Virginia 2015: Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania NMP

Day 8: Sunday, October 11, 2015

On this land, within a radius of only 17 miles, over 100,000 men were casualties of Civil War fighting between 1862 and 1864.  After leaving Montpelier, we headed to our next destination, Fredericksburg, VA. On the way into Fredericksburg, we passed by the information shelter for the Wilderness Battlefield. The Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park is made up of land on which five Civil War battles were fought over the course of the war – Fredericksburg in 1862, Chancellorsville and Salem Church in 1863, and The Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House in 1864.

To be honest – looking out at the battlefield, it didn’t look anything like The Wilderness that I had seen in old Civil War photos. I had heard about the horror of the Wilderness; a battle fought through such thick undergrowth that it was impossible to see 20 feet in front of you. A battle where the artillery and bullets lit the undergrowth on fire, and wounded men lying on the battlefield were consumed by the blaze. But why was there so much thick undergrowth – and why wasn’t I seeing it now?

An area of the Wilderness Battlefield where some of the heaviest fighting occurred. It looks a lot different now than it did then.

An area of the Wilderness Battlefield where some of the heaviest fighting occurred. It looks a lot different now than it did then.

The short answer – development. The creation of the Orange Plank Road and several iron mines in the area before the Civil War had destroyed the virgin forest there. A thick second growth forest had grown; all the trees were about the same size – 25-30 feet tall and 3-5 feet wide. These shorter trees allowed the light to reach all the way to the ground, so the forest floor was clogged with vines and briars. It was difficult for a few men to penetrate the undergrowth, much less a whole army…

There is one building remaining on the Chancellorsville battlefield (right in the same area as The Wilderness) from the time of the Civil War – the Ellwood house. Ellwood was a prosperous but not ostentatious plantation that belonged to the Lacy family at the time of the Civil War – although they were not in residence at the time. It was interesting to see this more modest plantation home – Ellwood was a large house (probably four bedrooms), but certainly not a mansion like Monticello or Montpelier and the decoration was much more modest.

Ellwood - a plantation home in the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania NMP

Ellwood – a plantation home in the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania NMP


The fireplace at Ellwood, with some Civil War artifacts

The fireplace at Ellwood, with some Civil War artifacts

Ellwood does have a unique claim to fame – in the family cemetery behind the house lies the grave of Stonewall Jackson’s arm. Yep – just his arm. During the battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, Jackson was wounded by his own troops, and had to have his arm amputated at a field hospital nearby. The division chaplain saw the arm lying on the ground outside the tent, and thought it would be more appropriate to give it a proper burial, so he brought it over to Ellwood where his brother lived, and buried it there. Interestingly, none of the 14 family graves have markers, but Jackson’s arm does. Being famous got you perks, even back then…

Selfie with Stonewall Jackson's arm's grave. Is that weird?

Selfie with Stonewall Jackson’s arm’s grave. Is that weird?

We had just a little while to get stamps and postcards at the Visitor’s Center before they closed for the day, but we wanted to check it out because we didn’t know if we would get back again.

Then, we headed into Fredericksburg for dinner downtown – we happened upon a place called J. Brian’s Tap House. It is a pub in a historic building – but we sat outside on their back patio. It was perfect – the temperature was wonderful and we were surrounded by plants and flowers. I had the shrimp and grits with a mixed greens salad – it was delicious, with a bit of Cajun spice on the grits to make them less bland. My Adventure Brewing Backpack Wheat beer hit the spot too. Jon had the Blackberry Salmon with rhubarb greens, and mashed potatoes. He loved his Hardywood Great Return IPA too – it was a NW style bitter IPA.

My shrimp and grits at J. Brian's Taphouse

My shrimp and grits at J. Brian’s Taphouse

We finished our evening with a short walk along the Rappahannock River Walk – we walked until the light was getting too low in the sky to see the view.

I loved this random sign in downtown Fredericksburg!

I loved this random sign in downtown Fredericksburg!

