Jefferson once wrote a friend, "All my wishes end, where I hope my days will end, at Monticello." After seventeen years of retirement, dwelling "in the midst" of his grandchildren, with his books and his farm, Jefferson's days did end at Monticello, on July 4, 1826.
The Jubilee of Independence
Jefferson died, perhaps appropriately, on the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. On June 24, 1826, Jefferson's physician was called to his bedside because of an illness, and his condition worsened until he lost consciousness on July 2. From then on, Jefferson slept fitfully, waking only to inquire whether it were yet the Fourth of July. Around noon on the fourth -- the Jubilee of Independence -- Jefferson died in bed at the age of eighty-three. Coincidentally, his friend, colleague, and co-signer of the Declaration of Independence, John Adams, died just hours later that day.
After his death, a family member found a sketch prepared by Jefferson, containing instructions for his tombstone. Jefferson desired that his grave be marked by an obelisk inscribed with the three accomplishments for which he most wished to be remembered, "and not a word more":
HERE WAS BURIED
AUTHOR OF THE
STATUTE OF VIRGINIA
AND FATHER OF THE
UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA
Conspicuously missing is the fact that Jefferson held all of the higher offices of political service, including governor of Virginia, secretary of state, vice president, and, of course, president.
Monticello after Jefferson
Jefferson died in debt, a situation made more severe by the financial failure of a friend whose notes Jefferson had endorsed. In January 1827, Monticello's furnishings and slaves were auctioned, and in the years that followed various sightseers came to the home, finding "souvenirs" among any remaining items, including plants, architectural elements, and chips off of Jefferson's grave. In 1831, the estate was sold to an apothecary, James Turner Barclay, who used the property in an attempt to raise silkworms.
In 1834, the house was purchased by Uriah P. Levy, a Jewish Naval officer who admired Jefferson's contributions to religious liberty and who believed that Monticello should be preserved as a monument. The house remained in the Levy family's care for a period covering eighty-nine years, with a long exception during and following the Civil War. The Levy family made needed repairs to the house and purchased additional Jefferson property, setting the stage for modern preservation efforts.
In 1923 the nonprofit Thomas Jefferson Foundation was formed for the purpose of acquiring and preserving Monticello. Money for the purchase was collected through a national fundraising drive, which included a "pennies for Monticello" effort by schoolchildren. Since then, the Foundation has owned and operated Monticello with a dual mission of preservation and education. Today, the significance of Monticello is recognized internationally -- it is the only presidential house in America on the World Heritage List, a United Nations compilation of treasures that must be preserved at any cost.