Thomas Jefferson: A Biography

By Nathan Schachner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 17 Notes on Virginia

VINDICATED, yet with bitter memories, Jefferson resigned his seat in the House the same day he had triumphed. His resolve was firm; he was shaking the dust of politics from his feet, and even the flattering amends offered by the Assembly in appointing him as a delegate to Congress was thrust aside.1

The Monticello to which he returned had been spared most of the crippling damage that his other plantations had sustained. True, it had been temporarily occupied by the enemy, but the particular enemy had scrupulously refrained from harm. Some slaves, however, had wandered off in the confusion; and Jefferson tried to get them back. George Wythe, in Williamsburg, reported that one such had been found and was being returned under guard; if Jefferson would send him descriptions of the missing servants, he would search for them. The recession of the British power had left these pathetic seekers after freedom stranded, and some were hiding in the neighborhood.2

What Monticello looked like at about this time, and what Jefferson himself looked like to an observing Frenchman, may be gleaned from the account of the Marquis de Chastellux, who during this period of war and turmoil, amused himself by traveling leisurely through the distracted States and jotting down notes of what he saw.

He came to Monticello in the spring of 1782 and described its master as "not yet forty, tall, and with a mild and pleasing countenance, but whose mind and understanding are ample substitutes for every exterior grace. An American, who without ever having quitted his own country, is at once a musician, skilled in drawing, a geometrician, an astronomer, a natural philosopher, legislator, and statesman." To complete the idyllic picture, this paragon had "a mild and amiable wife, charming children, of whose education he himself takes charge, a house to embellish, great provisions to improve, and the arts and sciences to cultivate."3 To add to the noble marquis's delight, he and his host discovered a mutual enthusiasm, Ossian, and discoursed that fabled poet's merits over many a bowl of punch.

The buildings at Monticello evoked a similar, if perhaps more critical enthusiasm. "This house," he wrote, "of which Mr. Jefferson was the architect, and often one of the workmen, is rather elegant, and in the Italian taste, though not without fault; it consists of one large square pavilion, the entrance of which is by two porticos, ornamented with

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