Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Jefferson’

Lincoln Was Not the First to Emancipate Slaves in America

October 14, 2013
Governor's Palace, Williamsburg

Governor’s Palace, Williamsburg, VA

The things you learn when you actually go to a place you’ve read and seen television show about!  Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia got some attention when I took Dr. John Lupold’s course at Columbus College in historic preservation.  The course was not extremely popular.  I was the only student in the class.  I don’t know why. It was really interesting and changed my views on rundown old buildings.  They have important stories to tell. Colonial Williamsburg really came to life when I visited there recently.

The Governor’s Palace was built in 1706 for the British Governors of the Colony of Virginia.  It is anything but rundown.  It is quite opulent.  It’s not the real thing, though,  but we’re told it is very much like the real thing before it burned.   Like most of the buildings in Colonial Virginia’s second capital city – Jamestown was the first –  it’s a replica,  We can thank philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and his wife for all those replicas, including the second Capitol of Virginia.     

First Capitol of Virginia, Williamsburg

Second Capitol of Colonial Virginia, Williamsburg, VA

 John Murray, better known as Lord Dunmore, was the last British governor to preside in that building.  When the American colonists took over in the Revolutionary War, he, his wife, and three daughters went back to England.  Patrick Henry, of “Give me liberty or give me death” fame,  became the Commonwealth of Virginia’s first governor and not only presided in the Capitol,  but also moved into the Governor’s Palace.  Thomas Jefferson, the second govenor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, also lived there.   

Lord Dunmore, however, did some interesting things during the war, one of which was to issue a proclamation freeing slaves in the Colony of Virginia who would fight  on the British side.  Some 2,000 took him up on the offer.  However, as you know, the British didn’t win, and slavery remained in effect in  Virginia until President Abraham Lincoln freed them during the Civil War.

Actor portraying Maj. Gen. Lafayette, Williamsburg, VA

Actor portraying Maj. Gen. Lafayette, Williamsburg, VA

The employees and volunteers working at Colonial Williamsburg do a great job of giving visitors a feeling for what it was like to live in Colonial Williamsburg.  They wore the clothing and spoke the language of 18th Century America.  They also have finely developed senses of humor. Speaking in the present tense, the guide who took us on a tour of the Governor’s Palace had a great rapport with the tourists, especially the children.  When she explained that Lord Dunmore’s wife insisted that he sleep in the same bed with her because she wanted to know where the governor was at night, an eight-year-old boy who she had cultivated said, “That would do it,” everyone laughed. 

The day is climaxed with a parade by a fife and drum corps,  an appearance by “Maj. General Lafayette,” the French soldier who became an American hero in the Revolutionary War – the guide said when he returned to visit after war,  he was so admired that he never had to pay for his ale in a tavern – and the firing of an 18th Century cannon.  


Experiencing Jefferson

September 30, 2013


If “you gotta be there” ever applied, it would certainly be when we’re discussing Thomas Jefferson.  I’ve read and heard a lot about the 3rd President of the United States, but it wasn’t until I toured Monticello that I really grasped the genus of the man.  Taking pictures inside the house is a not allowed, which is why I have to tell you about, instead of showing you, his cutting edge technological achievements such as a copying machine on his desk.  It hooked up two pens so that he could have a copy of everything he wrote.

Tour group standing on a portion of one of the concourse wings which expand Jefferson's home, making it much larger than it looks.

Tour group standing on a portion of one of the concourse wings which expand Jefferson’s home, making it much larger than it looks.

Standing there in front of his neoclassical home, which he designed, I could almost feel his presence.  Our tour guide told us that he wanted the house to look smaller than it really is.  It appears to be a one-story structure, but it has three floors.  It also has concourse wings which house, among other things,  the kitchen, storage areas, a stable,

Original dormatory rooms and faculty homes at the University of Virginia, designed by the school's founder Thomas Jefferson.  They are still being used.  Only oustanding students are allowed to occupy the dorm rooms, and some professors still live in the faculty homes.

Original dormitory rooms and faculty homes at the University of Virginia, designed by the school’s founder Thomas Jefferson. They are still being used. Only outstanding students are allowed to occupy the dorm rooms, and some professors still live in the faculty homes.

As our guide told us, Jefferson was a great promoter of democracy and equal rights,  the founder of the University of Virgina, where he planned for educational opportunities to be available for not just the wealthy; however,  only free white males who owned property were accepted.  The principal writer of the Declaration of Independence who proclaimed liberty for all, owned up to 200 slaves, and freed only a handful during his life and none in his will.

Statue of Thomas Jefferson at the University of Virgina.

Statue of Thomas Jefferson at the University of Virginia

Someone asked me, “Did your guide mention Jefferson’s affair with Sally Hemmings, the slave who historians now assert bore up to six of his children?”  Definitely.

Yes, he was human like the rest of us, but he was anything but ordinary. He was an original thinker,  an inventor, architect,  diplomat, the first Secretary of State, speaker of five languages, Governor of Virginia, Vice President and President of the United States.  All of this has even greater meaning when you visit Monticello.  I’m really glad I got to see it and, if you haven’t seen it, I recommend that you do.


November 26, 2008

  Among the seven books that different friends and family gave me for my birthday – they have rightly guessed that I like a good book, or either they are getting even with me for giving them books for their birthdays – is David McCullough’s Brave Companions: Portraits in History.  This book brings home the fact that there are a lot of important, interesting people that I don’t know about, and I have read a lot of history and taken a number of history courses.


Baron Alexander von Humboldt, German naturalist, painted by Joseph Stieler, 1843 (Courtesy: Wikipedia)

  Ever heard of Baron Alexander von Humboldt, the great German naturalist, scientist and explorer? Who? Well, I hadn’t either until I read the opening chapter in McCullough’s book. I guess we really don’t have to feel bad about it because McCullough says, “It is doubtful that one educated American in ten could say exactly who Humbolt was or what he did.” I’ll bet it’s not more than one in one hundred. However, it’s probably close to ten out of ten who have heard of the great American explorers Lewis and Clark. That’s because Lewis and Clark’s travels were in the United States, but Humboldt’s were in Spanish America. However, Humbolt’s travels were of far greater scientific consequence, and were just as dramatically adventurous.

  That adventure started in 1799 when he and a French medical doctor turned botanist, Amie Bonpland, set out to explore Spain’s American colonies, where they would make maps, astronomical observations, and collect specimins for scientific study. When they returned to Europe their stories were a sensation and Humbolt became celebrated the world over, inspiring people like Simon Bolivar, John James Audubon, and Charles Darwin, who, during the voyage of the Beagle, carried three book to inspire him,  The Bible,  Milton, and Humbolt. President Thomas Jefferson invited him to the White House where he stayed for several weeks so that that they could talk about Humbolt’s travels and discoveries. Jefferson said, “I consider him the most important scientist whom I have met.”  So this was quite a guy, one who made a lasting contribution to science and understanding nature and the environment. But, I’d never heard of him until now. 

  Now, I continue my advernture of discovery about important people in Brave Companions as I move on to Chapter Two, where I will learn about the American Adventure of Louis Agassiz.  Who? Well, I’ll tell you after I learn.

Baron Alexander von Humboldt, self-portait, 1814  Since the camera hadn't been invented, it was handy for an explorer to be able to sketch. He could.

Baron Alexander von Humboldt, self-portrait, 1814 (Courtesy: Wikipedia) Since the camera hadn't been invented yet, being able to sketch was essential for an explorer.