Monday, July 3, 2017

July 2017

Saving Monticello: The Newsletter
The latest about the book, author events, and more
Newsletter Editor - Marc Leepson

Volume XIV, Number 7                                                                     July 1, 2017

FOURTH OF JULY 1826: With Independence Day on the horizon, here’s what I wrote in Saving Monticello on that remarkable day in American history: July 4, 1826, the nation’s fiftieth birthday. The first paragraphs are the first words in the book.

July 4, 1776, the day the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence marking the beginning of the end of the British Empire, King George III wrote in his diary: “Nothing of importance happened today.”

On July 4, 1826, as people across the United States joyously celebrated the young nation’s Independence Day Jubilee, several matters of great importance took place.

At ten minutes to one in the afternoon in his bed at Monticello, his beloved home in Central Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Thomas Jefferson died. The nation’s third president was 83 years old and had been in ill health for most the previous twelve months.

Later that day, in one of the more remarkable coincidences of history, Jefferson’s fellow founding father John Adams died at his farm in Massachusetts. The nation’s second president’s ironic last words were: “Thomas Jefferson still survives.”



On June 24, 1826, Jefferson had called for his physician, the British-born Dr. Robley Dunglison of Charlottesville, who came up to Monticello and stayed there, attending the dying Jefferson's during the last week of life. Jefferson’s daughter Martha Randolph sat at her father’s bedside during the day. Her son Thomas Jefferson Randolph (known to the family as “Jeff”), 33, and Nicholas Trist, her son-in-law, took over at night, aided by several household slaves, including Burwell Culbert, Joe Fossett and John Hemings.

Jefferson seemed to calm down emotionally as death drew near. He lost consciousness on the night of July 2. He awoke briefly on the morning of Monday, July 3. At least once that day he asked if the Fourth of July had come. Dr. Dunglison told him the day would soon be upon them. Nicholas Trist nodded his head in assent.

He and his brother-in-law Jeff Randolph sweated out the last hours of July 3, staring at Jefferson’s bedside clock as midnight approached, silently hoping he would keep breathing until the Fourth of July. He did.

Jefferson awoke around 4:00 in the morning on July 4 and called to his slaves—whom Jefferson referred to as “servants”—in what those around him said was a clear voice. He then lapsed into unconsciousness for the last time. Thomas Jefferson died in his sleep in his bed, at 12:50 in the afternoon on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the founding of the nation.



FOURTH OF JULY 2017:  “The only birthday I ever commemorate,” Thomas Jefferson said in 1801, “is that of our independence, the Fourth of July.”

The holiday has, indeed, been commemorated at Monticello in various ways over the centuries.
Every year since 1963, Monticello has marked the Fourth with an Independence Day Celebration and Naturalization Ceremony.

During that time, more than 3,000 people from around the world have raised their right hands in front of Thomas Jefferson’s “Essay in Architecture” to take the oath and become brand new American citizens.

Each year, a prominent American has addressed the new citizens at the ceremonies. This year the featured speaker will be David N. Saperstein, the distinguished Reform rabbi and lawyer who served as U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom from 2014-17.

A former long-time chief legal counsel at the Union for Reform Judaism’s Religious Action Center, Rabbi Saperstein is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law School and is co-chair of the Coalition to reserve Religious Liberty.

EVENTS: My new book, Ballad of the Green Beret, the first-ever biography of Barry Sadler, was published May 1. For info, go to http://bit.ly/GBBallad
I will be talking about the book on three radio shows on the morning of July 4:
·         The Warren Pierce Show on WJR-AM, Detroit at 7:00 a.m. Eastern
·         “Comment Please” on WNPV-AM in Lansdale, Pa., at 8:15 a.m. Eastern
·         “WCUB Breakfast Club” on WCUB-AM in Manitowoc, Wisconsin at 9:10 a.m. Eastern
I have one in-person event in July:
  • Tuesday, July 2  – 8:00 a.m. talk on Ballad of the Green Beret for the Leesburg Daybreak Rotary Club in Leesburg, Virginia.


If you’d like to arrange an event for Saving Monticello—or for any of my other books, including Ballad of the Green Beret—please email me at marc527psc@aol.com
For details on other upcoming events, go to http://leepsoncalendar.blogspot.com

GIFT IDEASIf you would like a personally autographed, brand-new paperback copy of Saving Monticello, e-mail me at Marc527psc@aol.com I also have a few as-new, unopened hardcover copies. Or go to marcleepson.com/signedbooks.html to order copies through my local bookstore, Second Chapter Books in Middleburg, Virginia. We also have copies of Desperate Engagement, Flag, Lafayette, and What So Proudly We Hailed, and Ballad of the Green Beret.  

