Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States and principal author of the Declaration of Independence, wanted to be remembered for building Monticello. He filled his neoclassical mountain retreat with hundreds of books, inventions, ancient paintings and maps and Indian artifacts fron Lewis and Clark.
Looking out over Jefferson’s experimental gardens, it’s easy to image that it’s 1801. A southern flash rainstorm, with the thick smell of rain and with big fat rain drops. The sounds of crickets and silence. Red earth. In the distance, a man sings old slave work songs. Crisp violin waltzes float from the house.
Jefferson loved agriculture, and tried all sorts of experiments in this terrace garden. He used the sunny garden pavilion to keep his garden logs. The wooden posts mark the sites of the enslaved workers’ homes. Four generations of slaves lived and died at Monticello. Because of the work of these men, women, and children, Thomas Jefferson had ample time to sit in his shady suite of rooms for hours, studying, inventing and writing…about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. For Jefferson, slavery was a necessary evil, something to be phased out slowly (after his lifetime). It’s hard to juxtapose his contributions as a free thinker, inventor, progressive mind, and freedom fighter with his choice to be a slave owner. Although the President opposed U.S. involvement in international slave trade, and struggled throughout his life his personal views on slavery, his decision to own slaves throughout his life ultimately spoke louder than his words.
READ MORE: After my visit to Monticello, I definitely wanted to learn more about Jefferson, his life, his times, his ideas, his family, his enslaved workers. Here’s what’s on my T.J. reading list:
VISIT MONTICELLO: It’s a treat to spend an afternoon at Monticello, wandering the gorgeous grounds and thinking big thoughts. It’s about an hour from Washington, D.C. and just minutes from Charlottesville, VA. There’s a huge visitor’s center with a little cafe and several galleries with artifacts and exhibits. It’s $15.00 to tour the house and grounds. The price will get you a guided, 40-minute tour of the house. Unfortunatel, visitors are not allowed to wander the house unescorted. But you can spend the entire day exploring the grounds, hiking through the hills and gardens. There are also a number of programs (nature walks, garden tours, Slaves at Monticello tours, lecture series, etc.) The official website has a list of programs, hours, tickets & a ton of information.