Monday, April 18, 2011

Monticello During the Civil War Era

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

The other day I had the pleasure of meeting Elizabeth Chew, the curator of collections at Monticello. Naturally, I wanted to know what went on at Mr. Jefferson's during the Civil War. And she happily obliged.

But first, a little back story. Thomas Jefferson died greatly in debt. It seems he had a penchant for buying expensive wines and books and a lot of other stuff. And so, his family had to sell the estate - slaves, land, and house. The first buyer was a doctor named James Turner Barclay who purchased the house in 1831. His plan: raise silkworms. This did not work out so well and in 1834 he sold the place to a naval commodore named Uriah Levy.

Now here's where the story really starts to get interesting. Levy was Jewish and had experienced a great deal of antisemitism while in the Navy - to the point of being court-martialed several times. Admiring Jefferson's views on the freedom of religion, he thought Monticello would be the perfect place to settle down. Well, Levy died in 1860 and left the house to the federal government to be used as a home for orphans of naval officers.

Well, the Confederate government seized all federal property upon secession. The Rebs then proceeded to sell the estate to one Benjamin Ficklin - a Confederate intelligence officer and purchasing agent in Europe who had been instrumental in creating the Pony Express and Pacific Telegraph Company of Nebraska. Ficklin lost the place during the Reconstruction period and it was eventually returned to the Levy family.

Exciting right? I did some more poking around and found out that Monticello had fallen into a state of disrepair during the Civil War period - at one point the house is said to have been used as a Confederate hospital (like every other house in the neighborhood it seems). There are even rumors of Confederate soldiers carrying off vast quantities of Jefferson's possessions. There is no real evidence to support this - but it is a good story anyway.

Today the house and much of the surrounding grounds (gardens, slave quarters, etc) have been restored to their former glory, and I recommend a visit to anyone who happens to find themselves in the Charlottesville area.




  1. Thanks for asking the lady, I enjoyed reading about the history of the home.

  2. You are quite welcome, Bert.