Sunday, June 4, 2017

June 2017


Saving Monticello: The Newsletter

The latest about the book, author events, and more
Newsletter Editor - Marc Leepson

Volume XIV, Number 6                                                                     June 1, 2017

SAVANNAH: Early Friday afternoon, May 5, was a perfect spring day in Savannah, Georgia, with blue skies, a pleasant breeze, and temperatures in the low seventies. Making things even more perfect was the fact that I walked into historic Mickve Israel synagogue that afternoon (with my wife Janna and old friends Moses and Sarah Lyn Robbins) to be greeted by two active members of the Congregation—Margie Levy and Kerry Rosen.


They had invited me to be that weekend’s Scholar in Residence at Mickve Israel, and give talks on my books Flag: An American Biography and Saving Monticello. And it was my absolute pleasure to do so.

Margie and Kerry sat us down in the spectacular sanctuary and gave us a personalized guided tour of the building. They covered the Congregation’s long history—including the fact that it’s the third-oldest Jewish congregation in the nation, having been founded by 42 Jews who had escaped the Spanish Inquisition (in Lisbon) and come to Savannah in 1733. Among that group, as I wrote in Saving Monticello, was Dr. Samuel Nunez, Uriah Levy’s great great grandfather.

Executive Director Jennifer Rich and Rabbi Robert Haas came by to welcome us, then Margie and Kerry took us upstairs to the terrific museum, which includes the two oldest Torah scrolls in North America, a collection of letters from thirteen presidents including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, plus a short history of Uriah Levy and Monticello.

We attended Friday night services and I did the talk on the American flag after dinner in the temple’s hall with Jennifer’s valuable A/V assistance. The next day we were back for Saturday morning services, welcomed heartily by the Congregation’s President Bubba Rosenthal, who had introduced me before my flag talk Friday evening.

Rabbi Haas invited me to say a few words near the end of the service. He also reminded everyone that I would be talking about Monticello, and said (with a smile) that few people knew that Thomas Jefferson was Jewish—and had had a bar mitzvah.

I thanked everyone for inviting me and said how special it felt to physically be in the place I had read so much—and written so much—about. It’s the same feeling I had when I did a talk in March 2002 on Saving Monticello in New York City at Shearith Israel, the oldest Jewish congregation in the nation, and the place where members of the Levy family worshiped. That included Uriah Levy and his nephew L. Napoleon Levy, who was the president of the congregation in the 1890s, and his brother Jefferson Monroe Levy, who plays such a big role in Saving Monticello.

I posed for the picture below after services, then we had lunch in the hall, and I did the talk. I was pleased to meet my Facebook friend, Connie Eunice Nunes, who runs a Nunez family Facebook group, and who drove up from Jacksonsville for the occasion.

I also met many members of the Congregation. It was a memorable weekend and I thank everyone for inviting me and for being terrifically welcoming.




AT MONTICELLO: The day after I spoke in Savannah, Sunday, May 7, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik led a service (the Kaddish) with members of his Shearith Israel congregation and Yeshiva University students at the grave of Rachel Levy, Uriah Phillips Levy’s mother who is buried along Mulberry Row a Monticello.



The rabbi also included a memorial service for the Phillips family and for all Jewish American patriots.The Kaddish marked the first such Jewish ceremony at Rachel Levy’s grave in nearly two hundred years.Later that day the rabbi took part in a Conversation on Religious Freedom with the noted historian and biographer Jon Meacham at Monticello. 

EVENTS: My new book, Ballad of the Green Beret, the first-ever biography of Barry Sadler, was published May 1. With the help of a publicist, I am working on arranging radio and TV appearances for the month of June. For info on them, go to the Author Evens page on my website: http://leepsoncalendar.blogspot.com

For info on Ballad of the Green Beret, go to http://bit.ly/GBBallad
Here are my in-person June events:

  • Friday, June 2 – 8:00 a.m. talk on Ballad of the Green Beret for the Dulles Airport Rotary Club in Herndon, Virginia.
  • Saturday, June 24 – 12:00 noon talk on Francis Scott Key at the Sons and Daughters of the Pilgrims luncheon in Charlottesville, Virginia



If you’d like to arrange an event for Saving Monticello—or for any of my other books, including Ballad of the Green Beret—please email me at marc527psc@aol.com
For details on other upcoming events, go to http://leepsoncalendar.blogspot.com


Gift IdeasIf you would like a personally autographed, brand-new paperback copy of Saving Monticello, e-mail me at Marc527psc@aol.com I also have a few as-new, unopened hardcover copies. Or go to marcleepson.com/signedbooks.html to order copies through my local bookstore, Second Chapter Books in Middleburg, Virginia. We also have copies of Desperate Engagement, Flag, Lafayette, and What So Proudly We Hailed, and Ballad of the Green Beret.  



