Sunday, December 26, 2010

december 25, 1810 (tue.)

Mr. Jefferson is spending Christmas this year at Poplar Forest. It's just a short stay. He's been there only about a week and will be back at Monticello before the new year.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

november 28, 1810 (wed.)

Last week Mr. Jefferson received a rather odd letter, written by an anonymous gentleman (or several) calling himself (or themselves) "I J K L & M," on behalf of a madman named John Polly.

It began, "John Polly is a crazy man and wants to see you very much, If you (or any body) who this should fall into the hands of will make him hold his tongue it is more than any one else can do previous to this. ..."

Mr. Jefferson, of course, simply noted that he received it and filed it away.

Monday, October 25, 2010

october 25, 1810 (thur.)

Mr. Jefferson sent the manuscript of the English translation of Antoine Louis Claude Destutt de Tracy's Commentary and Review of Montesquieu's Spirit of Laws back to Philadelphia publisher William Duane today. A correspondent of Monsieur Destutt de Tracy for years, Mr. Jefferson tweaked the translation in a few places to better fit the best way to express his friend's ideas in idiomatic American English.

He's now writing a forward, which will give a description of Destutt de Tracy without disclosing his identity. After all, the purpose of the translation is to sneak the book -- a treatise of democratic ideas -- into Napoleon's France by the back door. If it is published in America and gains support in the English-speaking world, perhaps someone will then translate it back into French and re-publish it in France.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

july 4, 1810 (wed.)

Mr. Jefferson likes to say, "The only birthday I ever commemorate
is that of our Independance [his spelling], the Fourth of July."

As he watches, through the window, his grandchildren playing, he thinks, "This is why we did it. It was for them, and their children, and their children's children's children ..."

Still, his memories of the of that day thirty-four years ago in Philadelphia are bittersweet. So many of his comrades who struggled to bring about the new nation are now gone. Only thirteen other men who were with him that day are still alive -- none from New Jersey or Delaware, and he himself is the only survivor from Virginia. There ought to be two, he thinks, with a wave of sorrow. The life of his dear friend and mentor, George Wythe, was cut short by murder just four years ago. Dr. Wythe would've been eighty-four years old this year, an advanced age, but not unreasonable.

Of the Declaration Committee, only himself, Robert Livingston, and John Adams remain. Another pang, this time of regret. Mr. Adams had been a good friend, but in recent years that stubborn old fellow has let politics run away with his common sense. Or maybe he's being the stubborn one. They're both out of office now. They struggled side by side in 1776. Mr. Jefferson has no real doubt that deep down Mr. Adams is a man of courage, a true patriot. Why should mere politics stand in the way of such a long friendship? Maybe he should write. But can he be sure his letter would be welcome? Let Adams write first.

Mr. Jefferson idly fingers the corner of a sheet of letter paper on his portable writing desk -- the same desk on which he wrote the first draft of the Declaration. Then he turns and looks out the window again, and smiles.

(Editor's note, 2010: We haven't the foggiest notion what the Jefferson family actually did to celebrate the Fourth.)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

june 27, 1810 (wed.)

Even in retirement there's not enough time to follow every interest. Judge Thomas Cooper writes asking Mr. Jefferson to join him in the study of mineralogy, but fascinated as Mr. Jefferson is by natural philosophy, his time and energy right now are largely taken up with sheep and sheep dogs for the Merino project.

He forwards Judge Cooper's letter to James Cabell, writing that in his old age he is out of touch with the current state of the science, familiar with nothing past the time of Linnaeus. Tongue in cheek, he writes, "... [M]ihi Cui bono?" ("What good is it to me?") It's safe to joke around like this with a friend who knows he's not really that self-centered. Heaven help his image if some literal-minded historian in the future, who doesn't know him that well, misinterprets the remark. The early 19th century has no emoticons to designate "just kidding."

Science, religion, and politics are mixed in this age of enlightenment. Judge Cooper, along with Joseph Priestley and others, lives in Philadelphia now because the politico-religious climate in England was hostile to their ideas. Several years ago, angry mobs burned Dr. Priestley's house in a full-scale riot. It's a bit safer to hold dissenting and progressive ideas in this new country.

Monday, June 14, 2010

june 14, 1810 (thurs.)

As Mr. Jefferson sat at his writing desk this morning, two unrelated items of correspondence caused waves of memories of that awful summer twenty-nine years ago, when he helplessly watched as his wife lay dying, to batter down his careful defenses and wash over his mind.

