Sunday, April 27, 2008


Rembrandt Tulips at Monticello

Every April I get the urge to travel. Why April? I think it must be because my husband and I were married April 30, 1994. We headed down to New Orleans for our honeymoon so this time of year, we both really get the urge to go to some destination steeped in rich history. A couple of years ago, it was Richmond, VA. My paternal ancestors settled around Williamsburg at Charles City and we went there with my parents some years before our Richmond trip to walk the footsteps of Jamestown and visit the area along the James River where my ancestor, William Justice, made his home from England. He brought a number of indentured servants to VA and was handsomely rewarded by Governor Yeardley with several thousand acres.( I'll post more information about that in a future post).

A couple of years later we decided to head back to our sister state to the east and tour Richmond. We just fell in love with the area and to this day we feel that we may very well end up there permanently when my husband finishes dental school and his service as a US Air Force Dentist...So...This is a little glimpse of some of my favorite stops on the trip.

The first stop was Monticello on the way to Richmond.....

Thomas Jefferson: A Brief Biography

Thomas Jefferson -- author of the Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, third president of the United States, and founder of the University of Virginia -- voiced the aspirations of a new America as no other individual of his era. As public official, historian, philosopher, and plantation owner, he served his country for over five decades.

His father Peter Jefferson was a successful planter and surveyor and his mother Jane Randolph a member of one of Virginia's most distinguished families. Having inherited a considerable landed estate from his father, Jefferson began building Monticello when he was twenty-six years old. 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 expanding and changing the house.

Jefferson inherited slaves from both his father and father-in-law. In a typical year, he owned about 200, almost half of them under the age of sixteen. About eighty of these lived at Monticello; the others lived on adjacent Albemarle County plantations, and on his Poplar Forest estate in Bedford County, Virginia. Jefferson freed two slaves in his lifetime and five in his will and chose not to pursue two others who ran away. All were members of the Hemings family; the seven he eventually freed were skilled tradesmen.

Having attended the College of William and Mary, Jefferson practiced law and served in local government as a magistrate, county lieutenant, and member of the House of Burgesses in his early professional life. As a member of the Continental Congress, he was chosen in 1776 to draft the Declaration of Independence, which has been regarded ever since as a charter of American and universal liberties. The document proclaims that all men are equal in rights, regardless of birth, wealth, or status, and that the government is the servant, not the master, of the people.

After Jefferson left Congress in 1776, he returned to Virginia and served in the legislature. Elected governor from 1779 to 1781, he suffered an inquiry into his conduct during his last year in office that, although finally fully repudiated, left him with a life-long pricklishness in the face of criticism.

During the brief private interval in his life following his governorship, Jefferson wrote Notes on the State of Virginia. In 1784, he entered public service again, in 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.

In 1790 he accepted the post of secretary of state under his friend George Washington. His tenure was marked by his opposition to the pro-British policies of Alexander Hamilton. In 1796, as the presidential candidate of the Democratic Republicans, he became vice-president after losing to John Adams by three electoral votes.

Four years later, he defeated Adams and became president, the first peaceful transfer of authority from one party to another in the history of the young nation. Perhaps the most notable achievements of his first term were the purchase of the Louisiana Territory in 1803 and his support of the Lewis and Clark expedition. His second term, a time when he encountered more difficulties on both the domestic and foreign fronts, is most remembered for his efforts to maintain neutrality in the midst of the conflict between Britain and France; his efforts did not avert war with Britain in 1812.

Jefferson was succeeded as president in 1809 by his friend James Madison, and during the last seventeen years of his life, he remained at Monticello. During this period, he sold his collection of books to the government to form the nucleus of the Library of Congress. Jefferson embarked on his last great public service at the age of seventy-six, with the founding of the University of Virginia. He spearheaded the legislative campaign for its charter, secured its location, designed its buildings, planned its curriculum, and served as the first rector.

Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, just hours before his close friend John Adams, on the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. He was eighty-three years old, the holder of large debts, but according to all evidence a very optimistic man.

It was Jefferson's wish that his tomb stone reflect the things that he had given the people, not the things that the people had given to him. It is for this reason that Thomas Jefferson's epitaph reads:

BORN APRIL 2, 1743 O.S.
DIED JULY 4. 1826

Many good biographies of Jefferson are available. Perhaps the single most respected Jefferson scholar was Dumas Malone, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning six-volume biography, Jefferson and His Time. In 1993 the Thomas Jefferson Foundation published Thomas Jefferson: A Brief Biography, an essay written by Malone.


willow said...

I visited Monticello years ago, but would love to go again. I think I would appreciate the history far more now. It would be a perfect spring trip. Interesting post, thanks, Rebecca.

DeeDee said...

Ah Rebecca...I never tire of reading about the people who played such important parts in shaping this great nation. Thomas Jefferson, one of my favorites. I often just think... how remarkable to be a have so much wisdom as the founding fathers..I recently found this website and shared it with my daughter...she is a teacher..small Christian Thought you might enjoy...One day I hope to travel to Williamsburg and vist all these wonderful places I've read about and seen pictures of...I will... thank you for a beautiful post..Dee Dee

Lavinia Ladyslipper said...

Monticello has interested me ever since I saw a television program about it many years ago. It is magnificent and steeped in history, as is much of Virginia. Definitely in the top 5 states I would like to visit. Thank you for this interesting historical summary of a very memorable president.

Rebecca said...

Willow, my father visted Monticello many years ago and he said the same thing. He said he wants to go back and really absorb the history this time.

Rebecca said...

Deedee, thank you so much for the link. I've bookmarked it and will reference it with my son....Oh, you'll no doubt love Williamsburg. It's so interesting. I have a relative whose husband is a docent out on Jamestown Island. He was such a wealth of information and he gave us our own private tour.

Rebecca said...

Lavinia, Virginia is definitely a must-see state.

Liz Forman said...

As a tea enthusiast and someone very involved in historic preservation, I have enjoyed reading your blog. I live in Richmond, just blocks from Agecroft and Virginia House, and used to live on Monument Avenue. We have lived in Richmond since 1994 and it is home.... Welcome!