Wednesday, May 3, 2017

May 2017


Saving Monticello: The Newsletter

The latest about the book, author events, and more
Newsletter Editor - Marc Leepson

Volume XIV, Number 5                                                                     May 1, 2017

IN THE NEWS: It’s not every day that Saving Monticello gets mentioned in a noted national publication. But that’s just what happened in the April 27 edition of The Wall Street Journal.
Meir Soloveichik, the rabbi of Shearith Israel in New York City, wrote an article that appeared that day titled “The Jews Who Saved Monticello.” In it Rabbi Soloveichik concisely tells the story of Uriah and Jefferson M. Levy’s stewardship of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, emphasizing the history of the Levy family—a family, he notes, “whose own story is every bit as American as that of Jefferson himself.”

Rabbi Soloveichik goes on to say that Monticello today attracts visitors from “all over America.” Yet, he writes, “as Marc Leepson notes in his book, Saving Monticello, for decades the Levys’ role in preserving Jefferson’s home wasn’t celebrated.” I sent the rabbi an email congratulating him on the article and thanking him for mentioning my book.



One reason for the article is an event that will take place at Monticello on Sunday, May 7. Rabbi Soloveichik will take a delegation of members of Shearith Israel (the oldest Jewish congregation in the nation and one in which several members of the Levy family worshiped) and a group of Yeshiva University students to Monticello. He will lead a Jewish graveside service (the Kaddish) at the grave of Rachel Levy, Uriah Levy’s mother who is buried along Mulberry Row, along with a memorial service for the Phillips family and for all Jewish American patriots.

As I wrote in the book, Rachel Phillips Levy was the first member of the family to live in Monticello. Although we do not know exactly when her son moved her to Monticello, it most likely was in the late spring or early summer of 1836.

While Uriah Levy at sea, his mother died at Monticello on May 1, 1839. Lt. Levy apparently did not find out until six months later when he arrived at Monticello after his cruise ended and his ship put in at Norfolk. The manager of Monticello, Joel Wheeler, had gotten in touch with Uriah’s siblings Jonas and Amelia when their mother died and they arranged to have her buried near the house. She is the only member of the family buried at Monticello.

The tombstone Uriah Levy later erected included the Hebrew month and year of his mother’s death. It is inscribed: “To the memory of Rachel Phillips Levy, Born in New York, 23 of May 1769, Married 1787. Died 7, of IYAR, (May) 5591, A.B. (1839) at Monticello, Va.”

For many years after Jefferson Levy sold Monticello to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation in 1923, Rachel Levy’s grave was all but neglected. However, that situation changed markedly when Dan Jordan took over the Foundation in 1983 and the following year ordered the refurbishing of the Rachel Levy grave site and placing a plaque there honoring the family.



On June 7, 1985, several Levy descendants, including Harley Lewis, a great grand niece of Jefferson Levy and several dozen guests, took part in a commemorative ceremony at Monticello. The event included an address by Edgar Bronfman, the head of World Jewish Congress and CEO of Joseph E. Seagram & Sons, a scripture reading by by Bernard Honan, the rabbi of Charlottesville’s Temple Beth Israel, and a prayer by Louis C. Gerstein of Shearith Israel. Harley Lewis ended the ceremonies by unveiling the new plaque at her great-great grandmother’s grave.

The Kaddish this month marks the first Jewish ceremony at the grave since then. The day also will include a Conversation on Religious Freedom with Rabbi Soloveichik and the noted historian and biographer Jon Meacham at Monticello sponsored by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. To read the entire WSJ article, go to http://bit.ly/SavingMonticello

AMERICAN SPIRIT: Here’s some more Saving Monticello news: The editor of American Spirit magazine, which is published by the Daughters of the American Revolution, asked me to write an article for the May/June issue on the DAR’s involvement with the 1912-17 campaign to take Monticello from Jefferson Levy and turn it into a government-run shrine to Thomas Jefferson.
The DAR did not initiate the proposed takeover. The historic-preservation-minded hereditary organization was called on by Congress to offer advice on how to run the place after it became a federally owned house museum. I covered that aspect of the story in Saving Monticello and adapted what I wrote in the book (and added a few things) in the article, which is the cover story of the just-published issue.

The title: “Saving Monticello: How DAR Nearly Came to Control Thomas Jefferson’s Home.”



MAY 6 IN SAVANNAH: I will be doing a talk on Saving Monticello and a book signing on Saturday, May 5, at Congregation Mickve Israel in Savannah. The talk will follow that morning’s services, which begin at 11:00 a.m, and the Kiddush Lunch, which starts at 12:15. The event is open to the public, although reservations are required (for $10). To do so, or for more info, email resvp@mickveisrael.org or call 912-233-1547.