Driving Distance for Day 8: 101 miles – Waynesboro, VA – James Madison’s Montpelier – Fredericksburg, VA

Hotel for the Night: Sleep Inn, Fredericksburg, VA.  It had an odd space shower, with a unique bubble on one end.  It was clean and quiet, but had an abandoned steak restaurant and house next door that looked a bit sketchy. The housekeeping looked a bit haggard too.


Virginia 2015: Madison’s Montpelier

Day 8: Sunday, October 11, 2015

Thomas Jefferson had another close friend nearby: James Madison. Madison lived in the town of Montpelier Station (named after Madison’s house Montpelier), near Orange, Virginia. The two friends were about 30 miles from each other, which allowed the men to visit each other frequently, staying at each other’s homes for days at a time.

Montpelier was another grand mansion, but it had been altered significantly over the years. James Madison’s grandfather first farmed the land at Montpelier, about 4,000 acres, with 29 slaves. He lived in a different home on the site, but died after about 6 months there; the official ruling was that he was poisoned by three of his slaves. James Madison’s father stayed on and built the present home, beginning in about 1764, in a Flemish Brick pattern. After living elsewhere, James Madison moved back in 1797 after marrying Dolly Madison, a young widow. They expanded the home and added a Tuscan portico. He made one more expansion to the home between 1809 and 1812. That’s a lot of building!


Our guide on the tour explained the series of alterations that were made to the home over the years – first enlarging the home, then turning it into a duplex, then changing it back to one home. They also described the restoration, but did not discuss the alterations that had been made by the later owners, the duPont family – and the subsequent restoration back to what the home had been in Madison’s time.

The back of Montpelier

The back of Montpelier


The gate to the formal garden at Montpelier

The gate to the formal garden at Montpelier

Things I learned about Madison:

  • He wrote the first ten amendments to the Constitution, you know, the Bill of Rights!
  • Madison was Secretary of State for Thomas Jefferson and supervised the Louisiana Purchase.
  • He devised the 3/5s compromise, which ruled that slaves counted as 3/5s of a person for determining representation in the House of Representatives.  Not one of his better claims to fame, if you ask me.
  • He was one of the main authors of the Federalist Papers, a series of papers arguing for the ratification of the Constitution.
  • During Madison’s time at Montpelier, there were about 112 slaves living at Montpelier.
  • He was our smallest President – at 5’4” and less than 100 pounds. He could have been a jockey!

Jon and I took a walk down to the slave cemetery on the grounds – the graves are not marked with headstones, but a few are marked with field stones. If there wasn’t a modern sign pointing out the site, you would walk right by, never realizing that this is the final resting place of unknown numbers of people. It was humbling to think of these people lying here, after toiling their whole lives as the property of someone else. The slave cemetery was a marked contrast to the opulent Madison family cemetery, obelisks, ornately carved stones and an intricate wrought iron fence.

The slave cemetery at Montpelier. There are no markers on the graves, but some have field stones.

The slave cemetery at Montpelier. There are no markers on the graves, but some have field stones.


James Madison's Grave

James Madison’s Grave

The Montpelier Estate isn’t just about the mansion – for those looking for a broader historical experience, you can visit a restored segregated train station, as well as a freedman’s cabin. The train station dates to 1910, and has both a white waiting room, as well as a smaller, not as nice colored waiting room. Information signs on the walls discuss the subtle distinctions, such as the fact that the colored waiting room had no view of the platform, and less direct access to the ticket office and post office. The Montpelier Train Station was fully integrated in the 1950s, and operated until 1974.

The Montpelier Train Station - built 1910

The Montpelier Train Station – built 1910

The property also includes the Gilmore Cabin, the cabin of a freed slave who worked on the Montpelier Estate. After slavery ended, Gilmore earned enough money to purchase a small piece of property only a mile from Montpelier and build a home. Historical records show that Gilmore was living in his cabin as early as 1870. Although small and rustic, there are still features of the cabin that show Gilmore’s talent as a skilled craftsman, including a window on the second floor near the fireplace. An employee was sitting inside shucking corn, ready to answer any questions that visitors had.

