Sunday, September 5, 2021

September 2021

 

 

 

Saving Monticello: The Newsletter

The latest about the book, author events, and more

Newsletter Editor - Marc Leepson

 

Volume XVIII, Number 9                                                       September 1, 2021

The study of the past is a constantly evolving, never-ending journey of discovery.” – Eric Foner 

 

A LOYAL CITIZEN: Uriah Phillips Levy, who was born in Philadelphia in 1792, was one of ten children. Jonas Phillips Levy, his youngest brother—and the youngest of the ten siblings—came along fifteen years later, in 1807.

Jonas followed in Uriah’s footsteps in two significant ways. First, he made a career as a sea captain—not in the U.S. Navy as his brother did, but in the American merchant marines. Second, he took a strong interest in Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, which Uriah purchased in 1834 when he was a 45-year-old U.S. Navy Lieutenant. 

Jonas Levy—“an extraordinary and strange character,” in the words of the late historian Samuel Rezneck—grew up in Philadelphia. At 16, he ran away to sea, which is what—according to family lore—Uriah did at age 13. Jonas, who had left his family home in Philadelphia and was staying with his cousins in New York City, signed on as a cabin boy for four dollars a month on a schooner called Sygnet heading to New Orleans. 


For the next four decades Jonas Levy (above) “journeyed literally over the seven seas,” as Rezneck put it, as a crewman and later as a ship captain, primarily plying the waters of Central and South America. That included taking part in putting a down rebellion in Peru in 183, and aiding the American cause in Mexico during the U.S. war there in 1848. He sailed to and from nearly all of the seaports on the East Coast, crossed the Atlantic regularly, and spent time in the Caribbean, in England, France, and elsewhere on the Continent. 

Jonas married Frances (Fanny) Mitchell in 1848. When he wasn’t sailing those seas, Jonas, Fanny, and their young children (including Jefferson Monroe Levy, who was born in 1852) lived in New York City. The family moved to Washington, D.C., in 1854, where Jonas was one of the founders of Washington Hebrew Congregation, serving a term as the synagogue’s president. He moved the family to Baltimore in April 1861, shortly after the Civil War broke out. 

All of which is to say that the peripatetic Jonas Levy, as I noted in Saving Monticello, was a born-and-bred northerner. Which puts what he did during the Civil War squarely in Samuel Rezneck’s “strange” category. What he did was move (without his family) to Wilmington, North Carolina, not long after the move to Baltimore. In his memoir, Jonas described that sudden move in his memoir in just one sentence: He left Baltimore, he wrote, “with the intention of going to Mexico; got as far as Wilmington.” 

He stayed in Wilmington for four years until the end of the war. He opened a chandlery there (selling candles and other ship supplies) and a hardware business—and soon offered his services to the Confederate military. 

He did so in letters to the Confederate Congress in Richmond and to several leading officials, including President Jefferson Davis and then Secretary of War Judah P. Benjamin (below). Among other things, Jonas offered to build a 20-gun ironclad ship in Europe and use it to break the Union Navy’s blockade of Confederate seaports. That scheme never came to fruition. 


On April 16, 1862, Jonas presented a petition to the Confederate Congress asking for a “modification” of the South’s sequestration law to allow him, a resident of the Confederacy, to inherit Monticello. The CSA had seized Thomas Jefferson’s house a year earlier by the CSA as it was owned by a northerner—his brother Uriah. 

In that letter he wrote that he was “a loyal citizen of this Confederacy,” and his brother’s only heir who lived in in the Confederate States. The Congress rejected Jonas’ request. 

Uriah Levy had fought the sequestration of Monticello in the Confederate courts; the legal battle continued after his death in 1862. His Charlottesville lawyer lost the case in the fall of 1864. On November 17 the CSA auctioned off the house and Uriah’s property, including 19 enslaved people. 

Jonas Levy—who in another letter to Judah Benjamin spoke of the Confederate rebellion as “the holy cause”—showed up at the auction on the mountaintop. He bid on the house, but it went for a larger sum that he was willing to pay, $80,500 in CSA money, to Benjamin F. Ficklin, a Confederate Army officer. Jonas did come away with a model of his brother’s ship, the Vandalia, and also purchased one of Uriah Levy’s enslaved men, John, who was sold, as a newspaper article put it, “to Capt. Jonas P. Levy for $5,400.” 

