Monticello, Near Charlottesville, Virginia


” Oh, my young master, they were all burnt, but ah ! we saved your fiddle ! ”

So the negro servant replied to Thomas Jefferson who, on returning from a trip, learning that his home at Shadwell had been burned, asked after his books. To the negro’s mind the fiddle was the most important thing in the house.

Fortunately the new mansion, Monticello, near Charlotte, which he had designed, was so nearly completed that he was able to take up his residence there. Two years later he led into the new house his bride, Martha Skelton, a widow of twenty-three.

Before the marriage Jefferson, in accordance with the Virginia law, in company with Francis Eppes, entered into a license bond, of which the following is a copy:

” Know all men by these presents that we Thomas Jefferson and Francis Eppes are held and firmly bound to the sovereign lord the king his heirs and successors in the sum of fifty pounds current money of Virginia, to the paiment of which well and truly to be made we bind ourselves jointly and severally, our joint and several heirs, executors and administrators, in witness whereof we have hereto set our hands and seals this twenty-third day of December in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy one. The condition of the above obligation is such that if there be no lawful cause to obstruct a marriage intended to be had and solemnized between the above bound Thomas Jefferson and Martha Skelton of the County of Charles County, widow, for which a license is desired, then this obligation is to be null and void, otherwise the same is in full force.”

Edward Bacon, who was overseer at Monticello for twenty years, described the estate in vivid words :

” Monticello is quite a high mountain, in the shape of a sugar-loaf. A winding road led up to the mansion. On the very top of the mountain the forest trees were cut down, and ten acres were cleared and levelled.

(I know every room in that house. Under the house and the terrace that surrounded it, were the cisterns, ice-house, cellar, kitchen, and rooms for all sorts of purposes. His servants’ rooms were on one side. . . . There were no negro and other out-houses around the mansion, as you generally see on plantations. The grounds around the house were beautifully ornamented with flowers and shrubbery. … Back of the house was a beautiful lawn of two or three acres, where his grand-children used to play.

” His garden was on the side of the mountain. I had it built while he was President. It took a great deal of labor. We had to blow out the rocks for the walls for the different terraces, and then make the soil.

I used to send a servant to Washington with a great many fine things for his table, and he would send back the cart loaded with shrubbery.”

Jefferson spent most of his time on his estate until his death in 1826, except when he was called away for the service of his country.

Nine years after the beginning of the happy married life in Monticello there was a panic among the servants because of the approach of the British. Because Jefferson was Governor of Virginia, it was, thought that of course the mansion would be pillaged. Mrs. Jefferson was put in the carriage and sent to a place of safety, while Mr. Jefferson remained at home, collecting his most valuable papers. Later he followed his family. But when the soldiers reached the estate, the first inquiry of the leader of the party was for the master of the house. When he learned that Jefferson had escaped, he asked for the owner’s private rooms, and, on being shown the door which led to them, he turned the key in the lock and ordered that nothing in the house should be touched. This, it was explained, was in strict accordance with the orders that had been given by General Tarleton; their sole duty was to seize the Governor.

A year later, when the Marquis de Chastellux, a nobleman from France, visited Monticello, he was charmed with the house of which Mr. Jefferson was the architect, and often one of the workmen. He said it was ” rather elegant, and in the Italian taste, though not without fault; it consists of one large square pavilion, the entrance of which is by two porticoes, ornamented with pillars. The ground floor consists of a very large lofty saloon, which is to be decorated entirely in the antique style; above it is a library of the same size; two small wings, with only a ground floor and attic story, are joined to this pavilion, and communicate with the kitchen, offices, etc., which will form a kind of basement story, over which runs a terrace.”

Another attractive picture was given by the Duc de la Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, after his visit to Monti-cello in 1796. He noted the fact that Jefferson owned five thousand acres, of which but eleven hundred were cultivated.

” I found him in the midst of the harvest,” he wrote, ” from which the scorching heat of the sun does not prevent his attendance. . .. Every article is made on his farm : his negroes are cabinet makers, carpenters, masons, bricklayers, smiths, etc. The children he em-ploys in a nail factory, which yields already a considerable profit. . . . His superior mind directs the management of his domestic concerns with the same abilities, activity and regularity which he evinced in the conduct of public affairs.”

Long absence from home and lavish hospitality wrecked the Jefferson fortune, and when the owner of Monticello finally returned home after his eight years as President, he was compelled to curtail his expenses. But still he made guests welcome. It is said that at times there were as many as fifty guests in the house at one time. One of those who sought the Sage of Monticello in 1817 was Lieutenant Francis Hall, who wrote of his veneration as he looked on ” the man who drew up the Declaration of American Independence, who shared in the Councils by which her freedom was established, when the unbought voices of his fellow-citizens called to the exercise of a dignity from which his own moderation impelled him, when such an example was most salutary, to withdraw; and who, while he dedicates the evening of his glorious days to the pursuits of science and literature, shuns none of the humble duties of private life; but, having filled a seat higher than that of kings, succeeds with graceful dignity to that of the good neighbor, and becomes the friendly adviser, lawyer, physician, and even gardener of his vicinity.”

July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, was the day of Jefferson’s death. The sale of his estate was sufficient to pay all his debts. To his daughter who was thus made homeless, the legislatures of South Carolina and Virginia each voted as a gift $10,000.

On the stone placed over the grave of the Sage of Monticello was carved the inscription which he him-self had asked for : ” Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia.”