At a Glance
Jacqueline Langholtz, manager of school and group programs at Monticello, shows teachers around Thomas Jefferson's home. From the surrounding grounds to the internal architecture to slavery on the estate to Jefferson's library and inventions, they delve into the property's history.
- Monticello from the Outside
- Introducing the Interior
- Jefferson's Rooms
- Serving Jefferson
- Monticello from the Outside
- Introducing the Interior
- Jefferson's Rooms
- Serving Jefferson
Jacqueline Langholtz: Jefferson is a local boy. He grows up, he's born at Shadwell, which is really just as the base of this mountain, and you can picture him and friends, good friend Debney Carr, jogging up this mountain, coming up here to play, and fantasizing about living here one day. And if you saw the map that Elizabeth Chew referenced in the gallery there, it shows Monticello, the smaller mountain, and behind it is Mount Alto, and you'll see that on the west side of the house.
Jefferson being a man of the Enlightenment, he's also very interested in nature and bringing nature in, specifically to his house. So he brings in light, he brings in color. Help me get my bearings. Which direction are we facing? Anyone want to be the Boy Scout for the day?
Teacher 1: Sun rises in the east.
Jacqueline Langholtz: Sun rises in the east, yeah, so this is the East Walk, right here, that's what we call it. Jefferson doesn't have a back and a front, he has two fronts. This is the East Front of the house, the West Front of the house is where we will emerge after the tour, and it's where you'll see the more iconic side of Monticello.
So this went really well the other day, I had a visitor from New York and I asked her how many floors the house had, and she gave me the perfect answer, the one I wanted for. What is your answer as you glance at this. How many floors, how many stories? What'd I hear back there? You said four, anyone have a different number? Three. Well, just if you're doing a quick glance, you're not making a careful study, you just glance up at the house. You thought it was only two? One and a half back here. Great. My friend who was visiting for the very first time said, I didn't realize it was only just one story. So now if you're looking, can you understand how someone might think it was just one story?
Okay. That's what Jefferson was really hoping for, that it appears to be one grand floor, and some of the rooms on the first floor will take up two stories, but he's actually tucked a second story in. So above the windows with the shutters, do you see smaller square windows? If you're in the second floor of the house, where family and guest rooms were, to open those windows you actually open them, they're down on the floor, like that. But it's meant to be enjoyed from the outside, to give that appearance of one grand story.
Also if you look very carefully, under the roofline, there are skylights. That's the third floor, there, and that's where the dormer room is. But a lot of the house is meant to be enjoyed aesthetically from the outside and to give a certain impression, actually to make you think of buildings that you might have seen in Europe. And what kind of a building does it make you think of? Rather than a palace. It's not traditional Georgian architecture, it's got me thinking of a very different time and place. The columns. Okay, zeroing in on that. So what does that make you think of? Yeah, ancient Greece and Rome. Exactly right.
Jefferson called it his essay in architecture, meaning he was constantly revising it. He said he delighted in putting up and pulling down. So there's a Monticello One and then when Jefferson is Minister to France, and he travels through France, he comes home with so many ideas that he does such a drastic remodeling that we call this Monticello Two.
Alright, anyone want to read this for us? It does keep moving, doesn't it? We'll take a best guess. Generally coming from the north, right? Varying a little bit northeast and northwest. Jefferson would have recorded this, if you were down in the galleries and you took a look at that log for the weather. 1780s, I think, 1780s or '90s date, I forget which. It said the temperature was about 20 degrees colder than it is today, but it also had a description of cloudy. So we have a similar day. As Dr. Chew described in the galleries, Jefferson took standard weather recordings at the same time each day for the same time for over 40 years. One at dawn, which means you're up at dawn, right? So, we'll talk more about Jefferson's daily routine and how very different it is from mine in his bedchamber. But one at dawn and one at about four o'clock. So getting those standard readings there.
You see another Jefferson device here in front of us. What else do you see on the house?
Teacher 2: The clock?
Jacqueline Langholtz: The clock. And don't be shy, big loud answers, I absolutely love them. The plantation clock here has how many hands? Can you still tell them accurately with one hand?
Teacher 3: Yes.
