I am an extremely visual person. So for me it’s one thing to read about history and an entirely different experience seeing it with my own eyes. To say that visiting Monticello gives dimension to what I have heard and read about Thomas Jefferson would be an understatement. Add a quirky, knowledgeable tour guide to the mix, and all that I had read in history books is dwarfed by my experience. I recall visiting the abbey at Caunes-Minervois near Carcassonne, France and having a similar experience. Having been raised Catholic, I knew a bit about the Benedictine Monks but it wasn’t until I visited Abadía de Caunes-Minervois that history came alive.
As we toured the rooms of Monticello I kept going back to the second room we entered. Martha (Thomas and Martha Jefferson’s daughter whom they called Patsy) had a room, called the south square room, just off the entry to the home. It was not finished until after her mother died at 36 years of age due to childbirth complications. But the fact that struck me most was that guests were not allowed to enter her room.
So there I was standing in Patsy’s room nearly 250 years later. I can’t accurately describe with words how that made me feel. I imagined her directing slaves, sewing, reading, and just sitting and praying or meditating as she gazed out onto the beautiful lawn.
Another thing I did not know about the home is that it is loaded with windows. Huge windows. In every room. Some, very cleverly designed by Jefferson himself.
Within the past several months I have visited 2 homes that owned slaves. I can’t even talk about the feelings I had standing in the “home” of a slave on a plantation in Charleston. To say our history is highlighted with ignorance would also be an understatement. And this is the other thought I kept going back to all throughout the tour of Monticello — how could such a brilliant man be so ignorant. Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. Lots of them. He was a genius architect but considered himself a farmer — another fact I did not learn from books. But the fact that he could justify owning human beings is beyond comprehension. This part of history has always fascinated me. I truly do not get how slavery, then and now, could possibly occur. Freedom is a given right that all human beings deserve. I cannot imagine not being free.
I will close this 5 Heart Rating with one more understatement — you should visit Monticello. The home is immaculately kept, the tour, volunteers and staff are fantastic, and the grounds are beautiful. I could spend all day there. Oh and the white bean, turkey, and kale soup in the cafe is fantastic. And although I am not a shopper, I will say the museum gift shop is one of the best I have seen.
PS I can’t complete my thoughts on my visit to Monticello without commenting on the important things Jefferson wanted to be remembered for — freedom of religion (separation of church and state) and the importance of public education. I am pretty sure he is not too happy right now with the way things are heading.