Five days driving east in our son’s very small economy car, affectionately called the Clown Car, gets us to Richmond, Va. His new school prompted the drive to Virginia, but the amazing amount of early American history here keeps my husband and I driving around in it. So we’re not home to verify what is happening in Carson Valley. But since it is June, I can assume hay season is in full swing. Irrigation water still flowing across uncut fields. And hay equipment is moving up and down the roads.
Driving up and down the roads in Virginia gets one to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate. After a brief tour of only a few acres of this once 8,000-acre plantation, one can discern Washington was before, and after his presidency, a successful farmer and businessman. An information board located near re-enactments of early American agricultural practices stated Washington hoped American would one day be the cradle of agriculture for the world.
Mount Vernon gives insight into Washington as a person, making him more real, but nothing unexpected is revealed. However at Jefferson’s Monticello plantation there is something unexpected.
Jefferson is known as a free thinker, an appreciator of philosophy and the sciences, a promoter of the importance of an educated populace to govern its own free country. Public education is a prevailing theme. His very home could be considered a museum of natural history in the foyer alone.
Entering Monticello manor, the guide explains the foyer would have been much more cluttered when Jefferson was alive. Even so there were mastodon bones, teeth and jaw, excavated from diggings in Tennessee, laying on tables around the room. White busts of men he admired, but did not necessarily like on the walls. Numerous large mounted animal horns. A multitude of Indian artifacts, arrows, quivers, clothing, animal skin drawings on display, hanging from railings. Large mounted wall maps of all the discovered continents of the time. There was a clock indicating date and time with bowling ball sized iron balls hanging from a pulley system. Stuff of all nature was everywhere. And this was still considered tidier than when Jefferson lived at Monticello. But this was expected of the man. He had a lot of ideas and wanted to share knowledge.
What was unexpected was the importance of Uriah Phillip Levy. Jefferson, famous for his views on religious freedom, his actual public declaration of religious freedom touched Levy profoundly. Levy a successful military man of Jewish faith so admired Jefferson’s philosophy of religious freedom, that when Jefferson’s estate and slaves were being sold to pay Jefferson’s debts, Levy purchased Monticello to preserve it. The Levy family has a burial place there, recognizing the importance of preserving Jefferson’s Monticello.
Religious freedom, a public declaration of freedom, is very important in American independence. Freedom from any prescribed, popular, unpopular, common or uncommon religious faith. Levy’s family gravesite at Monticello then should not be unexpected after all. It is appreciated.
Another interesting fact my husband gathered after visiting Washington’s and Jefferson’s estates, was that both men had married healthy, wealthy, widows. An idea he has been mulling publicly as we drive around in the little clown car, as a guiding principle for a successful man.
Marie Johnson is a Carson Valley rancher.