“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
On our way back to Colorado from Portugal we spent a little time in Virginia first stop: Charlottesville.
Just outside of Charlottesville is Monticello, the “best preserved plantation in North America” or so the guide told us. Monticello was Thomas Jefferson’s primary residence when not serving as President of the United States. And it’s a beautiful, yet complicated, place.
The words with which I opened this post are perhaps some of the most famous in history, American and otherwise. And yet, at Monticello, Jefferson owned around 600 human souls as enslaved labor to build the structures and work the land yielding wheat and tobacco as the primary crops. According to our guide on the “slavery tour” of Monticello, Jefferson was conflicted. While he later wrote of slavery that he trembled for the “country when (he) reflect(ed) that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever” the same guide told us that he believed black Africans were inferior to white Europeans and, as such, were not truly equal nor truly Americans.
This is not the take away from the many accomplishments of our third President, Founding Father, and one of the primary authors of our Declaration of Independence. Slavery, while ugly, was still a norm in this country at the time and Jefferson tried to enact a law while President, which failed by one vote, which would outlaw it in any state brought into the union after the original thirteen colonies. It and he were complicated, not right, but complicated. And we cannot rewrite or ignore our history. Nor can we whitewash it or purge it’s ugly and less flattering elements. We need to teach it, discuss it, learn from it and grow from it.
Jefferson designed Monticello, a beautiful manse on a hill in the mountains outside of Charlottesville. He was the founder and principal designer of the University of Virginia whose campus we toured, wandering amongst college students around the “lawn” and the dorm rooms which encircle it, stumbling upon the room occupied by Edgar Allen Poe for a term before leaving UVA with unpaid debt much like Jefferson himself left this world on July 4, 1826. We’d recommend both Monticello, it’s tours and UVA campus for those passing through.
We wound up our short stint in Virginia near DC where my favorite of all the Washington monuments, the Jefferson Memorial, overlooks the East Basin pool and is surrounded by cherry blossoms in Spring. And if you happen to spend a night in Charlottesville, why not pop into The Ridley for a beverage, snack or dinner.
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