“Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”
I have been to Monticello the home of Thomas Jefferson several times and each time I go I learn something new and fascinating about the man and the house. Thomas Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of Independence, third president of the United States, and founder of the University of Virginia. As public official, historian, philosopher, and plantation owner, he served his country for over five decades.
|view from front lawn, all of this was Jefferson’s property|
Jefferson began building Monticello when he was 26 years old after having inherited considerable land from his father. Three years later, he married Martha Wayles Skelton, with whom he lived happily for ten years until her death. Their marriage produced six children, but only two survived to adulthood. Jefferson, who never remarried, maintained Monticello as his home throughout his life, always improving, expanding and changing the house.
Jefferson was a lover of knowledge, and service to the country. After his service as Governor of Virginia he moved to France first as trade commissioner and then as Benjamin Franklin’s successor as minister. During this period, he avidly studied European culture, sending home to Monticello, books, seeds and plants, statues and architectural drawings, scientific instruments, and information.
After returning from France Jefferson became the Secretary of State under his good friend George Washington, six years later he became the Vice President of the United States and four years after that he became the 3rd President of the United States. His presidency was notable for the Louisiana Purchase as well as the Louis and Clark Expedition. While in the White House he was accompanied by James and Dolley Madison, who actually lived in the house with him for some time and Dolley served as his hostess. After serving two terms Jefferson returned to Monticello and James Madison became the 4th President.
|Back of the building, Sun Room on right is off Jefferson’s private office, used to experiment on plantings, etc|
|Kitchen, located under the house. Jefferson had developed a love of French cooking prior to going to Paris. But when he knew he was going there he brought his slave James Hemming with to be trained in the “art of cookery”. This by the way is a state of the art kitchen. This is like having an AGA stove!|
|Fish would be caught and stored in this pond to keep them fresh for dinner|
Jefferson spent the last 17 years at Monticello, during which time he sold his treasured book collection to the US government to become the nucleus of the Library of Congress. Then at the young age of 76 he founded the University of Virginia, which I might add, he designed, planned the curriculum and became its first rector. All the while maintain a working plantation with over 200 slaves.
|Through the trees you can see the University of Virginia Campus|
I do not want to drone on but let me just say this, if you visit Monticello you will see the artifacts of a wonderful, intelligent, Renaissance man. In addition to learning about life on a real working plantation where Jefferson was responsible for his family and the lives of 200 slaves, most everything was grown and made on this plantation.
It is fascinating adventure, from the ice house, to the kitchen, to the main staircase, which was only as wide as a person (Jefferson did not want to waste space), to the entertainment (luncheon’s only, did not want to waste candles for night time dining), beds in walls to maximize space, clocks with weights that go down 3 floors. I could spend days here and still not see it all.
Can you tell that I am a big fan of Jefferson and this wonderful house? Not to mention that if you come in the Fall the view of the changing leaves is stunning!
If you are interested in Jefferson, there is a fabulous radio broadcast (and you can also get it on podcast)The Thomas Jefferson Hour in which historian Clay Jenkins, assumes the persona of Jefferson and discusses everything from Christmas, religion, to current events, from the point of view of Thomas Jefferson. It is really an enlightening show.
NOTE: I realize that there is some controversy concerning Jefferson’s private life with Sally Hemming and possibly fathering children with her. As well as the contradiction of having slaves when he preached for democracy. I do not want to get into that here but it is all discussed other places.