Twilight at Monticello

I just finished Twilight at Monticello, by Alan Pell Crawford, and I have to give it a positive rating. It’s a more intimate look at Thomas Jefferson’s years of retirement at his home, Monticello. The book wasn’t the best history book I’ve read, but I think it gives a good overview to the fact that Jefferson wasn’t as perfect as we were taught in school and was in fact deeply hypocritical in many aspects of his life.

I was fascinated by my visit to Monticello last year because Jefferson designed it himself and it’s stunning inside and out, so I’ve spent the past year reading about him and the other founding fathers. I never really learned a lot about Jefferson in early school other than the highlights (he wrote the Declaration of Independence and was the third president), and I think that’s a shame.  I’ve also recently finished Founding Brothers, by Joseph J. Ellis, and I finally watched the HBO miniseries, John Adams, which I thought was absolutely fantastic so I’ll have to write another post about that!  Founding Brothers is a short read, and I think it’s a great place to start to get a better feeling of the times and the figures involved in the revolution.

Here are some pictures of Jefferson-related activities during our trip to Virginia last summer. We went to DC to the Jefferson Memorial as well as Monticello.

It was SO HOT in DC that day. After walking from the museums to the Jefferson memorial I had to take a 5 minute nap on a bench like a homeless person. My dad fell asleep too!

Inside the Jefferson Memorial.

Back view of Monticello.

Jefferson’s vegetable garden. The view was stunning. Apparently employees at Monticello get to keep the vegetables!

Best friends necklaces!

The front of the house. I’m sad to report that we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the house where you get to see many of Jefferson’s inventions, such as the apparatus he designed to make copies of all the letters he wrote, the doors connected beneath the floor to allow them to open at the same time, or the double glazing type windows to keep warmth in the home.

The back of the house.

Jefferson constructed Monticello in a way that many of the slave quarters were hidden beneath the house. There is a long hallway with many rooms that also housed the beer and wine cellar, kitchen and other rooms. Sally Hemmings, the slave with whom he is thought to have had several children, had a room directly below his room.

Along the vegetable gardens there were slave cabins on what was called Mulberry Row.

The Monticello graveyard. The day we visited a descendent of Jefferson was being buried.

Jefferson wanted three things displayed on his tombstone: Author of the Declaration of Independence and Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and father of the University of Virginia. This tombstone isn’t the original, though. I believe this one was errected in the late 1800s by the US government.

The grounds and the welcome center/gift shop area were so well maintained. The entire experience was worth the money and I learned so much. It’s definitely worth the long drive through Albemarle County, and you’ll pass by James Madison’s house at Montpelier as well as James Monroe’s house. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit those, but I hope to make a trip back to Virginia someday!

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Twilight at Monticello

  1. If you haven’t already, give David McCullough’s biography of John Adams (titled “John Adams”) a read. It has much about the friendship and conflict of Adams and Jefferson, along with a lot more.

    • That’s definitely on my list. I’ve always wanted to read it (I read 1776 a couple years ago and loved it) but ever since I saw the mini series I’m making it a priority!

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