Three days ago he sent what he hopes will be the final letter and document about the ongoing business of the Bathurst Skelton estate -- business that should've been settled three decades ago. Bathurst Skelton had been his dear Patsy's first husband.

Funny how having been a lawyer for other people's estate-related problems doesn't make it any easier to deal with his own.

Then yesterday he received word that Patsy's sister, Elizabeth, has died. He writes, "nearly the last of my early & most beloved friends has now dropt off, and I really view myself as a solitary trunk in the fields with all it's limbs fallen from it."

Sunday, June 13, 2010

june 13, 1810 (wed.)

Mr. Jefferson got word from his cousin, George Jefferson, that more rods of iron are on their way for his nail factory. The nailery, which has been in operation since 1794, isn't really a factory full of large steam-powered machines, like the new spinning and weaving factories one hears about in England. Rather, it more resembles a smithy, although there is a simple machine to cut the iron to proper lengths. About ten or so enslaved teenaged boys work there. The nails are not only used at Monticello, but are also sold locally. Mr. Jefferson hopes that this profit-making business can help pay off his debts, that it can provide a more steady income than he gets from agriculture, which is dependent on widely fluctuating weather and market conditions.

Friday, June 4, 2010

june 4, 1810 (mon.)

Mr. Jefferson is always looking for ways to improve the new country he declared independent in 1776, especially in agriculture. One of his many ongoing projects is raising Merino sheep, a breed known for its fine wool. His friend, James Madison (currently in Washington, D.C. serving as President), is working with him on this scheme. Joseph Dougherty is getting a ram and a ewe for each of them from a shipment William Jarvis sent from Portugal, sending the animals from Alexandria. The plan is to breed them, and then to distribute rams for free around Virginia, thus making the usually expensive animals available for farmers to start their own flocks.

Monday, May 31, 2010

may 31, 1810 (thurs.)

Yesterday was not a very good day. Mr. Jefferson spent the morning writing to lawyers to try to get together the papers needed for his defense in a lawsuit.

Three years ago there was a land dispute in Louisiana. A certain Jean Gravier claimed that he owned some land in the Mississippi delta below New Orleans, and fenced it in. The governments and people of Louisiana and the city of New Orleans claimed it was public land, and, indeed, it had been used as such for years. It turns out the situation was somewhat complicated, but according to the best information President Jefferson and his cabinet had, the land was federal property. Mr. Gravier was evicted as an intruder in 1808.

Edward Livingston, a high-powered lawyer who happens to have a financial interest in the land in question, is now suing Mr. Jefferson for trespassing.

That's right; the former president, now a private citizen, is being sued as an individual for something he did in an official capacity while in office. So much for retirement from the cares of public life.

On the good side, Monticello finally got some rain yesterday after almost a month of drought. (Right after Mr. Jefferson wrote to Jemmy Madison complaining about the "desperate" dry spell. Oh, well.)

Sunday, May 2, 2010

may 2, 1810 (wed.)

Mr. Jefferson accepts the honor of membership into the Dutch Royal Institute of Sciences. King Louis Bonaparte (yes, brother of that Bonaparte -- Napoleon controls much of Europe at this time) gave his approval of the invitation last May, but the letter from Gerardus Vrolik, the Secretary of the Society has taken a year to arrive.

Mr. Jefferson's reputation as a scholar of natural philosophy has spread far and wide indeed. He's sending his reply via Sylvanus Bourne, the United States Consul at Amsterdam, to make sure it gets through as quickly and surely a possible.

Monday, April 19, 2010

april 19, 1810 (thurs.)

What a mess. Last year, Mr. Jefferson prepaid for a copy of Philip Freneau's new book, Poems Written and Published During the American Revolutionary War. There was a mix-up, and Lydia Bailey, the printer, thought he'd ordered eleven copies. It's being worked out, but it shows that mail-order transactions can go awry even in the 19th century.

The other theme in the last couple of days has been food. They're running low on salad oil at Monticello -- "a necessity of life here." (They -- especially Mr. Jefferson -- do like salad around here.) So Mr. Jefferson has written to see if his grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, can get some in Richmond. And he sent detailed instructions as to how to pack it so the bottles won't break.

Mr. Jefferson is very much interested in alternate crops and in trying a wide variety of foods. He's sent Henry Skipworth some millet seed, along with instructions on how to plant it and prepare it.-- "to be used at the table as homony, boiled or fried." He probably means as hominy grits, since the consistency is closer to that than to whole hominy. He says it takes two hours to cook. In the 21st century it usually takes about half an hour. Either the 19th century grain is a lot denser, or he likes it really mushy.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

april 16, 1810 (mon.)