Jacqueline Langholtz: Yeah, relatively so. I think so, too. Inside the house you'll see the exact same clock, it has two faces to it. Jefferson designs this clock, and it is installed in the house about 10 years after he designs it. The nice thing is—this side, it's called the plantation clock, we get a lot of questions about it. The students who visit Monticello are often really intrigued by the clock itself, because inside it not only tells you the time but it also tells you something else. The teachers who have been here before will certainly know. It's a calendar clock, so what else does it tell you.
Teachers: The date.
Jacqueline Langholtz: The date. Exactly right, yeah. It also has three hands inside, so it gives you precise measurements, and only someone who views themselves as a scientist, who's interested in precision and measurement would have a clock with time down to the second. You'll see a clock in almost every room of the house, and one of Jefferson's granddaughters describes him as a 'miser of his time,' that's how obsessed he is with efficiency.
Jacqueline Langholtz: We've been talking about the plantation clock. As advertised, does it have three hands? Yes. As advertised, does it also have a calendar function? Somebody find that for me. Where is that? Excellent, excellent. Okay. So let's break this down. A pendulum clock usually has what that hangs from it?
Jacqueline Langholtz: Counterweights, exactly. So we've got the pendulum, but the counterweights, which normally come straight down from a grandfather clock could not come straight down because they'd be in front of the door. So they attached the pulleys on the sides and the weights would descend there. What day is it today?
Jacqueline Langholtz: Saturday, one of the most intriguing days to be at Monticello, because you can't see the weights. Exactly right. Days of the week are on the wall here, starting with Sunday. So if Sunday's at the top, what day of the week is the clock wound?
Jacqueline Langholtz: Sunday. That's when the weights are all the way at the top. So it's wound on Sunday, and the last day in that whole cycle is Saturday. That's when you see that there was a miscalculation in Jefferson's plantation clock. He designed it before it was installed in Monticello, about 10 years prior. When he brought it to the room, it's too big for the room. So he puts the calendar function—Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday is on the floor, Saturday is actually in the basement, and to keep from having weights set and rest on the floor because then the clock wouldn't be able to continue, he cuts holes on both sides there, both sides of the floor, so that the weights can make their full descent, all the way into the basement. So we'll make sure that we find Saturday in the basement there.
Earlier you told me that your students often study westward expansion and the travels of Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery. There's a lot in this room that has to do with that major contribution of Jefferson's. You see a map on the back wall here that shows the size of the country before the Louisiana Purchase, which does what to the size of our country? Doubles, yeah. Pretty easy to say doubles exactly. Great deal. Just about three and a half cents an acre for over 800,000 acres of land.
How is that paid for? Hm.
Jacqueline Langholtz: Yeah. Well, taxpayer dollars, exactly right. So, while now, we see this as, I think, a great decision, it was actually one that was met with some mixed feelings during Jefferson's time, and some pushback on whether or not he was actually authorized to make that decision.
Also in this room, you see, in addition to New World, you see quite a lot Old World, you see Old World art here on the wall, and some European influences with French philosophers, Voltaire and Turgot here on the wall. And actually an American here. Anyone know who this man is? 'Opposed in death as they were in life,' according to Jefferson, whose bust is opposite him. Alexander—
Jacqueline Langholtz: Hamilton. Absolutely. So depending on what conversation you wanted to have with your students, you could have it be about government, you could have an Enlightenment conversation here, you could have it be about art, about science, there's just so much in the room. And certainly visitors waiting to meet the president or to shake his hand or to get an audience with him, sitting in this room would be treated to a natural history lesson of their own. It's a wonderful room for education.
This is the Edgehill portrait. Someone describe that man's expression to me.
Teachers: Grim. Glum.
Jacqueline Langholtz: Great, grim, glum. What else?
Jacqueline Langholtz: Tired. Yeah, absolutely. Jefferson described the presidency as a 'splendid misery and a daily loss of friends.' Do we know him for any really rousing speeches?