In his memoir Jonas Levy did not mention his adventures during the Civil War, and he never explained why he went offered himself to the Southern cause. Not writing about that in the memoir led me to believe that Jonas Levy was not exactly proud of his flirtations with the Confederacy during the war. And I believe that he most likely did so, as I said in Saving Monticello, to gain control of Monticello. He didn’t, but his son Jefferson Levy did—with his father’s strong encouragement—in 1879. 

Jonas Phillips Levy died in 1883. 

EVENTS: None scheduled in September, although I am scheduled to be record an interview in Washington, D.C., on the history of the American flag—based on my book Flag: An American Biography—for a new show airing on PBS stations later this year. Details to follow. 

If other events get scheduled, they’ll be listed, along with all future talks, on the Author Events page on my website, https://marcleepson.com 

GIFT IDEA:  Want a personally autographed, brand-new paperback copy of Saving Monticello? Please e-mail me. I also have a few as-new, unopened hardcover copies, along with a good selection of new copies of my other books.

The SM Newsletter on Line: You can read back issues of this newsletter at http://bit.ly/SMNewsLtr

Friday, August 6, 2021

August 2021

 

 

 

Saving Monticello: The Newsletter

The latest about the book, author events, and more

Newsletter Editor - Marc Leepson

 

Volume XVIII, Number 8                                                              August 1, 2021

The study of the past is a constantly evolving, never-ending journey of discovery.” – Eric Foner

 

LEVY TELLS OF MONTICELLO: In October 1914, as the contentious congressional effort to take Monticello from Jefferson Levy sputtered through its third year, the fate of Thomas Jefferson’s “essay in architecture” became a national issue. That’s because Jefferson Levy—who adamantly fought the effort to take the house from him for three years—had surprisingly changed his mind early that month, announcing that he’d sell Monticello to the government. That’s when newspapers across the country, government officials, and patriotic society leaders joined members of Congress and weighed in publicly on what they believed would be best for Monticello’s future. 

The main debate was whether the government or a nonprofit should take over the house. The other bone of contention: exactly what the house and grounds should be used for. Some envisioned it as a restored house museum. Others wanted it to be a presidential retreat—sort of a summer White House. 


We know the upshot: Congress never agreed to buy Monticello from Jefferson Levy, and he sold it in 1923 to the nonprofit Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation. The foundation (now the Thomas Jefferson Foundation) has run it ever since as a world-class house museum. 

But in 1914 there seemed to be strong sentiment for the house to become an official presidential retreat. And it appeared that the Daughters of the American Revolution would run it. Daisy Allen Story (identified in newspapers at the time as Mrs. William Cummings Story) the president-general of the DAR, met with President Woodrow Wilson at the White House in July 1916 and convinced him of her organization’s suitability as Monticello’s future steward.

She then headed to Capitol Hill and testified before a congressional committee making her case that “the custody of this precious shrine” should be “be entrusted to our loving, reverent care,” and that the DAR would operate Monticello as a Virginia home-away-from-the-White-House for the President of the United States. 

Jefferson Levy had owned Monticello since 1879, and it had been in his family since his uncle, Uriah Phillips Levy, bought it in 1834. Not long after Jefferson Levy announced he was amenable to selling Monticello, its surrounding 640 acres, and all its furniture and furnishings to the government (for $500,000), he let it be known that he “abhorred” the idea of the place becoming a house museum. Instead, Levy proposed that Monticello remain a residence as he had maintained it for more than 30 years and that it should become a summer home for Presidents. 

“Make it the home—the Virginia home—of the Presidents of the United States, and maintain it for their occasional occupancy,” Levy said, “and I will be content.” 

Jefferson Levy granted a rare interview on the subject of his ownership of Monticello in Washington, D.C., on October 16, 1914, to Harold R. Johnson, a reporter from the Brooklyn Daily Times. 

In the article headlined, “Levy Tells of Monticello,” Jefferson Levy said that he went to Monticello every Sunday when he was in Washington on a “railroad journey” that “consumes little over three hours.” Monticello’s proximity to Washington, D.C., he said, was one reason it would make sense to use the house and grounds as a presidential retreat. 

