short, Jefferson’s Only ‘Son’”, The North American Review 223, no. 832 (Sep. – Nov., 1926), 471.
  5. Shackelford, “Short, William.”
  6. Kimball and de Liancourt, “William Short, Jefferson’s Only ‘Son’”, 472.
  7. Shackelford, “Short, William.”
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.