The Gilmore Cabin - with Jon looking annoyed.

The Gilmore Cabin – with Jon looking annoyed.

We also took the opportunity to walk a short way away to see the cemetery where Gilmore and his wife were buried. Her grave was marked with a piece of her wrought iron bed. Apparently it was traditional to bury important objects with you, and what’s more important than your most coveted piece of furniture!  The Gilmore story doesn’t have a happy ending, as the Jim Crow South was alive and well – his surviving children got shafted by the local court system when dividing up the property…

The sad reality of court proceedings for black Americans in the Jim Crow South

The sad reality of court proceedings for black Americans in the Jim Crow South

The last site on our tour was a reconstruction of the winter quarters of Confederate troops under the command of General Cademus Wilcox. The Army of Northern Virginia was camped all around Orange County, Virginia and this was just one site. The teeny-tiny cabins were eye opening; they were cramped and dirty, and you would have certainly been inviting all sorts of critters to come share your bedroom.

The Confederate Winter Camp of the Army of Northern Virginia - a reconstruction.

The Confederate Winter Camp of the Army of Northern Virginia – a reconstruction.


The inside of the winter cabin - imagine all the disease and parasites you could pick up here!

The inside of the winter cabin – imagine all the disease and parasites you could pick up here!

It would not have been a nice way to spend a cold winter, but seeing these reconstructions make it very clear how so many people died of disease during the Civil War. A little further down the path, there is a sign marking the site of the winter quarters (and the latrine), but you would never know it just walking through. How nature reclaims itself in 150 years…

And speaking of critters, nearby we found some European Hornets sharing a meal of sap with some Monarch Butterflies. They were huge! Easily the biggest hornets I have ever seen. And while they weren’t aggressive with us, I didn’t want to hang around and tempt them for too long!

European Hornets and some unsuspecting butterflies - so pretty, yet scary!

European Hornets and some unsuspecting butterflies – so pretty, yet scary!


Tickets – Montpelier: $18 per person for a tour of the house and grounds.  The café food was pretty decent as well.


Book Review: The Book Thief

I read a lot of good books. But rarely does a book come along that moves me; that unsettles me; that makes me ponder the vast chasm that exists between the good in this world and the evil. A book that will stay with me long after I finish the last page and close the back cover. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak is such a book.

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief is the story of Liesel Meminger, a young German girl given up into the foster care system for unsaid reasons just before the start of World War II. She travels with her mother and young brother to the foster care agency – and her ill brother dies enroute. At the burial she picks up a book the gravedigger has dropped, and it becomes one of her few treasured possessions. When her mother drops her off – her last tie to family is severed forever.

Liesel finds herself in the home of Hans and Rosa Hubermann, a largely uneducated and coarse couple who could teach us all a thing or two about love. Even when faced with indescribable danger, they do the moral thing – they harbor a Jew. The story of Liesel’s upbringing in the face of such adversity shows the reader that even in such situations, it is possible to respect, to forge deep friendships, and to love.

But most importantly, she learns the power of words. That they can be used for good or for evil – that they can change the world and your reality.  These words left me turning page after page, long after I should have turned out the light each night.  “I am haunted by humans,” – I was changed by these words.

Pinot Gris, Gumbo and a Movie Review

Last night, Jon took me on a date and I generously allowed him to pick the movie.  We walked downtown and had dinner at our local southern Cajun restaurant, Bayou on the Bay.  It is one of my favorite restaurants in town, with a good variety of southern favorites, like fried okra, hush puppies, gumbo and jambalaya.

We started out with one oyster shooter each, served in a shot glass with cocktail sauce.  You can add vodka if you would like, and perhaps one day I’ll try that high-octane version, but I love the non-alcohol version.  Jon had the vegan jambalaya with an IPA, which he thought was great, and spicy!  I had the gumbo with a Duck Pond Pinot Gris.  My gumbo was wonderful, with the sweetness of the Pinot Gris balancing the spice of the andouille sausage and other spices in the gumbo.  Our service was friendly and quick, and we had plenty of time to get to our movie.

