Jefferson’s Legacy in Colorado

Did you know that Colorado was almost named Jefferson?  In October 1859, residents of Arapahoe County, Kansas Territory (now the Denver metro area) gathered in Auraria to form a new territory, named Jefferson after the president who had signed the Louisiana Purchase.  A territorial constitution was drawn up and Robert W. Steele was named the first Governor of Jefferson, which included parts of what had been Kansas, Nebraska, Utah, Washington, and New Mexico Territories.  Jefferson included all of what is present-day Colorado, but extended north and west into parts of what is today the states of Nebraska, Wyoming, and Utah.  There was one problem, however — Jefferson Territory was not recognized by the United States Government.  So the federal government set up Colorado Territory in February 1861.  Yet for about a year and a half, residents lived by the laws set up in the Jefferson Constitution, many of which were adapted into the new Colorado Constitution.

Colorado had reason to commemorate Thomas Jefferson, who did so much for the expansion of the United States and the opening of Western lands.  Today, our state has a different name, but we still remember our third President through the name of Jefferson County.

You can read more about Jefferson Territory in the Colorado Magazine, available from our library.  Here you can find a reprint of the Jefferson Constitution (November 1935), Governor Robert W. Steele’s reminisces (March 1937), and other articles on the history of Jefferson Territory (July 1924 and July 1961).

Finally, you can learn more about Thomas Jefferson, whose birthday is coming up this Saturday, April 13, by visiting the new and limited-time Jefferson’s Bible exhibit, currently on view at the History Colorado museum.