Legend records that when Thomas Jefferson was informed that British troops were on their way to Monticello in 1781, he calmly offered the messenger, Jack Jouett, a glass of Madeira. After that he offered his guests breakfast before sending his family to safety in a carriage. It’s amazing that Banastre Tarleton and his British troops did not ransack Monticello. It stands today almost as it did in 1781.
A visit to Monticello starts with either a $24 ticket for the day or a $50 annual pass (I bought the pass). After purchasing a ticket, you can join the crowds and line up for the shuttle, or peek around the line to the beginning of the .33 mile trail up the hill. The photo above is what you will see if you avoid the lines and the shuttle. The first thing you will see at the end of the trail is the Monticello cemetery, still in use today by Jefferson’s descendants. The nature walk, combined with a few minutes of quiet contemplation in front of Jefferson’s memorial put me in the proper frame of mind to enjoy the house and gardens.
The only way to see the inside of Monticello is to choose a time for a tour when purchasing a ticket. Also, photography is not allowed inside the house, so you will have to use your imagination when I write that the first room you see is the most spectacular. Jefferson’s Hall of Curiosities, as it is aptly named, is filled with Native American artifacts, mammoth skulls and bones, and a still-operational clock with a pendulum so massive that a hole was drilled into lower level to allow it to swing freely.
Interestingly on the tour, the large engraving of the Natural Bridge next to the dining room is not mentioned by the tour guide. Jefferson’s love of archaeology and nature are often overlooked in favor of his better-known contributions. However, some scholars call Jefferson, “The Father of Modern Archaeology.” Jefferson conducted one of the first archaeological excavations in America on a Monacan Indian Mound near the Rivanna River. Rather than just digging up artifacts, Jefferson carefully recorded his findings in chapter 11 of his, “Notes on the State of Virgina,” and returned the artifacts to the ground when he was finished examining them.
Jefferson’s Monticello is well worth the visit, and if you return multiple times you will learn something new each time. Jefferson was a man out of his time, with countless achievements and contributions. On his monument however, he left specific instructions that it should simply read, “Here Lies Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, Father of the University of Virginia.”