Thomas Jefferson's Monticello
Monticello was the home of Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence and 3rd president of the United States of America. The revolutionary ideas of this man of the Enlightenment were instrumental in the creation of the United States. His home in Charlottesville, Virginia, is an architectural icon, with its neoclassical design drafted by Jefferson himself. But Monticello was also a working plantation, and the home to hundreds of enslaved people. The Founding Father who wrote “all men are created equal” was also a lifelong slave owner. On this field trip, students will learn about Thomas Jefferson’s world, including his political accomplishments, Monticello - the house and plantation, and the enslaved men, women, and children, who made his lifestyle possible.
Guests entered the hall upon arrival at Monticello. This room highlighted Jefferson’s wide-ranging interests and dedication to learning about the world around him. In this room, visitors viewed artifacts of American natural history, western civilization, and American Indian cultures while they waited for a chance to greet the former President. This museum of sorts demonstrated Jefferson’s belief that “knowledge is power, knowledge is safety… knowledge is happiness,” and that knowledge should be shared among the people in a democratic society.
Family Sitting Room
Jefferson’s adult daughter Martha Jefferson Randolph used this room as a sitting room and a place to manage the work of enslaved domestic servants. Martha and her husband, Thomas Mann Randolph, had 12 children, many of whom lived at Monticello during Jefferson’s retirement years. Enslaved families also lived at Monticello. As a 5,000 acre plantation, around 130 enslaved men, women, and children lived at Monticello at any given time. About 15 slaves worked in the house as domestic workers.
The library contained Jefferson’s vast collection of books. This library was one of the best in North America, and once held nearly 7,000 books. Reading in seven different languages, Jefferson wrote “I cannot live without books.” Jefferson was an early proponent of public education, and founded the University of Virginia. As he once wrote, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”
Jefferson’s chamber or bedroom, displays some of the French ideas Jefferson implemented in his Virginia home. As a diplomat in France for five years, Jefferson admired many architectural features he saw in Europe. When he returned to Monticello in 1789, he remodeled the house. Jefferson died in this room on the afternoon of July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.
The Parlor was the center of social life at Monticello. Family and friends would gather here for games, music, and conversation, and it was the site of weddings, dances, and other important events. It held most of Jefferson’s art collection, including portraits of many people whom he admired or considered noteworthy.
In the Dining Room, Jefferson, his family, and many guests took meals twice a day. Common to the time, Jefferson used folding tables so that after meals were finished, the room could be used to entertain. The Dining room connects to the Tea Room through double pocket doors. Enslaved butlers waited on Jefferson’s family and guests, but Jefferson used gadgets to minimize the number of slaves present, among them a dumbwaiter for wine and a revolving food service door (concealed in a niche along the wall).
The Tea Room functioned as overflow seating during meals, and was a reading and writing area for the Jefferson family. The western-most, and coldest, room in the house, at one time it had a stove in the semi-circular niche. Jefferson referred to the Tea Room as his "most honorable suite," and here he displayed likenesses of his friends and American heroes.
James and Dolley Madison used this guest bedroom so often that Jefferson’s grandchildren simply called it “Mr. Madison’s Room.” The Madison’s home, Montpelier, is located about 30 miles north of Monticello, a distance that required an entire day of travel. Guests tended to make the most of their stay when travel took so long, and the Madisons’ visits often lasted several weeks or even a month.
The dome on Monticello is visible on the back of the US 5¢ coin. Two flights of very steep and narrow stairs lead to the rooms on Monticello’s third floor. The use of the Dome Room is not known with certainty; at times it served as a bedroom for a married grandson, as a storeroom, and probably as a playroom for the grandchildren
The dynamic industrial hub of Jefferson’s 5,000-acre agricultural enterprise, Mulberry Row contained more than 20 dwellings, workshops, and storehouses between 1770 and the sale of Monticello in 1831. As the principal plantation street, it was the center of work and domestic life for dozens of people. While many free whites, free blacks, and indentured servants lived and worked on Mulberry Row – the vast majority of the people who lived at Monticello were enslaved African Americans.
Monticello's West Lawn, which features the "Nickel View" of the house, is an icon of American landscapes. The winding walk defines the perimeter of the leveled, oval-shaped West Lawn. The earliest images of the West Front of Monticello reveal a weedy, disheveled surface. The lawn was probably scythed once or twice a year and its appearance inevitably reflected the pre-lawn mower technology of the early nineteenth century.
The vegetable garden evolved over many years. Cultivation of crops started along the contours of the slope in 1770. Terracing was introduced in 1806, and by 1812, gardening activity was at its peak. Slaves hewed the 1,000-foot-long terrace, or garden plateau, from the side of the mountain, buttressed by a massive stone wall that stood over twelve feet in its highest section. Jefferson grew roughly 330 vegetable varieties in this garden.