“I think it is entirely fitting and proper that I include in the Provisions of the sale a stipulation that it shall be maintained throughout time as a summer home where the President of the United States can spend as much or as little of his time as he desires.” (When Levy sold Monticello to the foundation, there was no stipulation as to its use.) 


The Charlottesville establishment supported the presidential house idea. The “summer house” proposal “has been gaining favor here for some years,” the Charlottesville Daily Progress reported in an October 1914 article headlined “May Become Second Capital If Levy’s Suggestion is Put Through.” The city “should take advantage of this opportunity to secure for itself the publicity which the residence of a President of the United States brings.” 

The article went on to point out that Monticello would be a “natural home” for American presidents. And it noted that small cities with presidential retreats such as Beverly, Massachusetts—President William Howard Taft’s summer home—and Oyster Bay, New York—the long-time home of Theodore Roosevelt (below)—had been “placed on the map.”  


The paper than boldly predicted that Charlottesville might very well become “the second capital of the United States if Levy’s suggestion” that it be “made the summer home of the Presidents is put through.” That never happened, of course, but another of the newspaper’s boosterism predictions did come true. To wit, that “Charlottesville seems destined to become a mecca of tourists.” 

EVENTS: None schedule for August. If other events get scheduled, they’ll be listed, along with future talks, on the Author Events page on my website, https://marcleepson.com 






Sunday, July 4, 2021

July 2021

 

Volume XVIII, Number 7                                   July 1, 2021

The study of the past is a constantly evolving, never-ending journey of discovery.” – Eric Foner 

 

THE 1827 AND 1829 AUCTIONS: Last week, on June 29, I watched an excellent livestream on the Thomas Jefferson Foundation’s website—a Q&A with two top-notch Monticello staff members: Senior Fellow of African American History Niya Bates and Andrew Davenport, Monticello’s Public Historian and Manager of the Getting Word African American Oral History Project. The topic was what happened to the enslaved people at Monticello after Thomas Jefferson’s death on July 4, 1826.

During the discussion Niya and Andrew covered the January 1827 auction that Thomas Jefferson’s heirs—his daughter Martha and grandson Thomas Jefferson Randolph—held on the mountaintop to try to raise money to pay off the enormous $107,000 debt they had inherited. As I wrote in Saving Monticello, to market the auction, Jeff Randolph in November of 1826 had placed a notice that appeared in the Richmond Enquirer under the headline “Executor’s Sale.” 


Published on January 15, the ad (above) said, “the whole of the residue of the personal property of Thomas Jefferson” would be auctioned at Monticello. That included “130 valuable negroes, stock, crops &c., household and kitchen furniture.” The “negroes” were described as “believed to be the most valuable for their number ever offered at one time in the State of Virginia.” 

The sale began on January 15, and lasted five days, during which about 100 enslaved people were sold—along with a fair amount of Thomas Jefferson’s furniture and furnishings. It’s not clear how much money the auction netted, but we do know that it didn’t put a large dent in that enormous debt—and that Jeff Randolph worked till his dying day to pay the rest of it off. 

Pre-printed Bill of Sale for January 1827 Auction

I only recently learned that as part of that effort the family held a second slave auction two years later. That auction took place at the Eagle Tavern, a hotel (in early 19th century parlance, a “public house”) owned by John G. Wright in downtown Charlottesville at Court Square on January 4, 1829. The tavern often was used as a venue for buying and selling enslaved men, women, and children. 

It appears that 33 people were auctioned off that day, mainly members of the enslaved Granger, Hern, Gillette, and Hubbard families. The purchasers, according to the “The Business of Slavery at Monticello” page on the Thomas Jefferson Foundation’s website, included “University of Virginia professors, local merchants, former Monticello overseers and artisans, and Randolph family members.”

A handwritten accounting (below) lists the sale of thirty “farm negroes” to twenty buyers for a total of $8,390. The buyers included Thomas Jefferson Randolph, who purchased seven people for $935. George Blatterman, a University of Virginia professor, bought Ben and Lilly, presumably a married couple, for $385. He had purchased six enslaved people—including a boy named Marshall—at the 1827 auction for $820.

