How do we know what Monticello looked like during Jefferson’s time? Monticello has been called one of the best-documented plantations, and the same goes for the house interior; we are lucky to have a wealth of correspondence, visitor accounts, and even diagrams from Jefferson’s time. Today, we take for granted all of these rich sources and records that help us in our work. But back in the early 20th century, the situation was far different. For Women’s History Month, it feels appropriate to honor Marie Kimball, the woman who first rediscovered these sources and helped to make Monticello what it is today.
Minerva Granger was one of the enslaved women who was essential to Jefferson’s agricultural endeavors on his plantation. Along with her family and other members of the enslaved community, she planted and harvested tobacco and later wheat, which Jefferson sold on Atlantic markets.
Music was an important part of life for enslaved people at Monticello, and particular individuals, like Eston Hemings, within this society were noted for their artistic talents. For many enslaved people at plantations throughout the United States, music making was a way to strengthen family and community ties, resist oppression, entertain one another, and express thoughts and emotions about the past, present, and future.
In Thomas Jefferson’s lifetime, the holidays at Monticello were a time for family gatherings, visiting friends, settling accounts and planning for the new year. For Monticello’s enslaved community, the holiday season was a time for reunion and a possible respite from labor on the Plantation.
Writing to fellow architect Benjamin Labtrobe seven months after retiring from the presidency, Jefferson described Monticello as his "essay in architecture." Always balancing practicality with beauty, Jefferson noted his essay "has been so much subordinated to the law of convenience, & affected also by the circumstance of change in the original design, that it is liable to some unfavorable & just criticisms."
This fall, Monticello’s Restoration Department reconstructed a second section of Jefferson’s original ten-foot tall paling fence along Mulberry Row. The first section was reconstructed in 2018 between the Stone Stable and Hemmings Cabin. During Thomas Jefferson’s lifetime, enslaved carpenters constructed two generations of fences along Mulberry Row. It was this second fence, which was started in 1808 and finished by 1809, that we have partially reconstructed.
Most exterior shutters today are eye-pleasing accents, decorative but not functional. But for Thomas Jefferson, shutters provided shade from what he described as "the constant, beaming, almost vertical sun of Virginia" while permitting airflow from summer breezes. They also protected the expensive window glass from storms and swung open, Jefferson’s words, "on hinges as in the winter we want both the light & the warmth of the sun."
Adding a dome to one’s house was unheard-of in America during Jefferson’s time. Domes are complicated to engineer and construct, and when Jefferson brought the idea back from his stint in Europe in the 1780s, it may have seemed an impossible folly.
When we think of Thomas Jefferson, it is unlikely that the first thing that comes to our minds is “parliamentary law.” Most of us probably don’t think of parliamentary law ever. But parliamentary law is the basis for the rules of legislatures, which in the American context means, first and foremost the U.S. Congress.
931 Thomas Jefferson Parkway
Charlottesville, VA 22902