Mr. Jefferson is back at Monticello, catching up with his correspondence. In one package is a copy of Samuel H. Saunders' new reading book for children. Although the opening of the University of Virginia is years in the future, Mr. Jefferson already has a reputation for his interest in, and plans for, education.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

april 13, 1810 (fri.)

Thomas Jefferson is on the road back to Monticello from Poplar Forest. He turns 67 years old today. He'd rather nobody made a big fuss about it, though. He thinks the only birthday worth celebrating is that of the United States on July 4th.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

march 30, 1810 (fri.)

Mr. Jefferson arrives at Poplar Forest.

The house is red brick with white trim like Monticello, but smaller and shaped like an octagon. Even the necessaries are octagonal.

It's a refuge from the crowds at Monticello, a quiet place to read and study and relax. Well, relatively quiet and relaxing. Even though building began four years ago, it's still under construction, with the sounds of hammering and sawing nonstop in the background. But this is pretty much par for the course with Mr. Jefferson. After all, Monticello took forty-one years to "finish." The walls are still unplastered, there is only the bare minimum of plain furniture, and the roof often leaks, especially around the skylight in the dining room.

Still, the view is gorgeous, and Mr. Jefferson has brought plenty of books. What more could a man want?

march 27, 1810 (tue.)

Mr. Jefferson started off to visit Poplar Forest, his farm in Bedford County, today. On the way, he'll stay at Warren, home of his friend, Wilson Cary Nicholas, then down the road at Flood's (sometimes spelled "Fludd's") Tavern, leaving early and taking his last breakfast on the road at Hunter's Tavern.

The ninety-three-mile trip takes about three days or so. Two hundred years later, it will take about an hour and three-quarters (a bit longer if you get confused in Lynchburg).

Friday, March 26, 2010

march 26, 1810 (mon.)

In spite of today's rain and snow, it's been generally dry lately, and the river is down to where it's not easily navigable.

There was a heavy frost a couple of nights ago, but fortunately the peaches aren't fully in bloom yet, so there was no major damage to them, although some of the neighbors' fruit trees, and an apricot here that bloomed early, weren't so lucky.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

march 21, 1810 (wed.)

Mr. Jefferson started planting trees in the new nursery. (Slaves are doing the actual planting, of course. Any time a plantation owner talks about doing any farm work, it means his slaves did it.) Almonds, filberts, apples, peaches, and apricots are being planted. Some of the apples are from Detroit. Michigan is already, by 1810, a source of apples.

Earlier this week other trees -- almonds, apples, cherries, pears, peaches, "plumbs" -- were set out in the orchard. Some of the peaches came from Mr. Jefferson's Italian friend, Philip Mazzei.

And it's not just about food. Monticello's Southern beauty is being enhanced by magnolias and Kentucky locusts, and rhododendrons planted around the four corners of the house.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

2010: off-topic blog biz

The following is a bit of 21st century business, necessary to register this blog with Technorati.


Mr. Jefferson may have had to put up with slow mail, but he did have the advantage of just being able to write a straightforward letter to do business -- no passwords, no pin numbers, no captchas. He didn't have to jump through nearly as many petty hoops for each business transaction as we do. Almost makes it seem worth spending each day from dawn to midmorning breakfast writing with a pen dip't in ink.

Monday, March 8, 2010

march 8, 1810 (thurs.)

Eli Alexander, who rents a parcel of Thomas Jefferson's land at Lego, across the river, just west of Shadwell, seems to have been interpreting the terms of his lease rather broadly, while Mr. Jefferson insists that the wording is clear and means just what it says. So Mr. Jefferson is meeting him over there this morning with a couple of neighbors who can act as arbitrators to determine whether the terms of the lease have been broken as regards to which land was to be used for farming and firewood gathering, whether it was cleared and improved properly, and that it was properly fenced in.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

2010: scooped

Looks like the (official) Monticello folks have the same idea I had.

This showed up yesterday on Thomas Jefferson's Monticello Facebook page and is also mentioned on Monticello's Twitter feed.

"... next week we're planning on starting a Twitter account that we can use to tweet 'as' Thomas Jefferson, writing each day about what he was doing 200 years prior (e.g. things he bought, letters he wrote, places he was visiting, etc.) ... "

It sounds like they're planning on using the same sources I do, too: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series, Vol. 2 (and later, 3, etc.) and Jefferson's Memorandum Books, Vol.II.