MORE EVENTS: My new book, the first-ever biography of Barry Sadler, has just been published. For more info on Ballad of the Green Beret, go to http://bit.ly/GBBallad
Here are my May events, in a nutshell:

  • Friday, May 5 – 7:30 p.m talk on Flag: An American Biography following Friday Night services and dinner at Congregation Mickve Israel in Savannah. For reservations, call 912-233-1547 or email resvp@mickveisrael.org
  • Saturday, May 6 – Talk on Saving Monticello at Mickve Israel. See above for details.
  • Sunday, May 7 – 2:00 p.m. talk on Ballad of the Green Beret and book signing at City Center Gallery and Bookstore in Fayetteville, North Carolina. 112 Hay St. Fayetteville. For info, call 910-678-8899, send an email to citycentergallery@embarqmail.com or go to http://bit.ly/F-ville
  • Monday, May 8 – 12:00 noon talk on Ballad of the Green Beret and book signing at the Library of Virginia, 800 E. Broad Street, Richmond, Va. Free and open to the public.
  • Thursday, May 25 – 7:00 p.m. talk on Ballad of the Green Beret and book signing at The Hill School, 130 South Madison Street, Middleburg, Virginia. The talk is free and open to the public. For info call, 540-687-5897.
  • Monday, May 29 – 3:00 p.m. talk on Flag: An American Biography, and book signing at The Glebe Retirement Community in Daleville, Virginia. Free and open to the public. For info, call 540-591-2148.

If you’d like to arrange an event for Saving Monticello—or for any of my other books, including Ballad of the Green Beret—please email me at marc527psc@aol.com
For details on other upcoming events, go to bit.ly/SMOnline That’s the Author Events page on my website, www.marcleepson.com


Gift IdeasIf you would like a personally autographed, brand-new paperback copy of Saving Monticello, e-mail me at Marc527psc@aol.com I also have a few as new, unopened hardcover copies. Or go to marcleepson.com/signedbooks.html to order copies through my local bookstore, Second Chapter Books in Middleburg, Virginia. We also have copies of Desperate Engagement, Flag, Lafayette, and What So Proudly We Hailed.  

Thursday, March 2, 2017

March 2017

Saving Monticello: The Newsletter

The latest about the book, author events, and more
Newsletter Editor - Marc Leepson

Volume XIV, Number 3                                                                     March 1, 2017


JONAS LEVY & LAFAYETTE: As I was searching through the Library of Congress’s digital newspaper collection the other day, I happened upon the obituary of Jonas Phillips Levy, a younger brother of Uriah Levy and the father of Jefferson Monroe Levy, the two men who are at the heart of Saving Monticello.

Jonas Levy, who had a long career as a sailor and private ship captain (along with a stint in the U.S. Navy during the Mexican War), has a substantial supporting role in the book. He actively worked to keep Monticello in the family after it was confiscated by the Confederacy during the Civil War and also led the effort to have the statue of Jefferson that his brother commissioned and donated to the nation be prominently displayed in the U.S. Capitol. Plus a few other things.



In the Sept. 15, 1883, New York Times obit, I noticed something that hadn’t made an impression on me when I wrote the book: the claim that when Jonas Phillips was 17 years old in 1824, he “escorted [the Marquis de] Lafayette on board the ship Cadman, about to sail from France to this country” for what be the Revolutionary War hero’s monumental Farewell Tour of the United States.

The obit goes on to say that “the following November” Jonas “rescued Gen. Lafayette from the sinking steamer Oliver Branch on the Mississippi River. In recognition of that service Gen. Lafayette presented him with his signet ring.”

I was unaware that Jonas Levy “escorted” Lafayette to his ship. Nor had I read that Lafayette was rescued from a sinking ship in the Mississippi in November 1824. Surely, I thought, I would have come across the ship sinking when I did the research for Lafayette: Idealist General, my 2011 concise biography of the famed Marquis.

I decided to do a bit of history detective work.

First, I emailed Alan Hoffman, a prominent member of the American Friends of Lafayette and the editor of the unabridged, English version of Lafayette in America in 1824 and 1825: Journal of a Voyage to the United States, the detailed journal written by Lafayette’s private secretary Auguste Levasseur during the trip and later published in French.

I figured no one knows more about Lafayette’s Farewell Tour than Alan. He got back to me right away, and said it was possible that Jonas Levy may have been on Captain Francis Allen’s Cadmus crew, and added that there weren’t a lot of passengers on that packet ship’s journey across the Atlantic.



Jonas saving the Marquis during a shipwreck on the Mississippi, though, most likely never happened, Alan said. He pointed out that a steamship Lafayette was on in April and May of 1824 sunk in the Ohio River. But there was nothing in Levasseur’s detailed journal about any such incident on the Mississippi.

