Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness – Thomas Jefferson

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Appomattox Court House

 We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness….an excerpt of the Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson.

Drafted by Thomas Jefferson between June 11 and June 28, 1776, the Declaration of Independence is at once the nation’s most cherished symbol of liberty and Jefferson’s most enduring monument.  We were reminded of that and learned much more history at Monticello.

Monticello, “Little Mountain”, is a remarkable house and one of America’s most famous.  This  was the home of Thomas Jefferson, the third US President.  He designed and redesigned and built and rebuilt  his home over a period of more than forty years.  The 35-minute house tour allowed us to see the inside areas filled with ingenious devices and mementos of this brainy revered founding father.  We were extra attentive, as no photography is allowed on the house tour.  Hearing the docent tell stories about this amazing man took us back over 200 years.  What struck me the most was the polygraph that he invented and used.  It is a copying machine with two pens, where when he writes with one pen, the other made an exact copy – very ingenious!  He started his day at 3AM, writing letters for the next fours hours.  His eloquence in writing prompted John Adams, the second President of the US, to ask Thomas Jefferson to draft the Declaration of Independence.  And of course the issue about his dalliance with Sally Hemings, an enslaved lady’s maid, was asked and confirmed – TJ was the father of her children.

The house tour was a little rushed, but if you are a history buff and admire architecture you will love it.


Little Mountain – Monticello

We took the time to check out the basement, which used to be the hub of “dependencies”, activities where slaves performed their daily household work unseen and unnoticed by guests.

On the grounds we joined the Slavery at Monticello Tour, at the Mulberry Row.  Since the structures no longer exist, we listened and imagined the guide’s many stories about activities and life at Mulberry Row.  This street was populated by more than 20 dwellings, the center of work and domestic life for dozens of people — free whites, free blacks, indentured servants, and enslaved people.  Some of the buildings are due to be rebuilt within the next year or so.

Mulberry Row

Mulberry Row

Thomas Jefferson's Vegetable Garden

Dubbed “Revolutionary Vegetable Garden”, this is where TJ did some farming/agriculture experimentation.

Jeffersons Grave

Jefferson’s grave

The visitor center holds various exhibits that required some time and attention to go through.  Below is an illustration of the development and ongoing influence of his core ideas about liberty, on a wall of 21 flat -panel LCD screens and seven interactive touch screens.  I even learned that some sayings my mom used to teach me were actually written by Thomas Jefferson, such as ” Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.”

Boisterous sea of liberty

The next day we stumbled onto yet another historical place, the Appomattox Court House National Historical Park.  Little did we know that we had just closed the loop on the Confederacy Trail from Montgomery, AL where the first salvo to cecede from the Union began, to Appomattox Court House, VA where the civil war ended and the nation became one again.

On April 9, 1865 Robert E. Lee, commanding general of the Army of Northern Virginia, surrendered his men to Ulysses S. Grant, general-in-chief of all United States forces.  We walked the old country lane where these events took place and in the solitude imagined the activities of those April days in 1865.

Appomattox Court House

Appomattox County Jail

But the best part of this stop was visiting my cousins Vellie and Phebe.  We visited Phebe and Dan at their home in Lynchburg, VA where they showed us their organic garden and served up a delicious meal.

Harry and Vellie Hall gave us a tour of their B&B and Boutique at Diamond Hill Retreat in the city of Charlotte Court house, VA.  It was great to see them again!

Our three-day stay at Paradise Island RV Park was packed with historical lessons and reconnecting with cousins.  We didn’t like this RV park much, so it was fortunate that we spent very little time here – Steve’s review is here.

Upnext:  Skyline Drive in Virginia!