Over the centuries, Monticello has seen millions of people, but history also shows us that Monticello has been the home of sheep, horses, shepherd dogs, deer, mockingbirds, and many others. In this episode of Mountaintop History, Monticello guide Kyle Chattleton shares a few stories of the diverse animals who once, and still, populate this historic site.
This is Mountaintop History, a podcast from the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at historic Monticello. My name is Kyle Chattleton.
You’re listening to the sounds of a mockingbird, a creature whose song involves mimicking other birds, animals, insects, and even modern technologies, like car alarms. They populate the Monticello mountaintop, entertaining visitors from around the world who visit this historic site.
Over the centuries, Monticello has seen millions of people, but history also shows us that Monticello has been the home for sheep, cattle, horses, foxes, rabbits, deer, and, yes, mockingbirds.
In 1771, Thomas Jefferson wrote that the trees surrounding Monticello were to be thinned: “Keep in it deer, rabbits, Peacocks, Guinea poultry, pigeons, &c. Let is be an asylum for hares, squirrels, pheasants, partridges. […] Court them to it by laying food for them in proper places.”
It seems that this encouragement was done to create a source of meat for Jefferson’s family. There wasn’t always enough poultry though, and Nance Hemings, a member of Monticello’s enslaved African-American community, took advantage of this by raising chickens which she then would sell to the Jefferson household.
The Marquis de Lafayette introduced Jefferson to French shepherd dogs, which were then used to help herd the sheep of Monticello.
Horses were bred and raised throughout the years, and up until 1800 were cared for by the enslaved chief hostler and coachman, Jupiter Evans. Many guides at Monticello today enjoy sharing the colorful names given to many of these horses: Alfred, Silver Tail, Crab, Peggy Waffington, Remus & Romulus, the Eagle.
And of course there were those mockingbirds. Jefferson purchased his first mockingbird in 1772 from someone named Martin, who was enslaved by Jefferson’s father-in-law. Monticello eventually became a nesting ground for more of these birds, to the great delight of Jefferson. He kept some of them as pets. Some even had their own names, and it seems that Jefferson’s favorite was one he named “Dick.” A friend, Margaret Bayard Smith, wrote: “It was the constant companion of his solitary and studious hours. Whenever he was alone he opened the cage and let the bird fly about the room. […] Often when he retired to his chamber it would hop up the stairs after him and while he took his siesta, would sit on his couch and pour forth its melodious strains.”
This has been another addition of Mountaintop History, a collaboration between WTJU and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. To learn more, and to plan your next visit, go to Monticello.org.