My next step was to re-read the photocopy of a transcribed version of an unpublished memoir Jonas Levy wrote in 1877. His great granddaughter, Harley Lewis (a grandniece of Jefferson Levy), had kindly given me the copy while I was researching Saving Monticello. I found Jonas Levy’s account of his life in 1824-25, which said he was working as a carpenter on river boats in the U.S.A. early in 1824. He shipped out on a merchant ship called the Julius Cross delivering cotton to Liverpool in March. That trip took 45 days, he wrote.

After arriving in England, Jonas wrote that he stayed in Liverpool “to see the sights for several weeks,” then shipped back to New York on the Pacific of the Black Balleine. He did not mention anything about going to France in July; nor did he mention the name “Lafayette.”

As far as rescuing the Marquis in November of 1824, if it happened, Jonas Levy didn’t bother to mention it in his memoir. After returning from his England trip, he wrote, Jonas shipped out as a carpenter on the Partia for Chile and Peru, arriving in December 1824. So, according to the memoir, Jonas Levy was at sea in South America when he was supposed to be rescuing Lafayette on the Mississippi.
I guess you could call that info in his 1883 obituary a bit of late 19th century fake news.

SALLY HEMINGS’ ROOM: Significant—and good—changes are about to take place in the interpretation of Sally Hemings’ role at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. As a front-page article in the February 19 Washington Post reported, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation is in the process of restoring a room below Monticello’s South Wing where it is believed that Sally Hemings slept. In 1941, the Foundation had turned the long disused and neglected room into a public bathroom.
The restored room, complete with furniture and other artifacts, will be open to the public in 2018. 

“It’s part of a $35 million restoration project that will bolster Monticello’s infrastructure,” the article said, “but also reconstruct and showcase buildings where enslaved people lived and worked.

“Visitors will come up here and understand that there was no place on this mountaintop that slavery wasn’t,” said Christa Dierksheide, a Foundation historian. “Thomas Jefferson was surrounded by people, and the vast majority of those people were enslaved.”

To read the entire article, go to http://bit.ly/HemingsChange

EVENTS: My next book, the first-ever biography of Barry Sadler, will be published May 1. For more info on Ballad of the Green Beret, go to http://bit.ly/GBBallad

Two events in March:
  • Tuesday, March 7 - 2:00 p.m. talk on What So Proudly We Hailed, my 2014 bio of Francis Scott Key, and book signing for the Warrenton (Va.) Antiquarian Society at the Visitors Center in downtown Warrenton. It's free and open to the public. More info at:  http://bit.ly/WarrAntiquarians

  • Thursday, March 23 – 10:00 a.m. talk on What So Proudly We Hailed and Flag: An American Biography and book signing for the University of Mary Washington ElderStudy group at the Stafford (Va.) campus.


If you’d like to arrange an event for Saving Monticello—or for any of my other books, including What So Proudly We Hailed, Lafayette: Idealist General, and Ballad of the Green Beret (starting in May)—please email me at marc527psc@aol.com

For details on other upcoming events, go to bit.ly/SMOnline That’s the Author Events page on my website, www.marcleepson.com


Facebook, Twitter: If you’re on Facebook, please send me a friend request. If you’re on Twitter, I’d love to have you as a follower.

Gift IdeasIf you would like a personally autographed, brand-new paperback copy of Saving Monticello, e-mail me at Marc527psc@aol.com I also have a few as new, unopened hardcover copies. Or go to marcleepson.com/signedbooks.html to order copies through my local bookstore, Second Chapter Books in Middleburg, Virginia. We also have copies of Desperate Engagement, Flag, Lafayette, and What So Proudly We Hailed.  





Thursday, February 2, 2017

February 2017


Saving Monticello: The Newsletter

The latest about the book, author events, and more
Newsletter Editor - Marc Leepson

Volume XIV, Number 2                                                                     February 1, 2017

TOOTHSOME VIANDS: A hundred years ago, in the early winter of 1917, the U.S. Congress was making its last attempt to purchase Monticello from Jefferson Levy.

The movement to have the federal government buy Monticello from Levy—who had owned it since 1879 and had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars repairing, restoring, and furnishing the home (and re-acquiring significant acreage)—had begun in 1912 when Maude Littleton launched a national campaign to take Monticello from Jefferson Levy to become a  shrine to Thomas Jefferson 
Bills to do that had been introduced in Congress beginning in 1912, accompanied by bombastic hearings in which Jefferson Levy staunchly defended his ownership of the house to fight the proposed government takeover. They went nowhere for five years, even after Levy agreed in 1914 to sell the house and grounds and all the furnishings to the government for $500,000.

As I wrote in Saving Monticello, the Senate Committee on Public Buildings on Grounds held a hearing on January 9, 1917, on a new Monticello resolution. This one called for the government to purchase Monticello for Levy’s asking price, and use it as a Virginia getaway for U.S. presidents, what Camp David in Maryland is now.  

