Column – Jenkinson bringing Mr. Jefferson to Smithfield this spring

Published 5:26 pm Tuesday, January 30, 2024

A celebrity is coming to Smithfield, courtesy of the Isle of Wight County Historical Society.

Best to grab a ticket now to see historian Clay Jenkinson’s April 21 portrayal of Thomas Jefferson. Once word travels across the James and to metropolitan points to the southeast, seats in the Smithfield High auditorium will fill quickly, especially at the bargain rate of $25 per person.

The Historical Society’s Jim Henderson stopped by the office this week to let us know that early ticket sales were sluggish. I told him not to fret.

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Jenkinson has something of a cult following among those of us with a little, or a lot of, gray hair who love American history. 

Most of us discovered Jenkinson via public radio’s “Thomas Jefferson Hour,” a weekly show in which Jenkinson would first go “in character” to deliver monologues and answer listeners’ questions about Virginia’s beloved Mr. Jefferson. Then Jenkinson would go out of character to talk about the episode’s topic.

The North Dakota resident is best known for portraying Jefferson, as he will in Smithfield, but I first saw him in person a decade or so portraying explorer Meriwether Lewis at Suffolk’s Westminster Reformed Presbyterian Church. Enthralled is my best description of the crowd that filled the church’s sanctuary that night.

“Nationally acclaimed for his historical interpretations, Jenkinson brings Jefferson to life in his portrayal of the third president with such authenticity that the audience may forget that Mr. Jefferson is not actually seated in front of them,” the Historical Society wrote in a piece promoting the April program. “The program will focus on Jefferson’s life and accomplishments to give students and adults an inspirational and entertaining way to appreciate the history of our Republic during the period of its founding almost 250 years ago. The audience will also be able to ask Mr. Jefferson questions on any subject.”

The Q&A is a real treat, demonstrating the depth of Jenkinson’s knowledge of Jefferson.

The Historical Society wants to sell at least 400 tickets to cover the substantial cost of booking one of Jenkinson’s renown. I’ll be surprised if all 800 seats aren’t filled.

“A good turnout by our community will make a strong impression of its interest and support of such a high value program,” Henderson said. 

The Historical Society also welcomes sponsorships of the event to help ensure that students who can’t afford the $25 ticket cost will be able to attend.

Visit to buy tickets. For information on sponsorship opportunities, contact Henderson at

Doors will open at 2 p.m. on April 21, and the show begins at 3.


Steve Stewart is publisher of The Smithfield Times. His email address is