Dr. Robley Dunglison, the British-born physician who was a member of the original 1819 faculty at the University of Virginia who was Thomas Jefferson’s physician, purchased a man identified as “Wagonier David” for $270. Dr. Dunglison had moved up to Monticello to attend Thomas Jefferson during the last week of his life, and was at his bedside when Jefferson died on July 4, 1826. The Randolphs invited him, his wife Hariette, and their two-year-old daughter to stay at Monticello after Jefferson’s death. They remained there until early in September 1827.          

                         


Only a few of Thomas Jefferson’s enslaved people stayed in Albemarle County. The rest were shipped off to slave owners in other states, primarily in Mississippi, Missouri, Arkansas, and Alabama.

To delve further into the fate of Jefferson’s enslaved people after his death, check out the June 29 livestream, which is archived on Monticello’s website at https://bit.ly/LivestreamMont and the “Business of Slavery" page on Monticello’s website at  https://bit.ly/SlaveryBizMont

EVENTS: I will be appearing on a Voice of America’s Urdu website, https://www.urduvoa.com, on Sunday, July 4, talking about the history of the American flag—in English. 


If other events get scheduled late in July, they’ll be listed, along with future talks, on the Author Events page on my website, https://marcleepson.com 

GIFT IDEA:  Want a personally autographed, brand-new paperback copy of Saving Monticello? Please e-mail me. I also have a few as-new, unopened hardcover copies, along with a good selection of new copies of my other books.


Sunday, June 6, 2021

June 2021

 

Saving Monticello: The Newsletter

The latest about the book, author events, and more

Newsletter Editor - Marc Leepson

 

Volume XVIII, Number 6                                                              June 1, 2021

The study of the past is a constantly evolving, never-ending journey of discovery.” – Eric Foner 

 

JUDGE DUKE: Richard Thomas Walker Duke, Jr.—aka R.T.W. Duke—was Jefferson Levy’s most vocal and effective advocate during the years (1912-1917) when he was battling Maude Littleton in her effort to convince Congress to take Monticello from him and turn it into a government-run house museum. Known as Judge Duke—and to his friends as Tom—R.T.W. (1853-1926) was descended from one of Albemarle County, Virginia’s oldest families, and one that had a long relationship with the Jefferson and Randolph families. 

His father, R. T. W. Duke, Sr. (1822-98) was born in Albemarle County near Charlottesville. He graduated from the Virginia Military Institute in 1944, received a law degree from the University of Virginia in 1850, and then began practicing law in Albemarle, where he also served as the Commonwealth’s Attorney from 1858-69. 

Duke Sr. (below) was as a colonel in a Virginia Infantry Regiment in the Civil War and during Reconstruction won a special election in 1870 to fill a vacant seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Colonel was re-elected in 1871, and later served a term year (1879-80) in the Virginia House of Delegates. Like his adored father, Tom Duke Jr., grew up in Charlottesville and studied at the University of Virginia (from 1870-74) where he was a big man on campus—or “the grounds” in U-Va. parlance. Tom Duke edited the University’s literary journal, known in his day as the Virginia University Magazine. Many of his poems appeared in the magazine, which was published by the University’s oldest student organization, the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society, and the University’s Washington Society debating club, which began in 1831. 


In his final year at the University Tom Duke (below) studied law. Soon after graduating, he began practicing law in Albemarle County, eventually becoming a partner in his father’s law firm. He was involved in more than a few business ventures in Charlottesville. According to the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Judge Duke founded the Charlottesville Ice Company and was its president for ten years. He held leadership positions in “various other businesses, including two coal companies, the Monticello Wine Company, the Potomac Electric Power Company, the Washington Railway and Electric Company, and the Albemarle National Bank,” later the National Bank of Charlottesville.

In March 1888, the day after Charlottesville officially incorporated as a city, the Virginia General Assembly named Tom Duke, Jr. the city’s first corporation judge. He served for two consecutive six-year terms and later was elected to the Charlottesville City Council. 

In 1911, the year before he started working with Jefferson Levy on Monticello, he was appointed—as his father had been—Commonwealth’s Attorney for Albemarle County. A fervent conservative Democrat, Duke served as a presidential elector at large during the 1912 election and twice (in 1909 and 1925) reportedly considered running for governor. He chaired the board of the Virginia State Library (now known as the Library of Virginia) from 1923 until his death three years later. 

