On a recent trip up north, we pulled into beautiful Charlottesville, Virginia – to pay a visit to the fabled home of American founding father Thomas Jefferson.
He was waiting in the parking lot to greet us.
A shuttle bus collected us from the Visitor’s Center and rumbled up the hill where we got our first glimpse of Monticello.
TJ designed and began building this place in 1769 – at the ripe old age of 26 years old, after inheriting 3,000 acres of plantation land from his father.
It’s a truly graceful design. And the views from the top of the mountain aren’t bad either…
I love the side decks branching out from each side of the house. I found TJ’s lime tree, close at hand for those sunset gin & tonics on the terrace I presume.
Exploring the greenhouse piazza
The Monticello foundation is refreshingly frank about the role that enslaved people played in everyday life. Jefferson owned more than 600 slaves over the course of his lifetime. They laboured on the plantation as field workers, gardeners, carpenters, textile weavers, blacksmiths, and household servants.
It’s astounding that with all that free labour, Jefferson still managed to die with over $2 million in debt. In his will, he bequeathed freedom to only five men – a great hypocrisy in regards to his belief that “slavery [was] contrary to the laws of nature” and that everyone had a right to personal liberty.
I can’t reconcile how Jefferson could advocate the abolishment of slavery, and even eventual emancipation of slaves, but still be a part of society that was growing more and more entrenched in the proliferation of slavery. The sad truth is that he is partly responsible for instilling in white American culture the notion that blacks were inferior. America is still grappling with the wounds of slavery and racism to this very day.
Log cabin dwelling for slaves
It was a gorgeous day to stroll the grounds and explore the gardens, which symbolise the pioneering spirit of life in colonial America.
I could have spent all afternoon in this little brick pavilion with its double sash windows and extraordinary views across the rolling Piedmont countryside.
We wandered down the hill behind the house upon the family cemetery, to reflect on the obelisk marker of Jefferson’s grave.
Isn’t it surprising he didn’t mention being the third President of the United States as one of his accomplishments? Instead, he wanted to be remembered for his writings and for founding the University of Virginia.
And how romantic that he died on the Fourth of July, fifty years to the day after signing the Declaration of Independence! Fellow signer and American revolutionary, John Adams would die on the same day, just four hours later.
For all America’s complicated and dissonant history, this place is certainly a part of it.
Back at the Monticello discovery center, we tinkered around with some of Jefferson’s inventions, including a replica of his letter copying device.
With our heads full of ideas and information, we stopped off at the Michie Tavern to debrief and reflect on our Monticello visit – over a mug of tavern ale!
I’m so glad we had the chance to spend a day at Monticello and learn a little bit about the life of Thomas Jefferson.
In the words of the man himself, “If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed.”