On Sunday morning, January 28, 1917, a remarkable event took place. A party of 40 men and 27 women—including many members of the House Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds and their wives—boarded two special Southern Railway cars for the train trip from Washington to Charlottesville. 

A delegation from the local Chamber of Commerce met party at the Charlottesville train station and whisked them up to snow-covered Monticello in two dozen automobiles. The lead vehicle was decorated with two huge American flags.

The group gathered on Monticello’s east lawn to take in the mountain views and then proceeded to the front steps where Jefferson M. Levy and his Charlottesville neighbor, Miriam Boocock, greeted them. The guests took a guided tour of all of Monticello's rooms before sitting down to a lavish lunch in the dining room. Levy brought in a phalanx of waiters and maids—all African Americans—for the occasion.



 “The spread set out by the genial host of today was in keeping with the traditional hospitality of the famous mansion,” the Charlottesville Daily Progress, in an article headlined “Gay Party at Monticello,” reported. “An elegant menu was served the many guests, whose appetites had been whetted by the three-mile drive in the bracing mountain air, and they did full justice to the elegant and toothsome viands which had been provided.” Several newspaper and newsreel photographers were on hand. Sadly, the images they took have not survived. (The image above was taken around that time.)

The visit was not a success. The problem was Jefferson Levy’s refusal to serve wine with lunch. When the congressmen and newspapermen asked Levy to show them Jefferson’s wine cellar, Levy balked, saying he had “left the keys in New York,” the Roanoke Times reported. That brought about “much grumbling” from the distinguished guests, the paper said, “and it was freely rumored that Mr. Levy would have to materially reduce his offer below $500,000 if he expected Congress to buy the old Jefferson home.”

Whether or not that last line was tongue in cheek—or the lack of wine had any impact on Congress—Levy did not reduce his offer. Congress adjourned on March 3, 1917, without taking action on any of the Monticello resolutions. When the U.S. entered the First World War in April, the matter was dropped in Congress and never would be taken up again. Levy sold Monticello for his asking price to the newly formed Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation in 1923.

SIX HOURS & TWO MINUTES: Of course there is a website called “how long to read this” dot com. I came across it recently and timed myself (with the handy timer on the page) as I read the Saving Monticello dust jacket copy. Then after a click, the site told me:

“You read 531 words in 141 seconds and your reading speed is 225 words per minute. It will take you 6 hours and 2 minutes to complete Saving Monticello: The Levy Family’s Epic Quest to Rescue the House that Jefferson Built.” I’m a fairly slow reader, so I’m guessing most folks can read the book in under six hours. A good use of one’s time, I would say.

To take the test, go to http://bit.ly/SMreadtime Feel free to email me with your results—and comments.

WRONG CENTURY: In last month’s newsletter I wrote that historic Mikveh Israel synagogue, where the Phillips and Levy families worshiped in Philadelphia, was founded in 1840. I was off only by a hundred years, as several SM newsletter subscribers kindly reported.

Mikveh Israel, which bills itself as the “Synagogue of the American Revolution,” dates its founding from the 1740 establishment of its cemetery, making it the oldest formal congregation in Philadelphia. Its first building dates to 1792. Mikveh Israel is the third oldest congregation in the U.S., behind Shearith Israel in New York City (founded in 1654), Mickve Israel in Savannah (founded by, among others, Uriah Levy’s great-great grandfather Samuel Nunez in 1733), and Touro Synagogue in Newport Rhode Island, which has the oldest actual building, which dates from 1758.
Members of the Nunez and Levy families, including Uriah Levy and his nephew Louis Napoleon Levy, also worshiped, and were active in, Shearith Israel in New York.

Apologies for the error.



OLD FRIENDS: After last month’s newsletter went out, I received a gracious email from Dan Jordan, the former head of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. Dan had provided Monticello’s full and much-needed support when I was researching and writing Saving Monticello in 1999 and 2000. Now semi-retired, Dan told me he was thrilled to read that I was in contact with Harley Lewis, the Levy descendant whom I mentioned in the newsletter. They had formed a bond when Dan took over as the Foundation’s head in 1984 and immediately set out to give the Levy family the recognition it deserved for saving Monticello on two different occasions.  

This newsletter is a labor of love and I’m happy to report that it helped Dan and Harley connect by email for the first time in many years.

EVENTS: My next book, the first-ever biography of Barry Sadler, will be published May 1. For more info on Ballad of the Green Beret, go to http://bit.ly/GBBallad

One event in February:
  • Tuesday, February 7, 1:30 p.m. talk on Saving Monticello and book signing for the Woman’s Club of McLean in northern Virginia



If you’d like to arrange an event for Saving Monticello—or for any of my other books, including What So Proudly We Hailed, Lafayette: Idealist General, and the Barry Sadler bio (starting in May)—please email me at marc527psc@aol.com

For details on other upcoming events, go to bit.ly/SMOnline That’s the “Author Events” page on my website, www.marcleepson.com


Facebook, Twitter: If you’re on Facebook, please send me a friend request. If you’re on Twitter, I’d love to have you as a follower.

