“Thomas Jefferson” Addresses the Community at Benedictine College

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

On the weekend of November 7 and 8, 2014, the honorable Thomas Jefferson himself spoke to students, the Atchison community, and friends of Benedictine College about the state of the fledgling United States of America. Bill Barker, who has portrayed Thomas Jefferson at Colonial Williamsburg for more than 20 years, was in character on the stage in O’Malley-McAllister Auditorium on the Benedictine campus, where he spoke about the Lewis and Clark Expedition, his encounters with the Native American leaders in the colonies, his attitudes toward slaves and slavery, and many other topics of the time. Prior to his appearance, the audience was entertained by the dancers from Missouri Town 1855, who demonstrated period dances from the early 1800s.

“Jefferson” mentioned that he had been influenced by the Benedictines and he borrowed from the architecture of St. Benedict’s famous monastery of Monte Cassino in the construction of Monticello. He also commented on his move to shaking hands, taken from his meetings with Native American leaders, and away from bowing, which was a British custom. When asked, he spoke at length about his feelings toward slavery, which he opposed despite the fact that he owned several hundred slaves he had inherited from his father and father-in-law.

“I have been known to be very kind to my people,” he said in character. “And that is how I refer to them, as my people.”

He said he had grown up with many of them and felt that everyone involved with the plantation was equally important to its overall success. He went on to explain that if he had freed his slaves, they would have been captured and re-enslaved by other landowners around him. Landowners, he noted, who would not have had a kind disposition toward them.

In addition to his address to the public on the morning of Nov. 7, Mr. Jefferson made additional appearances with a talk for Benedictine students on the evening of Nov. 7 and a presentation to donors and friends of the college on the evening of Nov. 8. During his appearance on Saturday evening, he even presented a leaf from the first edition of the 1611 King James Bible to the college on behalf of The Remnant Trust, Inc., a non-profit collector of rare and important printed documents. The page is from the Book of Genesis, Chaper 24, and it will eventually be on permanent display on the Benedictine campus.

His appearances were in conjunction with the Wisdom of the Ages exhibition, which concludes on Nov. 15. The spectacular display, a major exhibition from The Remnant Trust, will be open to the general public on weekday evenings and Saturday morning through Nov. 15. It is free and open to the public from 4 – 8 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. on Saturday.

The collection is comprised of 40 key documents that helped shape the world, including a page from one of the first finished copies of the Gutenberg Bible from 1455, a copy of the Magna Carta from 1576, a hand-written manuscript of the works of Thomas Aquinas from 1475, the first public printing of the Emancipation Proclamation from the New York Times in 1862, an extremely rare printing of the journal of activities of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania from 1778, including their explicit approval of the Declaration of Independence.

The exhibit is made possible by a donation from the Haverty Family Foundation and the Benedictine College Honors Program.


The exhibit encompasses four major strands of intellectual history:

  1. The Two Wings of the Human Spirit: Faith and Reason in Dialogue through the Ages
    This includes items like a 1553 letter from Martin Luther regarding the Reformation, the Decrees of the Council of Trent from 1670, an illustrated manuscript Bible from 1225, and a hand-written paper in Persian from 1250.
  2. Unlocking the Mysteries of Nature: The Emergence of a Scientific World View
    Because the printing press helped spread the scientific revolution, this grouping includes a page from the first printing of the Gutenberg Bible from 1455. It also holds a first edition of Nicolaus Copernicus’ On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres from 1617, a rare issue of Galileo’s proof of the Copernican system from 1710, and a printing of Isaac Newton’s theories from 1714.
  3. An Experiment in Liberty: America and the Heritage of the West
    An exciting collection of Early American documents, this section includes one of the rarest  printings of the Declaration of Independence in a journal from 1778; a first edition of Common Sense, the famous political pamphlet by Thomas Paine, from 1776; and the journal of the Acts of the First Congress of the United States from 1789, which established the Bill of Rights and officially ratified the Constitution and the election of George Washington as the first president.
  4. The Glorious Liberty of the Children of God: Human Rights in the Western Tradition
    Tracing the development of individual rights, this section includes a first edition of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin from 1852; a first printing of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation from the New York Times in 1862; and a 1576 printing of the landmark Magna Carta.


Bill Barker has portrayed Thomas Jefferson in a variety of venues since his first appearance at Independence Hall in Philadelphia in 1984. He first came to Williamsburg in the spring of 1993 to perform as Jefferson in a film made to honor Ambassador and Mrs. Walter H. Annenberg. He has continued to appear as Jefferson for Colonial Williamsburg, and assists in the development of Jefferson programs for the Foundation.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Barker's interest in Thomas Jefferson reaches back to his youth. He enjoys researching the American world Jefferson knew with an interest in the role the man played and continues to play in our American identity.

Barker received a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in history, from Villanova University and attended the University of Pennsylvania for a brief time. Attracted to the stage at an early age, he became a professional actor, director and producer. He was cast as Jefferson in many different venues including the musical, 1776. Bill is the same height, weight and general appearance as Mr. Jefferson.

Over the years he has evolved a repertoire of Jefferson presentations tailored to corporate and government audiences, as well as schools, societies and festivals. Barker performed as Jefferson at the White House, the Palace of Versailles and throughout the United States, Great Britain, France and the Las Vegas Strip! He presented for Chataqua and has been featured as Jefferson in several magazines including Time, People, Atlantic, Philadelphia, Southern Living, Reader’s Digest, and the Colonial Williamsburg Journal. He appeared as Jefferson in programs aired on ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, CNN, The History Channel, and C-SPANN.

Barker’s work is also praised in various newspapers, newsletters and reports, among them those of Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, the Remnant Trust, The Jefferson Legacy Foundation and The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. He has received commendations from The City of Philadelphia, The City of St. Louis, The City of New Orleans and The Hellenic Ideals Foundation. He enjoys historical research, archaeology and traveling.


The Missouri Town Dancers and Musicians are members of the Society of the Friends of Missouri Town 1855 and function as a support organization for the historic site. Their time period is 1820-1860, a peaceful and productive time before the Civil War.  The group shares gathered knowledge through music and dance.  They have accumulated a wealth of dances and customs of this time period. The musicians have also researched appropriate music for the dances the performers attempt to be authentic in dress and manners. The Dancers have been in existence for more than 30 years. They offer a variety of period dances, such as varsovienne, contras, schottische, and round dances.  They sometimes invite members of the audience to join in.  The group dances at every event at the Missouri Town 1855 site, and they have been invited to other sites including the Nelson-Atkins Museum, Starlight Theater, Truman Library, and the National Three Trails Museum.


Founded in 1858, Benedictine College is a Catholic, Benedictine, residential, liberal arts college located on the bluffs above the Missouri River in Atchison, Kansas.  The school is proud to have been named one of America’s Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report as well as one of the top Catholic colleges in the nation by First Things magazine and the Newman Guide.  It prides itself on outstanding academics, extraordinary faith life, strong athletic programs, and an exceptional sense of community and belonging.  It has a mission to educate men and women within a community of faith and scholarship.