Jacqueline Langholtz: What—no. What do we know him for more than his presence and his gung-ho power. Ah, maybe his—okay, some of his specific contributions, things like the Louisiana Purchase. There's a very important document. And writing. Exactly right. His writing. So the Declaration of Independence hangs over here. Certainly when we are talking about the things we remember and love Jefferson for, revere him for, it's his public service and it's things like the Declaration of Independence. Written, he's the primary author on a committee of five. And he's only 33 years old when he writes it. He calls it 'an expression of the American mind.'
So what is this room used for? It's very different from the one we were just in. This is not a public room.
Teacher: It's a parlor.
Jacqueline Langholtz: Sort of like a parlor, but we're going to see a fancy parlor for guests and entertaining a little bit later. Oh, who said—I like office. What made you say that?
Teacher: It looks like one. There's a desk. There're books. There's not too much else.
Jacqueline Langholtz: Yeah. Mm-hm. Yeah. This is an office and a schoolroom. It's an office for the woman in the lower painting here. This is Martha Jefferson Randolph, Jefferson's oldest daughter. And she came to live here and essentially be mistress of the plantation for Jefferson during his retirement years. So after 1809, Jefferson can smile again, after being president, come home to retire, and his eldest daughter is mistress of the plantation. And so, think of all the work that would have had to be done, planning the menus, accommodating guests. She'll have meetings in here with the house staff. So people like Burwell Colbert, the head butler, here. Probably also with Edith Hern Fossett, the chef. Martha's doing a lot of that work organizing the goings-on and logistics of a 5,000-acre plantation that is popular, at a time when there was no Secret Service, right? So anyone who wanted to come up and knock on the window and shake the former president's hand would probably have to be greeted and dealt with. Either invited in or told, thank you, goodbye. And that's what a lot of Martha's —she writes often about working 12-hour days.
Jefferson suffers severe personal tragedy during his lifetime. So he is a family man and someone who loves his family. Is he married, actually? Here's a question, actually, back up. Is Jefferson ever married?
Teachers: Yes. Yeah.
Jacqueline Langholtz: Yes. They have six children. Martha dies in childbirth with their sixth child. Only two of those six children survive to adulthood. So Martha, Martha his eldest daughter in the portrait there is one of only two. And he buries the second daughter before he dies. So she is the only one who actually survives him. She has a large family. You can only imagine that after many years of public service, not being home, having his own children pass away, being here as a grandfather with those grandchildren is a great delight to him.
So we have great stories of him running foot races with the kids on the West Lawn and giving them dried fruit and helping them with their studies. Having books for them to—drawing straws so the person who draws the longest straw will get to read the book first, all the way down, the person who draws the shortest straw gets to read it last but then gets to keep the book. So you can just imagine him being a wonderful and supportive grandfather.
Jacqueline Langholtz: It is Jefferson's—
Jacqueline Langholtz: Library. Exactly right. Imagine having access to your grandfather's library and it is like this, 200 years ago. Jefferson described himself as having a canine appetite for reading, which is a wonderful wonderful description. This is his third library, his retirement library. His first one actually burns while he's a student. So Jefferson studies law at William & Mary, his personal library burns at that time, he describes his sadness over that.
His second library, which he works very hard to build, he gives it away, he donates it. He is paid for. Yes, excellent, nice job, teachers, exactly right. So tell me the story there. Can anyone say why it's packed up and sent to Washington? What does it, um—
Teacher: After the British burn Washington—
Jacqueline Langholtz: That's right. So here we are, 2012, actually, 200 years ago the War of 1812, which we could be talking even more about and maybe within your grant you do. But the library is burned by the British. So Jefferson, who believes in the power of knowledge, and that—I'm going to mangle this quote, but it's 'a country that expects to stay both ignorant and free and in a state of civilization expects what never was and never will be.' So if you're going to be an active and healthy democracy with a voting population, the people who are voting have to be—
Jacqueline Langholtz: Educated. Educated on the issues. Exactly right. That's further evidence—Jefferson, he calls it the hobby of his old age, he starts a university.
Jacqueline Langholtz: UVA, exactly right. Not only does he design the buildings, so we have the academical village plan here, but he also designs the curriculum. And rather than situating the buildings around a church, what was the center of the campus?
Teacher: The lawn is.
Jacqueline Langholtz: Yes, the lawn, but it leads up to—what was that center building at the head of it.
