Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Monticello VA 6/27/2016

At Monticello, we took the behind the scenes tour which in addition to the first floor regular tour, includes floors 2 and 3 also.  Our impression is, if you are going to come here, there is so much more to see on the behind the scenes tour and you should just bite the bullet and do it to.  We squeaked into booking the behind the scenes tour a few days in advance,  but we could only get into their last tour of the day,  for our last day that we planned to be in the area.  It was hard to find information on just how much more time was needed to view the grounds. We planned for 4 hours total and our recommendation is if you do the behind the scenes tour you should plan at least 5 hours and possibly 6 hours total to see all that is there.  In our four hours, however, we did get on the outside Slave tour, and we also took the Garden tour prior to us going into the house on our behind the scenes tour. The grounds were closed after we finished our house tour. Best we can figure we missed a leisurely stroll around the plantation ,a full view of the basement where the kitchen, cellar etc duties took place, the museum, including the 15 min video, and the gift shop.  That said, prior research and four hours of very full touring, well came away feeling like we really took in a lot.

Monticello we have all grown up seeing (some realize and some do not) as it pictured on the back of our US nickle and also on the back of most $2 bills.  The Monticello Plantation was owned and designed by Thomas Jefferson and was a 40 year project for him.  At one point Thomas Jefferson had a total of 26 family members living in the home with him as well as around 200 slaves living along  Mulberry Row which is located on the 5000 acres of the plantation property.   Approximately 175 of his slaves were acquired through inheritance and over the course of his life he would have over 600 different slaves, most from natural increase of his enslaved families.  Thomas Jefferson was quoted as saying in references to his slaves: "I consider a woman that brings a child every two years 2 years as more profitable than the best man of the farm for what she produces is in addition to the capital  while his labors disappear in mere consumption".  Originally his slaves were housed in dormitories and eventually he built small slave houses which it is believed was done to encourage the population increase of his slaves.  While he was not known to sell a lot of his slaves, he has said to have gifted them to people as wedding gifts and such.  Jefferson's relationship with slavery is certainly riddled with contradictions. While his despicable actions as it pertains to slaves- his ownership of slaves and no he was not known to be a 'better' slave owner (if there is such a thing) -makes it difficult to accept him as a 'Founding Father' ironically it is his eloquent words-"All men are created equal" that seem to have given this country the fortitude to work towards ending this injustice (intended or not).

Wow the things we learned.  I know I can not cover it all but it is fascinating for sure.    Slaves had 3 major fears- beatings, separation and death.  We were surprised to learn that death was not what they feared the most, but rather separation from their family members was unbearable.  For such an educated man as Thomas Jefferson, we were amazed that he never seemed to understand the emotional ties that the slaves had, probably because he only saw them only as capital.  Many slaves were quoted as seeing themselves as having 2 lives.  The first life took place from can't see to can't see and their second life happened during those hours they escaped later with their family.  From what we were told, Jefferson just never got this, especially because he could have used it to his advantage.  Slaves would run to find family members, more than any other reason and from what we heard, he remained clueless as to why they would take off.

Slaves ages 10-16- Girls went to the fabric making mills, boys to the joinery or to the black smith shop. If girls shined they might be promoted to work in the house or to train  younger slaves on the looms. Boys if they succeeded might train other young slaves in blacksmithing or joinery.  All that 'failed' during these six years got sent to the fields to work.  

A tangled web of relatives!  Like wow.  After Jefferson's wife died in 1782 he is said (supported now by DNA evidence) to have taken up relations with Sally Hemmings who was an inherited slave, very much his junior, who later bore at least 6 of his children.  But she was not just any slave.  She was the half sister to his deceased wife!  Yes, his deceased wife's father bore her from another slave Elizabeth Hemmings and Thomas got Sally as inheritance (along with Elizabeth of course). All the children Sally bore were said to pass as white and are believed, by most historians, to be fathered by Thomas.  I plan to read more on this relationship which is said to be like a common law marriage, but of course could not be seen a such at that time.  Jefferson is said to have set free all his children (from Sally) in his will but not Sally, as she would be difficult to justify.  His daughter from his marriage, however, is said to have given Sally 'time served', something that only designated that an owner would not pursue her further.  His children on the other hand were all highly skilled and that enabled him to request their freedom in VA.

Today there is an ongoing opposition by the  'Jefferson' family descendants to acknowledge the Hemming Family connection and to disallow any Hemming family members from being buried at Monticello. Jefferson descendants, after the DNA evidence came out have now begun to argue that Sally's children had to be from Thomas's brother.  But the oral histories passed down over the years just do not support that.  From what we were told, every year they take a vote regarding if Hemmings can be buried at Monticello and there is sadly still strong opposition concerning the Hemmings descendants.

The architecture of the home, on another note, especially inside is stunning and includes 12 skylights, something not yet seen in the United States when they were included.  Also included in the home is a beautiful large dome.  Incorporating this dome into this existing home was no easy task.  (Jefferson completely remodeled the house) Chris Kern has written a short essay on this subject worth reading.   Chris Kern Essay  The home was designed in a way that from the exterior hides that  the home is three stories tall and also includes a full basement.  Jefferson felt that stairs were a waste of floor space and the two staircases are only 2 feet wide, very steep (9 inch rise) and tucked away where they will not be seen.  Thomas Jefferson designed and redesigned this home over the course of 40 years. Within the home are many unusual additions, too many to list them all. Double doors  were designed to both open at once with the pull of one handle.  The entry clock was run by the weight of cannon balls, and the height of the cannon balls indicated what day of the week it was, inscribed on the wall (note this is not linear).  This last one, he made a calculation error in that he had to cut a hole in the floor in order to be able to pick up the last day of the week which was shown in the basement below.  Most rooms had alcove beds and so many of the rooms had huge windows and skylights and were constructed on an octagonal shape. Pictures are not allowed to be taken within the home, however, a few interior pictures can be seen at the following link:Monticello Interior  Jefferson is said to have taken great pains to minimize the vision of slave presence.  Mulberry Row was not easily seen from the home windows. Additionally, the dining area had a revolving door with shelves to place all the food on.  This enabled feeding this large household with only 2 slaves visible.

The Jefferson home is full of innovations of the day.  He had a contraption that wrote a copy of his notes as he was writing.  He had the revolving service door Service Door, a revolving reading stand, spherical sundial, and a wheel cipher for decoding messages.  Probably most interesting, however, is how he handled various architectural challenges as they presented in his remodel of his  home.

At his death,  Jefferson was hugely in debt. Monticello, all the furnishings and all of the slaves went on the auction block.  It is said that the home by then was in huge need of repair.  Eventually Monticello was purchase by a huge admirer of Jefferson-Commodore Levy.  It is said that much credit goes to the Commodore that Monticello was saved from ruin.  In 1923, Levy sold the property to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.  Today, the home is furnished with about 60% of the original furnishings.

Monticello, The House
From this picture it is hard to realize that the house is 3 stories
plus a basement.
'Modern' Slave house
This Outdoor Sitting Room looks out over the Vinyards
and Countryside
Fish Pond to store caught fish
Like beats trying to keep them fresh
Canterbury Bells
Love Iles Bleeding Seeds
Narrow Leafed Cornflower

No comments:

Post a Comment