Jon has a penchant for odd, indie movies, and his pick kept up with tradition.  We saw Anomalisa.  I’m still pondering it.  It is an animated film created with puppets about a middle aged man who wrote a book on giving great customer service, and he is giving a speech on his book in Cincinnati.  In his world, everyone is the same; everyone he sees has the same face and voice, with only differences in their hair and clothing.  He is clearly depressed, irritable and hopeless – exactly the opposite of the persona he portrays in his book.  Then he meets a woman who is different…

Jon and I took away very different messages from the film, and spent a while chatting on the way home (I don’t want to give it away in case you plan to see it).  We could each see the other’s perspective, and were intrigued by each other’s differing opinions.  From that perspective, it was an interesting film, and it did stimulate quite a bit of dialogue, but I’m not sure I could say I “liked” it.  But perhaps not all movies are intended to entertain – and instead we need to search for the learning opportunity.

So, I put it out to readers – have you seen Anomalisa?  What did you think?


Virginia 2015: Monroe’s Ash-Lawn Highland

Day 7: Saturday, October 10, 2015

James Monroe, despite being one of the founding fathers, isn’t one of our better known Presidents. I’m not sure why that is, but he certainly never resonated as one of the more important historical figures I’ve learned about. That said, when the opportunity came up to visit his home, I still wanted to see it. I figured it would be a chance to learn more about him, and compare and contrast his home and estate with the others that we would see on the trip!

A statue of James Monroe - originally destined for South America

A statue of James Monroe – originally destined for South America

With Thomas Jefferson being the Renaissance man that he was, he set out to surround himself with friends with whom he could have lively discussions. Travel in the day took a long time, so it was easier if your friends lived nearby. To that end, when the property next door to Monticello came up for sale, he let his friend James Monroe know. Monroe purchased the property of about 1,200 acres, and moved there in 1799. Eventually, he expanded the estate to about 3,500 acres, although later in life he sold off large parcels of land to pay his debts.

Me with the James Monroe house - the small room to the left was added on while Monroe lived here.

Me with the James Monroe house – the small room to the left was added on while Monroe lived here.

Monroe’s home is the most modest of the four Presidential homes we saw. It was originally a one story frame home with a couple of rooms on each side of a hallway. Monroe expanded the home later on, adding a few more rooms, and building some basement rooms (a kitchen, and store rooms) underneath the house.  Even later, he added a parlor on one side of the home. He called his house Highland.  I liked seeing a house that felt more like a common man – after Monticello and Mount Vernon, I was starting to wonder if there have ever been politicians who came from the middle class.  Not that Monroe wasn’t rich – his was just a less ostentatious kind of rich…

Our tour included the portion of the home that existed during Monroe’s time. Later owners added on, essentially attaching an entire, new, larger house to the home Monroe lived in.  Those owners are also responsible for the name Ash Lawn-Highland, as they added the Ash trees that are now planted on the property.  That new portion of the home is not included in the tour, but it does contain a small exhibit of Monroe artifacts and memorabilia on the first floor.

Ash-Lawn Highland - the small white house is what Monroe purchased - the white room on the left was added while Monroe was here. The yellow home was added by subsequent owners.

Ash-Lawn Highland – the small white house is what Monroe purchased – the white room on the left was added while Monroe was here. The yellow home was added by subsequent owners.