Gift IdeasIf you would like a personally autographed, brand-new paperback copy of Saving Monticello, e-mail me at Marc527psc@aol.com Or go to marcleepson.com/signedbooks.html to order copies through my local bookstore, Second Chapter Books in Middleburg, Virginia. We also have copies of Desperate Engagement, Flag, Lafayette, and What So Proudly We Hailed.   

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

January 2017



Saving Monticello: The Newsletter

The latest about the book, author events, and more

Newsletter Editor - Marc Leepson

Volume XIV, Number 1                                                            January 1, 2017

JONAS PHILLIPS: The website Jewoftheweek.com devoted its mid-December page to Jonas Phillips, Uriah Phillips Levy’s beloved grandfather, and a remarkable man. Phillips is best known for his Revolutionary War patriotism and his dedication to securing full religious freedom for Jews in the new nation he fought to create.


As I wrote in Saving Monticello, he was born Jonah Phaibush in 1735 in Busek, a village in Prussia. He left Prussia in 1756 at age twenty-one to seek his fortune in the American colonies, stopping in England, and then arriving in Charleston, South Carolina. Along the way he Anglicized his names to Jonas Phillips.

A few years later Jonas Phillips moved to Albany, New York, where he became a Freemason and opened a store in which he sold food and spirits. Jonas Phillips left Albany in 1761, married Rebecca Machado a year later, and settled in New York City where he again owned and operated a retail store. He also was an auctioneer and served the Jewish community as a shohet (ritual slaughterer) and bodek (meat examiner). Jonas Phillips became a naturalized citizen in April 1771. Around 1774 he moved his growing family to Philadelphia where he opened a “vendue store” at the upper end of Third Street.

Swept up in the revolutionary fervor in New York and Philadelphia in the 1770s, Jonas Phillips spoke out publicly on British abuses of colonists’ rights. He signed a letter published in the January 23, 1770, New York Gazette supporting the strongly anti-British Non Importation Resolutions of 1765. He also participated in running the British blockade of Philadelphia. On October 31, 1778, at age 43, Jonas Phillips became a private in Capt. John Linton’s Company of Col. William Bradford’s Battalion, a Philadelphia militia unit in the Continental Army.

His most famous public religious act was the September 7, 1787, letter Jonas Phillips wrote to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Identifying himself as “one of the people called Jews of the City of Philadelphia,” he called on the body to include provisions in the Constitution they were writing to provide “all men” the “natural and unalienable Right to worship almighty God according to their own Conscience and understanding.”

He also was instrumental in raising funds to purchase a new building for the Mikveh Israel synagogue in Philadelphia in 1782. Jonas Phillips later was elected the president of that historic Spanish and Portuguese Congregation, which had been established in 1740. As the head of the congregation, he invited George Washington to attend the dedication ceremonies of its new building.
Jonas Phillips died in Philadelphia on January 29, 1803. 

He and Rebecca Phillips had 21 children, and many more grandchildren, including Uriah Phillips Levy. Uriah inherited his grandfather’s patriotism and love of the sea, running away from home at age ten to be a cabin boy on a ship. He joined the Navy when he was twenty years old, and served heroically in the War of 1812. He went on to a fifty-year Navy career (the first Jewish-American to do so), and achieved the rank of Commodore, then the highest in the Navy.

Uriah Levy also purchased Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in 1834, and repaired, restored and preserved that American architectural treasure.


THE FIRST JEWISH AMERICANS: I was delighted to get an email from Harley Lewis, a grandniece of Uriah Levy’s nephew Jefferson Levy, who owed Monticello from 1879-1923. Mrs. Lewis was extremely helpful to me when I was doing the research for Saving Monticello, and has been one of the book’s most enthusiastic supporters.

She told me she had read the item in the December newsletter about the First Jewish Americans exhibit at the New York Historical Society Museum and Library. Mrs. Lewis, who just turned 91, went on to say that she took in the exhibit with her sons and one of her grandchildren and found it “very interesting.” Uriah Levy’s “full-length portrait [above] was very exciting to see,” she said, noting that she had seen the painting at its previous homes, the Jewish Chapel at the Norfolk Naval Station, and the museum at the U.S. Naval Academy.

