After worshipping our Creator at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Lynchburg, VA at the 8 a.m. service on Sunday morning, we drove over an hour northward to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s estate just outside of Charlottesville. Jefferson was one of the most complex of the American founders. Concerning this great man, Leslie Bowman states: “Philosopher, revolutionary, president, connoisseur, gardener, epicure, diplomat, scientist, educator, innovator, and farmer, Thomas Jefferson was, is, the essential architect of American life.” He, of course, gave us the words in the Declaration of Independence. Monticello, his beloved home, sits on an 850′ high mountain, providing lovely views of the surrounding countryside.

Holy Cross Catholic Church, Downtown Lynchburg, VA

Holy Cross

Jefferson’s Copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses in the Museum

After purchasing our tickets, we watched the introductory movie and toured the museum before driving down the road to Michie Tavern, an 18th century inn which serves Southern food, buffet-style. We stuffed ourselves with fried chicken, black-eyed peas, green beans, mashed potatoes, biscuits, cornbread, and peach cobbler, and then returned to Monticello for the tours.

Historic Michie Tavern

Interior of this 18th-century tavern, servers were in period dress

We first took the Ground and Gardens tour where a well-informed guide took us on a walk across the grounds, talking about the property and showing us the flower gardens and vegetable gardens. We enjoyed the beauty and variety of Monticello. Jefferson had a lifelong interest in gardening, botany, and agriculture.

East Front of Monticello, the view that would first greet visitors as they approached.

The Neo-Classical, Palladio-inspired Monticello

Cindy, beside Jefferson’s vegetable garden along Mulberry Row

Jefferson’s vineyards, on the slopes of Monticello

Part of Monticello’s flower gardens.

Next, we took the Slavery at Monticello tour. Our excellent guide shared with us the experiences of the enslaved people who lived and labored on Jefferson’s 5000 acre plantation. Jefferson on slavery was a contradiction. He called slavery a “moral depravity” and a “hideous blot” yet he owned hundreds of slaves on Monticello. They appear to have been no better treated than those on other plantations. And, he freed very few of them, even at his death. How could the man who wrote that “all men are created equal” practice slavery?

Our excellent guide for our Monticello slavery tour

Cindy, before the Hemming slave cabin. A reconstruction of the dwelling of woodworker John Hemmings and his wife, Priscilla. More than 70 members of the Hemmings family lived in slavery at Monticello over five generations, including Sally Hemmings, the half-sister of Jefferson’s wife, and likely his mistress after his wife died.

Finally, we took our Behind the Scenes tour of the main house of Monticello. Not only did we get to tour the lower level, but we also walked through the second and third floors of the neoclassical structure. Our guide, Grace, was amazing and made our two hours of walking through the home very enjoyable. She regaled us with stories of Jefferson and his family as we made our way from room to room.

West Front of Monticello (if it looks familiar, check out the back of a nickel). This was the “family” entrance which opened up onto the gardens.

Pictures were not allowed inside, except for in this room, The Dome Room. the room was inspired by Jefferson’s visits to the Hotel de Salm in Paris. This was the first domed residence in America. An oculus, or a glass skylight, sits at the zenith of the dome. The exterior was inspired by the Temple of Vesta in Rome as depicted by Palladio.

Jefferson’s Garden Pavillion

On the way back to our vehicle, we stopped by Jefferson’s Grave for a few moments of reflection. He is buried halfway down the hill with other members of the family. We arrived back in Lynchburg after dark. The next day we would drive on northward.

The grave marker of one of America’s founders.

6 thoughts on “Monticello

  1. Sounds like he was quite a man- diversity of talents & contributions! Something how he did say all created equal & had slaves though? Very interesting-thanks for sharing.

    • Very good question! It seems clear that he did not think all men were created equal, at least when it came to the blacks. He said elsewhere, on more than one occasion, that the black race was inferior. I don’t think he had the slaves in mind when he penned this phrase.

  2. Monticello looks like an interesting place to visit. Beautiful and educational. How cool and appropriate that they have his copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

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