Things I learned about Monroe:

  • He is probably most famous for the Monroe Doctrine, which stipulated that the United States would not tolerate intervention by European powers in the Americas (including Central and South America). South Americans were pleased by this – one country even commissioned a statue of him. Due to the fact that it was never delivered there, it now sits at Ash Lawn-Highland.
  • He was the last of the Founding Father Presidents to have served in combat in the Revolutionary War.  He was badly wounded at the Battle of Trenton.
  • Monroe was the only one of the Founding Father Presidents to have settled his debt before he died. Apparently, living beyond one’s means has been a hallmark of the American tradition for as long as there have been Americans.
  • Monroe also helped to found the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, along with Jefferson (and James Madison), but he gets none of the credit. It was actually built on land that he owned and sold for the purpose.
  • Monroe was tall – 6 feet – and had a very distinctive butt chin.  It is apparent in all his portraits.
  • He, like Jefferson and Madison, liked busts. All three of them had busts decorating their home. I guess it was trendy.  I find it creepy.  I mean, imagine walking out into the living room in the middle of the night, and finding a glowing alabaster head staring back at you?  Creepy.
Three outbuildings at Ash-Lawn Highland

Three outbuildings at Ash-Lawn Highland


The icehouse, slave quarters and overseer's house at Ash-Lawn Highland. All original.

The icehouse, slave quarters and overseer’s house at Ash-Lawn Highland. All original.


Slave quarters at Ash-Lawn Highland

Slave quarters at Ash-Lawn Highland


Monroe renovated one of the slave quarters into a guest house, sometime after 1816.

Monroe renovated one of the slave quarters into a guest house, sometime after 1816.


A beautiful hibiscus flower at Ash-Lawn Highland

A beautiful hibiscus flower at Ash-Lawn Highland

Monroe’s estate took a couple of hours to feel like you saw it all – we left there about noon. I had wanted to go check out the Michie Tavern, a historic tavern from the 1700s that still offers lunch (and tours). However, it was packed! It was a Saturday, but the place was absolutely crawling with people. We decided to skip it and went and found lunch just down the road at Salt.

Salt is a small sandwich shop in a former service station that sources local ingredients. My panini and Jon’s veggie wrap were both delicious, and we arrived at just the right time, because it really started to fill up after we ordered!

After lunch, there was much debate about whether we would use the afternoon to go to a winery or two and sample a few of the Virginia wines. In the end, we petered out. Jon was still sick, and I was now sick, so we ultimately decided on heading back to the Super 8 for a 3 hour midday nap… Glorious, it was…

Dinner that night was equally low key – we got a rotisserie chicken, pasta salad, and fruit at the grocery store, and some beer and wine to wash down our doses of cold medicine (in moderation of course!). An evening spent relaxing in front of the TV was just what we needed.

Driving Distance for Day 7: 65 miles – Waynesboro, VA – Ash Lawn-Highland – Waynesboro, VA

Hotel for the Night: Super 8, Waynesboro for another night.

Travel Tips: Even though James Monroe’s Ash Lawn-Highland is literally right next door to Monticello, and we were there on a Saturday, it wasn’t busy at all.  Monroe is apparently not one of the cool Presidents…

Tickets – Ash-Lawn Highland: $14 per person; $1 off with our AAA Membership.  Discounts if you work at William and Mary College (they own the estate) or live in the nearby area.  Sadly, they did not have a decent guidebook, or very good postcards…

Book Review: Unbroken

I’ve read quite a bit about World War II, but had not heard the story of Louis Zamperini until Laura Hillenbrand’s book Unbroken hit the shelves in 2010. Louie, as he was known to his family and friends, was a record breaking runner, an Olympic athlete turned B-24 Liberator bombardier.

The book follows Louie through his turbulent childhood, as he gets in all sorts of trouble because he’s not a rule follower. It details his brother’s successful attempt to get him to settle down with running, giving Louie something to focus his energy and frustration. He ends up being such a good runner that he qualifies for the 1936 Berlin Olympics, at an age where runners have not yet reached their peak.

Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand

And then along comes the War. Louie enlists and is sent to train as a bombardier as a part of a B-24 crew. He achieves glory as a part of a bombing raid over mainland Japan, the first since Doolittle’s Raiders bombed Japan in 1942. Despite the severe damage their plane suffered, they managed to make it back to base. However, one of the crew died, several were seriously injured, and their plane was too damaged to fly again.

