Posted by: mdmusingsie | November 5, 2017

Founding Fathers’ Foundations (Part 1 of 3)

Virginia is a hotbed for US history buffs.  Most of the founding fathers had residences in the state and several, quite impressive ones survive today.

Our first stop was at the smallest of the three estates I visited – James Monroe’s (5th President) Highland (aka knows as Ash Lawn which is a name given by owners after Monroe).  The house that exists today is not Monroe’s original house which burned down not longer after he sold the property.  Initially it was thought the present house stood on the same foundations as the original home, but recent excavations have shown Monroe’s house was actually larger.  Stone marking in the garden show some of the original, extended foundations.


Highland – Flat stones mark where the original foundations once were

The guest house is considered to be original and is attached to the main house.  As it may take a day or more to travel from places like Williamsburg or Jamestown to the plantations of James Monroe, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, they all required quest quarters to house the travelers who would stay for upwards of a month at a time.


Highland – Guest quarters

Viewable from the guest quarters are reconstructions of some of the slave housings along with the original smoke house. All of these estates were working plantations – that’s how these men made their living. There were no hefty salaries or lifelong pensions for our founding fathers. They even paid their own travel expenses which included visits to foreign countries.


Highland – reconstructed slave quarters (L) and original smoke house (R)

Similar to the other two estates I visited, Monroe struggled with slavery – on one hand considering it evil and on the other hand fearing the consequences of immediate emancipation. He participated in a venture in Liberia to attempt to repatriate freed slaves.

Monroe may be best known for the Monroe Doctrine, essentially stating that any interference by foreign governments in the administration of the US could be considered a hostile act.  With recent questions regarding the electoral process, history has a way of coming full circle, though sometimes with different players.

In the garden is a life-sized statue of Monroe that was commissioned by Argentina in honor of the Monroe Doctrine, but subsequent unrest in the country meant the statue was never delivered.


James Monroe

Lesser known about Monroe is that as a young lieutenant he crossed the Delaware during George Washington’s famous campaign. Additionally, he was the one to actually negotiate the Louisiana Purchase with France. Jefferson tends to get the credit for this endeavor because he was President at the time, but it was Monroe in France who did the actual negotiations.

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