JEFFERSON, JOSEPH, was a native of England, born in 1776. He was the son of a distinguished actor, who was the contemporary of Garrick. It is well authenticated that the English Jeffersons, from whom Thomas Jefferson, the third President, claimed descent, and the ancestry of Joseph Jefferson the elder, were of the same county of England. It is a fact, also, that Mr. Jefferson, when President, sent for the comedian, then in Washington, and the interview satisfied both parties that they were of the same stock, and that conclusion was strengthened by a strong family resemblance. The latter was asked to dine at the executive mansion. He very courteously but firmly declined, saying that his gratification and pride in their possible connection was so great that it would be marred if the matter were known to the world, as any avowal of it would be misconstrued. He was educated for the stage, and in 1795 came to Boston, where and in New York he performed until about 1803, when he located in Philadelphia. Here he was quite a favorite, especially at the Chestnut street theater. From 1825 to 1832 he made Harrisburg his home, having a suite of apartments in the old Shakspeare <sic> building. He died here on the 4th of August, 1832, greatly lamented. His remains were interred in the burying ground attached to St. Stephen's Episcopal church, and from thence removed to the Harrisburg cemetery. The inscription on his tomb was written by Chief Justice Gibson, and has often been quoted and admired for its diction.
Of him the late John P. Kennedy wrote: "He played everything that was comic, and always made people laugh until the tears came in their eyes. Laugh! Why I don't believe he ever saw the world doing anything else. Whomsoever he looked at laughed. Before he came through the side scenes, when he was about to enter he would produce the first words of his part to herald his appearance, and instantly the whole audience set up a shout. It was only the sound of his voice. He had a patent right to shake the world's diaphragm which seemed to be infallible. When he acted, families all went together, young and old. Smiles were on every face; the town was happy. The chief actors were invited into the best company, and I believe their personal merits entitled them to all the esteem that was feit for them."
Mr. Jefferson possessed great taste and skill in the construction of intricate stage machinery, and was unrivalled in his peculiar personations. His favorite characters were Kit Cosey, Old D'Oiley and Admiral Cop. He is known as the elder Jefferson. His son and grandson were alike great actors -- the father of the second Joseph bequeathing to him his genius and his aspirations, with all that polish which rendered each so popular in his day. And now comes a third Joseph Jefferson, who, since the days of Hackett, has made the character of Rip Van Winkle his own.