After heading back to Hawaii, the remaining crew were assigned a new plane – a known lemon, and several unseasoned crewmates. On their very first flight in the new plane Green Hornet, a rescue mission, they crashed in the Pacific Ocean. Three men survived and were able to get into two rafts with very few provisions. There they drifted for 47 days, before Louie and his pilot were picked up by the Japanese and spent the rest of the war in a series of brutal Japanese labor camps.

Any one of the hardships that Louie endured likely would have killed other men, or driven them insane. 47 days floating on a raft in the middle of the ocean, trying to cobble together enough sustenance by fishing and collecting rainwater. Years in Japanese POW camps, forced to perform hard labor while facing starvation and disease. Frequent beatings and psychological torture…

The book showed the reader in vivid detail what it was like to live as a Japanese Prisoner of War. It makes it clear why so many veterans did not want to talk about their experience in the war. After Louie returned home, he struggled with PTSD and alcoholism – he credited a commitment to God for his climb back up from rock bottom. Although he had not been religious before the war, he made a promise to commit his life to God, if only He would deliver him safety from the raft.

This book is a difficult read – it is graphic, violent and raw. It will make you angry and rip your heart out. I cried more than once and at times audibly gasped. But it is necessary – to understand that war is not a decision to be taken lightly. To understand that when we ask people to give their lives for a cause, they have often done so even if they come home alive. To hopefully one day break the cycle of conflict.  To one day get to “never again.”


Virginia 2015: Jefferson’s Monticello

Day 6: Friday, October 9, 2015

Monticello is one of the big attractions in Virginia – the home of our nation’s third President, Thomas Jefferson.  After making our way from Appomattox Court House, we were ready to start our visit!

We got our tickets, and then got some lunch. The café at Monticello had a pretty decent selection of salads and sandwiches – Jon and I both got chef salads for $5.99 each. Then we took the little shuttle bus up the hill (you can also walk, but the ticket seller said it was confusing to find the trail – we found out later it isn’t confusing, you just cross the street…).

Once up at the top, we had a little bit of time before we needed to queue up for our tour. With a bit of patience, I was able to get a couple of photos of the front of Monticello with no one in them! We also wandered around the back and saw the back lawn and the flowers planted around the edges of the lawn.

The front of Monticello - with me!

The front of Monticello – with me!


The side view of Monticello - looking at the Greenhouse

The side view of Monticello – looking at the Greenhouse


A Monarch Butterfly at Monticello

A Monarch Butterfly at Monticello


I loved these flowers - Cockscomb at Monticello

I loved these flowers – Cockscomb at Monticello

Monticello was built beginning in 1768 – Jefferson had inherited the land from his father. It was built in stages, and he lived in the south wing at the beginning while the rest of the house was being built, with a combination of skilled artisans and slave labor. Jefferson married after he started building the home, and eventually had 6 children. Sadly, only two children survived beyond the first couple of years. His wife died young as well, shortly after the birth of their sixth child. Jefferson was devastated.

The back of Monticello

The back of Monticello

Jefferson was a true Renaissance man, with interests ranging from religion to agriculture to science. He invented several items, including a bookstand that works like a lazy susan, so you could turn it to the book you wanted to read. Perfect for someone like me – I always have multiple books going at one time!  He designed the house himself, and it had some interesting features, like beds built into the wall, to save space and keep them warmer, and a wine dumbwaiter built into the dining room that allowed slaves to deliver wine right up to the table.  Jefferson liked to have private conversations over dinner, and didn’t want slaves to serve the dinner and overhear.

Jefferson had the weathervane on top of the house connected to this compass, so he could easily see from the porch the direction of the wind.

Jefferson had the weathervane on top of the house connected to this compass, so he could easily see from the porch the direction of the wind.

Jefferson’s home also had a very interesting feature – the front foyer of the home was created as a museum exhibit for visitors to the home. The room was a two story octagonal room with displays from Jefferson’s collections. He collected art, Native American artifacts, and natural history items like fossils. For many people visiting, this would have been their first time seeing some of these types of items.

Jefferson died in the home on July 4, 1826, just hours before his long-time friend and some-time rival, John Adams. Interesting that both men died on the 50th anniversary of the independence of the nation they helped to establish!

