Jefferson’s Monticello History and Museum Tour
Charlottesville has a hero. A superhero even: Thomas Jefferson, third American president and probably one of the most important in the country’s history, darling child of the region, and we do not miss to salute any achievement, here. Still a hyper-president 200 years after his death.
His estate, Monticello (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), of which he drew the plans, is the perfect place to discover all the complexity of man. Because Jefferson was interested in everything, or almost everything: architecture, astronomy, botany, languages - he knew at least seven – cartography, literature, lark.
It can be seen from the entrance of his Charlottesville’s house, framed by a clock of his own, marking the passage of the days of the week at the option of a game of weight and levers; on his desk: a device allowing all his writings to be copied simultaneously in two copies; in the living room: a system of tubings to deliver his bottles of wine directly from the cellar – it was also a good living who liked to drink, eat well and receive many – or in his garden, flourishing species that he helped to improve at the crossroads.
But during the visit, we also discover some more controversial aspects of this man called Enlightenment, the defender of the equal rights of men who had dozens of slaves on his plantation and had several illegitimate children with one of them after the death of his wife. All of this is evoked in a thematic guided tour – included in the entrance fee – conducted several times a day.
Thomas Jefferson died at 83, at home, penniless. He was buried on his property, his epitaph testifies to the magnitude of his legacy: “Here rests Thomas Jefferson, author of the United States Declaration of Independence, author of the Religious Freedom Act in Virginia, founder of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. And that does not even include his two terms in the US presidency.
Thomas Jefferson had an illustrious neighbor: James Monroe, whose home, Highland, was also turned into a museum. The latter, however, is much less opulent than Monticello and museum facilities are less well developed: one can be disappointed when visiting both Charlottesville museum in quick succession.
This relative modesty can be explained in two ways: While Monroe admired Jefferson and his way of life, he did not count on the same family fortune as his mentor and Highland was almost completely burned down in the mid-nineteenth century (and renamed until recently, Ashlands).
Archaeologists are still doing research and have just discovered that one of the few period buildings was not a wing of the main house, but a detached house for guests. We visited a reconstruction of the original house, loaded with artifacts that belonged to Monroe.
James Monroe lived in Charlottesville for 33 years, with his wife and children. He was elected 5th American President on December 4, 1816. However, the visit is less focused on the political career of man, than the man in himself, his family, his way of life, and his interests. It is an interesting window on the lifestyle of the notables of the time.