Teachers: The library.
Jacqueline Langholtz: It would have been a—exactly, it's a library. And that with tradition, really. It should have been a chapel, if you were keeping in step with other universities of the day. So Jefferson was, you know, a large supporter, passionate about public education, sends his books to DC, 16 wagonloads. Actually the bookcases that you can see are boxes, so you can imagine that they're very easy to just take down, you put wood on top of it. Sixteen wagonloads to DC and then he writes immediately to John Adams and says, I cannot live without—
Jacqueline Langholtz: Books, exactly right.
Jacqueline Langholtz: Jefferson read in seven languages. Can we name those?
Jacqueline Langholtz: Latin, excellent. So he's educated in Latin and the other classic language—Greek. Exactly right. I heard another one. French.
Jacqueline Langholtz: And Italian. Monticello, he studies architecture. And he'll read those Italian books.
Jacqueline Langholtz: Spanish! And he uses that copy of Don Quixote to teach himself Spanish. He's en route to France, Minister to France, and he brings Don Quixote and a Spanish-English dictionary with him. So that's five. And the other two are actually so easy that it would be hard to guess. English. And then this one is Old English, which is used in the study of law. We know that he dabbles with German, but we don't put it into that fluency list. Just, yeah.
So here we are, in the bedroom and office of a man who reads and writes in seven languages and reads and writes a lot, right? Over 19,000 letters. That is the polygraph copying machine that you see on his desk there. Someone tell me how it works. We've got two pens that are connected here. Works differently than the one you saw in the gallery that pressed and made a copy, an exact copy, with the impression. How does this one work, if you
Teacher: If you're writing with one, the other one—
Jacqueline Langholtz: If you're writing with one, the other one makes an exact copy, so you keep one of those. He calls it 'the invention of his age.' Behind it we have a revolving bookstand, so Jefferson can look at five books at once. Maybe he's comparing translations. As a copious letter writer and writing to people about—while he actually even writes to a former governor of Ohio because he's heard about the mammoth cucumbers that they have in Ohio, so he writes and asks for seeds.
And then, I loved it, as we came in, one of the first things one of you said was 'efficient design' or 'efficient use of space.' To brighten it, we have one of Monticello's 13 skylights, exactly right. We have not just 90 degree angles here but pretty much bay windows that connect to that shaded porch where Jefferson would have—and getting southern exposure on that, would have lemon trees and just beautiful fragrances. And this alcove bed, what do you all think of this as efficient design? Thumbs up, thumbs down for who wants it. Yeah, I would absolutely want it. Probably easy to change the sheets. You can decide if you want to roll out of bed and be in the bedroom, or I'd probably connect it to maybe the kitchen or something, or the living room.
Teachers: It's like the desk lights that you get for the piano.
Jacqueline Langholtz: That's right, that's right. And you also have space above the bed, which can be used. We believe this was an out-of-season closet. I also happen to believe on a personal level that the grandkids must have hidden up there, because if I were hiding around and playing around in my grandparents' house, that's where I would go. We talked earlier about Jefferson's stature, he's described as having posture as straight as a gun barrel. What do you think that meant? People often tell us it looks short. People often tell us it looks short. Do you think it looks short?
Teachers: It's hard to tell.
Jacqueline Langholtz: Yes, well, who designed Monticello? Do you think he's going to make his bed too short? It's six foot three, he's six foot two and a half. Perfect fit, perfect fit.
Jacqueline Langholtz: Here's the part of the tour where I get to use an original Jefferson gadget, the same mechanisms that operated these doors 200 years ago. Thank you for gasping for breath, because it is really exciting. What's that?
Teacher: They're both going to close together.
Jacqueline Langholtz: They're going to close together.
Teacher: And all of the equipment runs...
Jacqueline Langholtz: That's right.
Teacher: That's pretty amazing.
Jacqueline Langholtz: These are Jefferson's self-operating doors, with actually two original panes of glass, too, those are the wavy ones here, have been unbroken for over 200 years. And the chain underneath it is a figure eight, so if we picture something very similar to a bicycle chain, that's what runs it, but we're very proud that it's still going. Jefferson is proud and happy to have it in the house.