The tour didn’t have a lot of formal narrative explaining about Jefferson and the home.  I would have preferred more of this overview, but our docent was happy to answer questions about the items in the home, and she explained which items belonged to Jefferson, and which were period.

One of the beautiful brick outbuildings at Monticello

One of the beautiful brick outbuildings at Monticello

After the guided tour of the home, you could wander around at your leisure to see other places.  At Monticello, what was typically housed in outbuildings was built underneath the main home. The wine cellar, beer cellar, some of the slave quarters, stables, and kitchen were all open and available for a self-tour. It was interesting to see a stove that separated out the main stove into several “burners” allowing dishes to be cooked at different temperatures, by controlling the size of the individual fires underneath.

The kitchen at Monticello - on the left are individual "burners" - each had a separate fire beneath to control the temperature of the that burner.

The kitchen at Monticello – on the left are individual “burners” – each had a separate fire beneath to control the temperature of the that burner.

We also listened to an optional (and free) 45 minute slave tour, which gave an overview of the lives of slaves on the plantation. Over the course of his life, Jefferson owned over 600 slaves. They worked cultivating the land, or in various industries; Jefferson’s nails were used to build things throughout the region. Sometimes he let slaves sell the crops that they grew on their own time or carpentry work that they did, and allowed them to keep their money.

Interestingly, the docent was pretty candid about Sally Hemings’ connection to Jefferson; since the DNA test in the 1990s, most historians have come around to believe that Jefferson most likely did maintain a long term relationship with his slave, and almost certainly fathered several of her children. Of course, what remains lost to time is whether Sally was a willing participant.

A reconstructed slave cabin at Monticello

A reconstructed slave cabin at Monticello

Jefferson was a great man, but he did have his flaws. Although he sometimes purchased slaves to unite families, there were times where he sold troublesome slaves, and like most of the founding fathers, he freed very few slaves when he died. Just five slaves got their freedom in his will. He had also accumulated significant debt, meaning that his heirs had to sell Monticello to settle his estate.

Fortunately for us, Mr. Uriah P. Levy purchased the home not long after it was sold by the Jefferson family. Levy admired Jefferson, and did his best to maintain the home as Jefferson would have wanted. The Levy’s owned the home for nearly 100 years, before it came under the control of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation in 1923, the non-profit organization that currently owns the home.

If you visit, consider walking back to the Visitor’s Center – it is less than a half a mile, and takes you by the Jefferson family cemetery on the way.  What an amazing visit!

Thomas Jefferson's grave - apparently throwing money on it is a thing.

Thomas Jefferson’s grave – apparently throwing money on it is a thing.

Driving Distance for Day 6: 115 miles – Lynchburg, VA – Appomattox Court House NHP – Monticello – Waynesboro, VA

Hotel for the Night: Super 8, Waynesboro.  Clean but dated, and it was in an awkward location that required a U-Turn at a traffic light on a main street. The toilet would also run at intervals – kind of annoying! It wasn’t cheap, but it was half of what the available hotels in Charlottesville were running.  I’m not sure if Charlottesville is always really expensive, or if there was some sort of event going on that weekend. And it was quiet, and Jon and I were able to take a three hour nap the next afternoon when our colds got us too far down to keep touristing…

Travel Tips: Monticello is popular, so it’s got all of the frustrations too – big parking lot with tons of cars, a sterile, movie theater style ticket station, big tour groups and timed entry. Pack your patience… We were there on a Friday, so it wasn’t too terrible, but it was still busy. 

Tickets – Monticello: The most expensive of the trip, at $25 per person. However, the guidebook was a screaming deal at $3! The lady working in the store showed me and another woman that you could either buy the full sized guidebook (about 10” x 10”) for full price (I think it was $13) or pay $3 for a tall, skinny book. Granted, the pictures aren’t as nice in the tall, skinny version, but the text was exactly the same – and you can just buy postcards to supplement the book and get the photos you want. I appreciated the tip!