Monticello, Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson’s famous home has been featured on not one, but two pieces of U.S. currency (the nickel, and briefly, the $2 bill). An amateur architect, Jefferson designed the estate himself and continued work on it until his death in 1826. It was one of his proudest accomplishments; like George Washington, Jefferson made no secret of his preference for Monticello over the newly constructed White House (in fact, Thomas Jefferson’s presidency isn’t mentioned on his tombstone, bumped off by his role as founder of the University of Virginia, a fact which UVA students will almost definitely point out while you’re there). And, like Mount Vernon, the grounds are absolutely gorgeous — green fields, glassy lakes, and unique and impressive architecture. For all its beauty, however, it is hard to ignore that Monticello is in stark reality a monument to slavery. Thankfully the tour guides don’t shy away from the issue. There is a tour of the slave houses, named Mulberry Row, dedicated entirely to Monticello’s history of slavery, which at its height operated with upwards of 100 slaves.
Still, the plantation’s troubling past is no reason to avoid a visit — the juxtaposition of the gorgeous, intricate architecture and Mulberry Row provides an excellent object lesson on the juxtaposition of the brilliance and flaws of our founding fathers, and the differences in our perception versus the reality of American history.
Local tip: Visiting Monticello is not cheap, so as long as you’re spending money get the behind the scenes pass. It offers you access to the inside of the dome and the upper rooms, including the one in which Jefferson died on July 4th, 1826 (incidentally, just hours before his friend and fellow founder John Adams).
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