Of course, there will be differences. For one thing, they're real historians at the real Monticello and have access to every kind of documentation that survives. I'm a private individual who has been studying Thomas Jefferson for thirty-seven years, using materials available to the general public (which in his case is quite a lot), but I have no official accreditation either as a Jefferson scholar or as a historian. The tweets will be in the first person. My blog's narrator is implied to be present at the time, but is nevertheless an observer, with the limitations and flexibilities that implies. Tweets are confined to 140 characters, but blog posts can explore (and sometimes bore) in more detail.

This should be interesting.

Friday, March 5, 2010

march 5, 1810 (mon.)

Politics will follow Mr. Jefferson, even into his retirement haven. But he keeps his optimism, and his serenity. To Walter Jones he observes that the difficulties and infighting of the U. S. government, compared to the difficulties of European nations "are the joys of Paradise."

As for the threat of Napoleon (Waterloo is, in 1810, still five years in the unknown future), it would seem logical that he would try to conquer Egypt, and India, and the rich countries of South America before even thinking about the relatively poor United States. So he's not an urgent problem, Jefferson writes to John Langdon, whom he has known since the days of the Revolution.

This letter also contains Mr. Jefferson's wonderful description of the degeneration of European royalty:

"Now, take any race of animals, confine them in idleness and inaction, whether in a stye, a stable, or a state room, pamper them with high diet, gratify all their sexual appetites, immerse them in sensualities, nourish their passions, let every thing bend before them, and banish whatever might lead them to think, and in a few generations they become all body and no mind: and this, too, by a law of nature, by that very law by which we are in the constant practice of changing the characters and propensities of the animals we raise for our own purposes. Such is the regimen in raising Kings, and in this way they have gone on for centuries. While in Europe, I often amused myself with contemplating the characters of the then reigning sovereigns of Europe. Louis the XVI. was a fool, of my own knowledge, and in despite of the answers made for him at his trial. The King of Spain was a fool, and of Naples the same. ... The King of Sardinia was a fool. ... The Queen of Portugal, a Braganza, was an idiot by nature. And so was the King of Denmark. ... The King of Prussia, successor to the great Frederick, was a mere hog in body as well as in mind. Gustavus of Sweden, and Joseph of Austria, were really crazy, and George of England you know was in a straight waistcoat. ... And so endeth the book of Kings, from all of whom the Lord deliver us, ..."

Monday, February 15, 2010

feb. 15, 1810 (thur.)

Today Mr. Jefferson received five years worth of weather data from someone who collected it while living in Arkansas, west of the Mississippi River in the new Louisiana Territory. It will be interesting for him to compare this information with the observations he has made here in Virginia.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

feb. 9, 1810 (fri.)

A couple of days ago a package came from Joseph Milligan, a bookseller in Georgetown Mr. Jefferson had done business with when he was living in Washington as President. It was The Parent's Assistant, by Maria Edgeworth -- not, as the title might suggest, a book on parenting, but rather, a two-volume collection of stories and plays for children. The grandchildren will really enjoy this book.

Mr. Jefferson doesn't believe it's good for children, especially girls, to read novels; idle romances waste time and spoil a girl with longing for a world of fantasy. But Mrs. Edgeworth's stories are an exception. They teach morals, and for that reason, are useful tools for education, in a lesser, but similar way as nonfiction works of history and moral philosophy do.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

the view from 2010: the elephant in the room

Actually, there are a couple of elephants. The biggest is slavery. Monticello was built by enslaved people. Slaves raised the cash crops and provided the labor for any money-making project, from making nails for sale to packing and shipping the boxes of books sold to the Library of Congress. The food eaten by Thomas Jefferson, his family, and anyone who visited Monticello was grown and cooked by slaves. Slaves cleaned the house and washed the clothes. The fact is that every white person (and free black person) in any of the colonies or later, states, who lived at any comfortable level of society at all did so, directly or indirectly, on the backs of slaves. Slave labor (and the products thereof) was an integral part of the whole economic system. It was the fuel -- the coal, the oil -- of the 18th and early 19th centuries.

There is no doubt that slavery was unfathomably evil. But when writing about any group of people living in an evil system it's important not to confuse the people with the system. The exploited are not merely victims; they also experience love, hope, joy, courage, and other positive aspects of the human condition. I think most current historians are getting much better at presenting enslaved people neither as completely miserable and degraded nor as being minstrel-show happy-go-lucky.