You see plenty of examples of good design in this room. You see Jefferson's parquet floor. So if you look at this, speaking of hidden mechanisms and equipment, where is the hardware. Do you see any screws or nails?
Jacqueline Langholtz: How is that floor fitted together?
Teacher: It's like the furniture.
Jacqueline Langholtz: Ah, the joints! Exactly right. So this is a floor—Jefferson is inspired by floors he sees in France, he sends a drawing of how he wants it to look. This shape, the contrasting beech and cherry woods, the joints specifically that will be used, and he sends these directions to James Dinsmore. He's a free white worker who lives here at Monticello for about 10 years, helping with the construction of the house, and John Hemmings, brother to Sally Hemmings. And the two of them put this floor together. What do you think of it? Does it look nice? It looks nice.
So they are bringing Jefferson's ideas to life, right? He sends instructions and drawings and they're not traveling through France with him. They get these instructions and then they make it happen in his house. Is John Hemmings paid for his work? He's enslaved. No. What about James Dinsmore? Free white worker?
Jacqueline Langholtz: Yes, he's paid. And the quote is like 'he wouldn't do it again for twice the pay,' because Jefferson's designs are so intricate. Here's a man who says he delights in doing math to the sixth decimal point. Here's a man who's interested in precision, following his directions. I think it must have been a nightmare, absolutely right.
And, you know, I want to go back to talking to Adams for a moment, because Adams, there was a bust of Adams in the cabinet area. Some of you saw that, good. Adams and Jefferson have a complicated friendship throughout their life, right? Actually one student taught me the word 'frenemy,' which I thought was really funny. They become friends again later in life. And tell me about their end days. Is that a story that—tell me—
Teacher: They both die on the same day, and they say, 'Adams lives' or—
Jacqueline Langholtz: Yeah, exactly. They die on the same day, and what day is that?
Teachers: July 4th.
Jacqueline Langholtz: July 4th. And not just any July 4th.
Teacher: Fifty years after.
Jacqueline Langholtz: Fifty years to the day. You got it exactly right. So July 4th, 1826, Jefferson dies in that bedroom, on that bed, where we just were, middle of the day, and we know that Adams died on that same day in Massachusetts and his last words were something to the effect of 'Jefferson survives,' exactly right.
We have Ben Franklin in the corner. Couldn't give it up, that's right, God bless him. And here, you know, these are the three things we must talk about in this room. The three greatest men the world's ever known, according to Jefferson. Elizabeth Chew told us the names of two of them. Who's the man who looks like but is not Shakespeare? Sir Francis—
Jacqueline Langholtz: Bacon. Sir Francis Bacon. Father of the scientific method. In the middle, another scientist, Sir Isaac—
Jacqueline Langholtz: Sir Isaac Newton. And on the end, the man on the right writes about the natural rights of man, John—
Jacqueline Langholtz: Locke. And you see a lot of John Locke's thinking in the Declaration of Independence.
What do you all think about this bright color? What'd you say?
Teacher: It wakes you up.
Jacqueline Langholtz: It wakes you up, that's right. A nice place to have breakfast in the morning. Anyone not a fan?
Teacher: It looks expensive, too.
Jacqueline Langholtz: It looks expensive. We have reason to believe it was about four times the price of some of the other paints that could be had. So if other paints could be had, why choose this color? There's got to be a reason. What's that?
Teacher: Because you can.
Jacqueline Langholtz: Because you can. There's got to be a better reason. Ah, okay, that's right. So some of us like to believe maybe it is because you can, maybe it is because the money, but then you think intelligent design, right, and the bringing the outside in and times of the day when this would be used. He's got his personal suite and he's writing letters in that beautiful southern light. What is the north side of the house like?
Jacqueline Langholtz: It's dark. And it actually is cold, too, right. So this brightens up the room and gives the perception of it feeling brighter. And there's a skylight, and you get some of the western light from the West Lawn here. Again, without the dark right angles, so you get some more light. But what about warmth? You can actually close these pocket doors and in this arch, you'll also see glass. And you'll see the first storm window, I believe the first storm window in a residence in the United States. So there's good design in this room down to the wine dumb waiter. Did you see that hidden in the fireplace?