For more info on the exhibit, go to http://bit.ly/2NYHistSoc

EVENTS:  My next book, the first-ever biography of Barry Sadler, will be published May 1. For more info on Ballad of the Green Beret, go to http://bit.ly/GBBallad


One event in January:
  • Sunday, January 29, 1:30 p.m. talk on What So Proudly We Hailed: Francis Scott Key, A Life , and book signing at the Manassas Museum, 9101 Prince Street in Manassas, Virginia. The talk is free and open to the public. For more info, go to http://bit.ly/ManassasMusee

Please email if you’d like to arrange an event for Saving Monticello—or for any of my other books, including What So Proudly We Hailed, Lafayette: Idealist General, and the Barry Sadler bio (starting in May)—please email me at marc527psc@aol.com

For details on other upcoming events, go to bit.ly/SMOnline That’s the “Author Events” page on my website, www.marcleepson.com



 Facebook, Twitter: If you’re on Facebook, please send me a friend request. If you’re on Twitter, I’d love to have you as a follower.

Gift IdeasIf you would like a personally autographed, brand-new paperback copy of Saving Monticello, e-mail me at Marc527psc@aol.com Or go to marcleepson.com/signedbooks.html to order copies through my local bookstore, Second Chapter Books in Middleburg, Virginia. We also have copies of Desperate Engagement, Flag, Lafayette, and What So Proudly We Hailed.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

December 2016

Saving Monticello: The Newsletter

The latest about the book, author events, and more

Newsletter Editor - Marc Leepson


Volume XIII, Number 12                                                                   December 1, 2016

THE FIRST JEWISH AMERICANS:  Anytime you talk about the first Jewish Americans you have to include the members of the Nunez, Machado, Phillips, and Levy families, who arrived here in 1733 and whose ranks included some of the most illustrious people in colonial America and in the Early Republic.

“The First Jewish Americans,” the new exhibit that opened late in October at the New York Historical Society Museum and Library on Central Park West, does, in fact include Uriah P. Levy and other members of his family. The second half of the title, “Freedom and Culture in the New World,” indicates the exhibit’s theme: that the very small number of early American Jews “significantly negotiated the freedoms offered by the new nation and contributed to the flowering of American culture.”


The wide-ranging exhibit includes portraits, drawings, maps, documents, and ritual objects. It focuses on Jewish American artists, writers, and activists. Many of the objects are on loan from the Princeton University Jewish American Collection and were the basis for “By Dawn’s Early Light: Jewish Contributions to American Culture from the Nation’s Founding to the Civil War,” a similar exhibit that was on view at Princeton’s Art Museum earlier this year and which we covered in the May SM Newsletter:  http://bit.ly/SMMay2016


A significant part of is devoted to artifacts from Shearith Israel, the first Jewish congregation in the United States. Founded in 1654, Shearith Israel has since the 1890s been located just a few blocks from the N.Y. Historical Society on 70th Street and Central Park West.

Uriah Levy’s great grandfather, David Mendez Machado, who married Maria Caetana Nunez (known as Zipporah), the oldest daughter of the family patriarch Dr. Samuel Nunez, served as the hazzan of Shearith Isreal after moving from Savannah to New York in the late 1730s.

Uriah Levy, who was born in Philadelphia, was a member of Shearith Israel after he moved to New York City in the 1820s. One of his nephews, L. Napoleon Levy, served as the congregation’s president.


The Shearith Israel portion of the exhibit includes 18th century finial ornaments called rimmonim (above) that sit on top of Torah poles, and a Torah scroll (below) vandalized by British soldiers during the Revolutionary War.



For more info on the exhibit, go to http://bit.ly/2NYHistSoc 

 

EVENTS:  My next book, the first-ever biography of Barry Sadler, will be published May 1. For more info on Ballad of the Green Beret, go to http://bit.ly/GBBallad



 Only one event in December:

  • On Saturday, December 17, 2:00 talk on Desperate Engagement, and book signing at the James M. Duncan Branch of the Alexandria, Va., Library at 2501 Commonwealth Ave. in Alexandria. It’s free and open to the public. For more info, go to http://bit.ly/DuncanBranch


Please email if you’d like to arrange an event for Saving Monticello—or for any of my other books, including my Francis Scott Key biography, What So Proudly We Hailed, Lafayette: Idealist General, and the Barry Sadler bio (starting in May)—at marc527psc@aol.com

For details on other upcoming events, go to bit.ly/SMOnline That’s the “Author Events” page on my website, www.marcleepson.com



Facebook, Twitter: If you’re on Facebook, please send me a friend request. If you’re on Twitter, I’d love to have you as a follower.


Gift IdeasIf you would like a personally autographed, brand-new paperback copy of Saving Monticello, e-mail me at Marc527psc@aol.com Or go to http://www.marcleepson.com/signedbooks.htmlto order copies through my local bookstore, Second Chapter Books in Middleburg, Virginia. We also have copies of Desperate Engagement, Flag, Lafayette, and What So Proudly We Hailed.