It's harder to give a fair view of the exploiting classes. For one thing, is it fair to the exploited to even try to be fair to the exploiters, to cut them any slack at all? On the other hand, in the case of institutionalized evil, this would mean condemning thousands, even millions of people -- people who are not deliberately being cruel, but for whom doing the right thing would be overwhelming, if, indeed, they're aware at all of what the right thing to do is.

One solution to this dilemma is to judge them as we judge our peers in our own time. If you're rich enough, if you're enough of a part of a technological, commercial society to be looking at a computer screen, you are an active participant in a system that elevates the comfort of some (of you) at the expense of the comfort and even the lives of other human beings. But we consider a person to be a decent citizen who lives a quiet, noncriminal life, even if that person doesn't think very often about social issues. We consider a person to be downright good who drives a fuel-efficient car, who buys some of their vegetables at the local farmer's market, who volunteers at a soup kitchen. Few of us would condemn those who haven't completely given up driving or riding in oil-fueled vehicles, who drink caffeinated beverages (all caffeine-producing plants have to be transported from the tropics, and many (most?) are grown by exploited workers), who don't open their houses to as many homeless people as will fit into the rooms.

Thomas Jefferson was not a martyr, sacrificing his life (although he did risk his life by writing the Declaration of Independence; British soldiers were sent to Monticello to bring him back to be hanged for treason), nor was he a saint, completely sacrificing his lifestyle and that of his family. He was an activist. And it is for his activism he should be respected. Unlike martyrdom or sainthood, activism does not have a state of perfect completion. It makes no sense to talk about "falling short." One can only list what has been attempted or accomplished. Nor is activism an all-or-nothing, lifetime thing. Activists rest. They even retire, and it does not subtract from what they have done.

Every piece of writing has a focus, and the focus of this blog is Thomas Jefferson, and, to a lesser extent, his family. They're the people I know the most about. But it must be remembered that also present were enslaved workers, free white workers, neighbors, and visitors.

A couple of excellent books about slavery at Monticello are:
The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, by Annette Gordon-Reed (W. W. Norton, 2008)
Free Some Day: the African-American Families of Monticello, by Lucia Stanton (The Thomas Jefferson Foundation, 2000)

Or go to
Monticello: Research and Collections
and click on "Plantation and Slave Life"

One of the best books about American slavery in general is:
From Slavery to Freedom, by John Hope Franklin (Alfred A. Knopf, 1947 & subsequent editions)

A second topic, closely related to the first, is the question of Thomas Jefferson's relationship with his slave, Sally Hemings. The only thing the DNA proves is that one of her children was fathered by some descendant of Thomas Jefferson's grandfather.

In addition to Callender's spiteful, gossipy accusations, we have accounts by decent, intelligent people who were close enough to the situation to know. And somebody was lying, lied to, or mistaken, because the accounts don't match.

I personally would like to believe that Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings had a long and loving partnership. I like him, and I want him to have been happy during the last decades of his life. And from what little we know about her, I like and admire her, too.

However, there are a couple of pieces of information that indicate Thomas Jefferson's brother, Randolph. He was known for hanging around with the slaves fiddling. (Sort of the 18th-19th century equivalent of the 20th century white musicians who went to Harlem or Chicago or New Orleans to play jazz.) More interesting is the timing. Sally Hemings had her last child in 1808. She was only about 38 years old. (By contrast, Martha Jefferson Randolph had her youngest when she was 46; a quick check of my own genealogy shows most women in the days before good contraceptives to have their last child in their 40s.) Thomas Jefferson came home to Monticello to stay in early 1809. Now he would've been available all year 'round. However, Randolph Jefferson, a widower, re-married that same year, becoming unavailable. Of lesser importance as evidence, but perhaps not insignificant -- Randolph was closer to Sally's age. And she wasn't his sister-in-law.

The logical conclusion, therefore, has to be the least satisfying one: we don't know.

We do know that the Hemings family were relatives of the Jefferson family, both by marriage and later by blood. Betty Hemings was the longtime partner of Thomas Jefferson's wife's father, and Sally Hemings and some of her siblings were therefore his wife's half-siblings. (Why all the fuss about a possible love affair when the really shocking thing is the more accepted fact that he owned his in-laws?) Sally's children were either Thomas's children or his nephews and niece. Either situation would explain their position of privilege. Either situation reveals a dimension of the plantation system that was kept hidden (or at least not talked about).

Friday, February 5, 2010

feb. 5, 1810 (mon.)