There's a great story. You saw our BFF forever hanging next to Jefferson, our French friend, the Marquis de Lafayette. So he visits Monticello in 1825, the year before Jefferson's death. Lafayette is on a victory tour, seeing old friends. The two men embrace on the East Lawn. Lafayette stays here for about a week, and Jefferson writes that after Lafayette leaves he has to restock the wine cellar. So you picture old friends talking about the days when they were forming a new nation, I'm sure they were up all night, and I love thinking about that wine dumb waiter just going up and down. 'Can we have some more?' Jefferson sees that design at a restaurant called the Café Mecanique in France and brings that back. He sees another good design in a monastery for a revolving door that you'll see when we leave this room, and that's how food actually came into this dining space. So have we seen a kitchen yet?
Jacqueline Langholtz: No. It's under the house and it's actually on the other side of the house. So it's on the south side. Food would have come all the way up under the house in the all-weather passageway, would have come up a very narrow set of stairs that you'll see, which, I am the world's worst waitress, I tried it for about a month and I'll never go back, and I can't picture food coming up those stairs. They're then put, those dishes, on a revolving service door, turned into this room, and then with minimal service needed, minimal may be one or two of the domestic house servants in this room, food is put on the buffet tables that have wheels and brought into the room. Otherwise it's mainly self-service, very little ceremony here at the house.
Here's a man who was President of the United States, he's our first Secretary of State, he's our second vice-president, he's our third president, he's Minister to France, he's Governor of Virginia, what does he want to be remembered for?
Teacher: The Declaration of Independence.
Jacqueline Langholtz: Declaration of Independence. Virginia Statue for Religious Freedom. And founding the University of Virginia. So, essentially, those are what sorts of freedoms, if you had to break those down for me? Education, religion, freedom—and personal freedom. Yeah, exactly right. So that's what he sees himself as worthy of being remembered and instrumental for, and devoting his life to, over 40 years of public service.
So that's what I try to also remember him for. And it's the reason for being here today, right? As much as it is a beautiful house and an icon, there are many beautiful houses in Virginia that you can visit, right? So this is an expression of Jefferson's thinking. It was actually called the 'curiosity of the neighborhood' during his lifetime.
Let's actually come onto the West Lawn a little bit. That way we'll talk about after his lifetime. The plantation, 135 slaves, are sold at auction after his death. And when we talk with students and visitors about slavery, Monticello is not a typical Southern plantation, right? It's not actually useful to use this as a model or common example of what slavery looked like in the American South. Can you tell me why, or why we feel that way?
Teacher: The family units.
Jacqueline Langholtz: That's why, exactly, that there are family units. Jefferson recognized marriages within the groups, and families were kept together. So we know—I mean, you heard me talk earlier about Edith Hern Fossett, the chef here. So she's the French-trained chef, she's Jefferson's chef in DC when he's president, she's here at Monticello, we have her room down by the kitchen. We know she's married to Joe Fossett of the blacksmith's shop. We know about their children, and what duties they had here. We have information about specific individuals and their families, and often multigenerational families here, over 70 Hemings family members at one point or another worked and lived at Monticello. And at Jefferson's death, when 135 were sold at auction, that breaks them apart. So that's a very tragic part of the story. Jefferson frees five slaves in his will. All of those have marketable skills. He says John Hemings is unrivaled in his skills and abilities as a joiner, and certainly these skills would have been sought after by merchants and people in Charlottesville. I mean, these are the people who have the ability to make this house, they made this house, in the blacksmith's shop, and really very skilled labor force here, but only five of them—they're given their tools and equipment and they're given their freedom, but you have sometimes husbands who are freed and wives who are not. So it's a very sad story here.
The house is sold to a local Charlottesville farmer. Essentially just the land is used, and for a number of years the house falls into disrepair. It's then purchased by Commodore Uriah Levy, a New Yorker, he made a lot of money in real estate, and then became the first Jewish naval officer in the United States. And we make a point of saying that he was Jewish, and the first Jewish naval officer, because he made a point of saving the house largely influenced and in gratitude for Jefferson's work promoting religious freedom in the United States.