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.