Posted by: mdmusingsie | November 6, 2017

Founding Fathers’ Foundations (Part 2 of 3)

Next up and very close to Monroe’s Highland is Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.  A more striking residence, anyone familiar with US currency will recognize the building as it is depicted on the flip side of the nickel (5 cent) coin.  Thomas Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of Independence and the 3rd President of the United States.



The dome we are so familiar with is actually not part of the original house.  After being inspired by European architecture, Jefferson remodeled Monticello to add the now famous feature.  Although the public rooms are well proportioned, Jefferson made spectacular use of space.  His own bed was in an alcove between his office and bedchamber. The guest room where James and Dolley Madison stayed when they visited had the bed inset into an alcove with cupboards above for storage.  Dolley Madison was said to not favor the room as cupboards above the bed made it claustrophobic.


Monticello dumbwaiter

Jefferson was a keen observer of the weather and would have known about the sweltering summers and freezing winters in Virginia. Kitchens were seldom in the same building as the house in those days, due to the risk of fire. To avoid having to transport food and supplies to the house during inclement weather, there is a passageway that runs from one wing through the cellars of the house to the other wing.  In one of the cellars is a dumbwaiter so that wine or port could be sent to Jefferson in his study without the intrusion of servants.

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A firm believer in the power of education, Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia in 1819.  He made sure that he had a view of the campus from his home in Monticello.


View of University of Virginia from Monticello

Something of a visionary, he employed the technology of his day including a polygraph.  Not the kind used to tell truth from fiction when a person is questioned, but a writing implement that has two pens such that moving one in the act of writing moves the other in the same manner to make an exact copy of any letter or document – an 18th century copy machine.  It’s because of his foresight we are able to have a deeper glimpse into the life and times of one of the most iconic men in US history.

Like the other estates, Monticello was a working plantation. The street adjacent to the house called Mulberry Row is where the slaves as well as free or indentured craftspeople lived and worked.


Monticello slave quarters


Monticello slave quarters

Jefferson struggled with slavery like many of his compatriots, but acknowledged they were necessary at that time in order to fund the ventures that led to the founding of the United States. He is known to have fathered six children with slave Sally Hemmings after his wife’s death.  Whether the relationship was more than slave and master is lost to history.

Thomas Jefferson died on July 4th, 1826 – wanting to make it once more to that revered date when he and his fellow founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence.  John Quincy Adams died the same day, just a few hours later. Coincidentally (or not), James Monroe also died on July 4th, but five years later in 1821.  These men felt passionately about the country they helped to establish.

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