Even in the depths of winter Mr. Jefferson's thoughts are on the coming growing season. This morning he wrote to a friend in Baltimore asking if he could get him some gypsum to enhance the soil in the fields. Mr. Jefferson is up on all the modern, scientific farming methods, and John Binns, another Virginian, recommended the use of gypsum in his recent book, "A Treatise on Practical Farming." It doesn't matter whether it's pre-ground or comes in lumps; it can be ground at the mill here.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

jan. 31, 1810 (wed.)

One good thing about winter is that bad weather makes it harder for unwanted guests to come. Ever since Mr. Jefferson retired, the place has been filled with gawkers. Of course, one has to be polite to them (although some are less than polite themselves) and give them a place to stay.

Winter evenings around the parlor fireplace with just family and maybe a few friends can be quite relaxing. Mr. Jefferson tells his grandchildren riddles, and tall tales about his own childhood, and listens as they tell him about the books they've been reading. There might be a game of chess, and there's always music. His daughter, Martha, and her daughters, Ellen and Virginia, play the harpsichord. Even though Mr. Jefferson can no longer play his violin since he broke his wrist in France years ago, he still loves to sing.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

jan. 21, 1810 (sun.)

It's five and a half degrees Fahrenheit outside, nineteen and a half in the greenhouse attached to Thomas Jefferson's bedroom, and thirty-three -- just one degree above freezing -- in the bedroom itself. And that's on the south side of the house. I don't even want to think about what the rooms on the north side must feel like. I reckon they're going to be keeping the tea room door closed today.

Monday, January 18, 2010

jan. 18, 1810 (thurs.)

Yesterday word came that the order of macaroni is on its way from Italy. Macaroni is very important in this household. Many Americans haven't tasted it yet, but Mr. Jefferson has traveled in northern Italy and has come to like Italian food. (Not surprising, since he seems to be predisposed to like everything Italian; he's been dreaming of Italy since he was a teenager.)

He hasn't been so lucky finding a dynometer, though. He was going have his nephew, Dabney Carr, borrow one from Joel Barlow, but not only did Mr. Barlow not have one, he said he hadn't even seen any outside of Europe.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


In 1809, at the age of 65, after a life of serving his country since 1769, Thomas Jefferson retired to spend the rest of his life with his family at his home, Monticello, near Charlottesville, Virginia. He had been a Virginia Burgess, a delegate to the Continental Congress, Governor of Virginia, Ministre Plenipotentiaire to France for the newborn United States, Secretary of State, Vice President, and President.

Well, he sorta retired. He held no more public titles and no longer traveled to far-off places like France or Philadelphia. But he still kept up a lively correspondence with statesmen and scientists, and worked on his pet project, a modern university for the state of Virginia, where young men could be educated to be leaders of the new United States of America. Still, his life could finally revolve around his home and family. By 1810, 200 years ago, Monticello was (finally!) mostly finished, and Mr. Jefferson had traded in the role of statesman for that of Sage of Monticello and just plain Grandpapa.

This blog is a window back to that time and place. Like looking through a window, only a small part can be seen, but the view is candid and immediate.

jan. 17, 1810 (wed.)

Grandson Francis Eppes is staying at Monticello. He's the motherless son of Thomas Jefferson's younger daughter, Maria. She died six and a half years ago, when Francis was three. When Francis was five, his three-year old sister, named Maria after their mother, also died.

But he has cousins to play with here, since Aunt Martha Randolph and her children came to live at Monticello for good last year. The two eldest have their own grown-up lives -- Anne with her new husband and Jeff with his studies. Ellen, at thirteen, isn't always in the mood for children's games anymore, and James at three is a bit to young to be a true companion, and Benjamin is still a baby. But Virginia is eight, as Francis is -- they're very close and somewhat competitive -- and Cornelia just two years older and Mary just two years younger. And two of the slave housekeeper's children, Beverley and Harriet, are about the same age.

Francis is a rather sickly kid and sometimes has seizures. He likes to read children's books he and his cousins share, and he's beginning to learn the all-important skill of writing letters. Grandpapa, who loves to read and who writes a lot of letters every day, is, of course, very proud of him. Francis been writing to his papa, and his new stepmother, and his surviving grandmother, the one on his father's side. It's nice that he can write to her now, because these are the last few months he'll have with her.

A few weeks ago it was Christmas, and the kids went running through the house shouting, "Merry Christmas! A Christmas gift!" -- a thundering herd (and boy, could they be heard!) of little shoes on wooden floors, a blur of red heads (yes, even the slave kids -- their mother is very light). But now the household has begun to settle down from mad frenzy to merely bustling.