The documentary record surrounding the construction of the University of Virginia is perhaps the finest and most complete of any building project in early America aside from the United States Capitol. Of an estimated 12,000 documents associated with the founding of the university, as many as one-third cast light on various aspects of the building process. Although the selections of documents constituting this documentary history derive primarily from about two dozen manuscript and early printed sources, the bulk of the material can be found in the University of Virginia Proctors Papers and the personal papers of Thomas Jefferson, Joseph Carrington Cabell, and John Hartwell Cocke. The majority of these papers are located in the University of Virginia Library Special Collections and the Library of Congress, with some in the Massachusetts Historical Society and the Henry E. Huntington Library in San Marino, California. This original manuscript material consists of letters, memoranda, bids and proposals, agreements and contracts, minutes, reports, deeds, accounts, receipts, and drawings, both architectural and otherwise. The main correspondents are the numerous undertakers and workmen, university proctor Arthur Spicer Brockenbrough, the members of the Board of Visitors (especially Jefferson, Cabell, and Cocke), and the firms providing building supplies to the construction site. The workmen's bids and proposals as well as the memoranda to and from the workers form some of the most unique and interesting material in the history. The agreements, contracts, deeds, and receipts generally were signed both by an agent for the university (usually Brockenbrough) and some representative of the firm, contractor, or craftsman doing business with the university. For the most part, the accounts are in the writing of Brockenbrough, university bursar Alexander Garrett, or local accountant Martin Dawson. The drafts and final copies of most of the official minutes and reports are in Jefferson's handwriting, although contemporaneous copies written by others also survive. Jefferson made nearly all of the architectural drawings (supplemented occasionally by John Neilson), although architects William Thornton and Benjamin Henry Latrobe contributed important sketches. Also, a number of minor drawings by various other people appear in the letters or on other documents.
The transcriptions that follow remain as true to the original documents as possible. Spelling, punctuation, and capitalization are rendered as the writers intended, with mid-range letters following modern usage. Dashes, abbreviations, and contractions have been kept as written, except that tildes have been dropped. Superscript letters have been lowered, and any markings that appear beneath them are treated as dots. Marginal or above-line insertions have been placed in the text where appropriate or indicated in a note; deleted material is recorded in the notes when substantive. The symbol for per () and the ampersand (&) are retained as used in the manuscripts, and the infrequently occurring thorn is changed to the word meant by the writer. New page repetitions of the last word on the previous page are silently dropped. Angle brackets denote mutilated or illegible material and square brackets [ ] indicate material inserted by the editor. Documents generally are presented chronologically, and the placement within a document of the dateline, salutation, farewell and signature have been standardized. Paragraphing and indentions also have been standardized to reflect breaks intended by the writer. A writer's footnote or appendix have been inserted in the document at the place where the writer intended. Each document is followed by a source note dealing with provenance, multiple copies, addresses, dockets, and other markings or pertinent information regarding the physical nature of the manuscript. Annotation follows the source note when appropriate.