For the last twenty years of his life Judge Duke edited the Virginia Law Register. His editorials “reveal his skepticism of woman suffrage and of having women serve on juries,” the Dictionary of Virginia Biography reported, as well as his “support for poll taxes and the 1924 Act to Provide for the Sexual Sterilization of Inmates of State Institutions in Certain Cases, and his criticism of Prohibition.” 

*********************************** 

Tom Duke, Jr. met Jefferson Levy in the 1880s soon after Levy gained control of Monticello in 1879. Levy hired Duke to do legal work in conjunction with his extensive real estate holdings in and around Charlottesville. He took up Jefferson Levy’s Monticello cause in April 1912. Sitting at his side during a series of contentious congressional hearings beginning that year, Judge Duke was a forceful presence, grilling Mrs. Littleton and her supporters and otherwise defending his client against the effort to take Monticello from him.  

He said, for example, that stories spread by Mrs. Littleton and her supporters that Uriah Levy underhandedly purchased Monticello and that Jefferson Levy ignored the upkeep of the house and grounds were “a tissue of fable” and “simply absurd.” Jefferson Levy, he later said, “deserves the thanks of all patriotic citizens for the way in which he has preserved the place and for the way in which he has allowed the public access to it, and I am not at all in sympathy with the criticism of Mr. Levy in the public press. I have the highest personal regard for him.” 

JML’S BIRTHDATE: My friend and colleague Steve Pressman was in New York recently doing research for his documentary, “The Levys of Monticello,” and sent me a pic he took of Jefferson Levy’s gravestone at Beth Olem Cemetery in the Cypress Hills section of Brooklyn. 

As you can see in the photo below Levy’s date of birth is listed as April 16, 1853. But when I was doing the research for Saving Monticello, I found that he was born on April 16, 1852. And subsequent research, including my recent discovery of his 1897 passport application, confirmed that the tombstone birth date is incorrect. 


The question is: Was it a mistake or did Jefferson Levy purposely use the date to pretend that he was a year younger than his actual age? Should my future research reveal the answer, I will dutifully report it in this newsletter. 

EVENTS: Just one event on the calendar this month (so far). I’ll be doing a Zoom talk on the history of the American flag, appropriately enough, on Flag Day, Monday, June 14, for Context Conversations. For more info, including how to register, go to http://bit.ly/ContextFlagTalk 

In the hour-long talk based on my book, Flag: An American Biography, I’ll explain—among many other things—when, why, and how June 14 came to be celebrated as Flag Day. The answers might surprise you. 

If other events get scheduled this month, they’ll be listed, along with future talks, on to the Author Events page on my website, https://marcleepson.com 

GIFT IDEA:  Want a personally autographed, brand-new paperback copy of Saving Monticello? Please e-mail me. I also have a few as-new, unopened hardcover copies, along with a good selection of new copies of my other books.


Thursday, May 6, 2021

May 2021

 

 

 

Saving Monticello: The Newsletter

The latest about the book, author events, and more

Newsletter Editor - Marc Leepson

 

Volume XVIII, Number 5                                                              May 1, 2021

The study of the past is a constantly evolving, never-ending journey of discovery.” – Eric Foner

 

WHAT KIND OF DEMOCRAT? Jefferson Levy, who served three terms (1899-1901 and 1911-15) as a U.S. congressman from New York’s 13th District in Manhattan, was a member of the conservative wing of Democratic Party. Befitting his status as a high-level real estate and stock speculator, Congressman Levy was a staunch fiscal conservative who supported pro-business legislation. On Capitol Hill, he specialized in matters of “financial importance,” a New York newspaper reporter once put it, and represented “a business element in New York State and city,” according to the Washington Herald. 

In Congress, Jefferson Levy—backed by NYC’s Tammany Hall Democratic Party political machine—fought legislation that would strengthen antitrust laws. He pushed for a bill to permit the Interstate Commerce Commission to allow railroad mergers even if they violated the Sherman Antitrust Act. He vehemently opposed what in 1913 became the 16th Amendment to the Constitution, reinstating the federal income tax. That same year Levy made headlines when he pushed the House of Representatives to stop investigating business-lobbying practices.

So, without doubt, J.M. Levy strongly supported business interests in Congress and in the years when the lawyer and real estate and stock speculator who owned Monticello (from 1879-1923) was a private citizen and a member of the Democratic Party. But what about social issues? 

When doing the research for Saving Monticello I didn’t come across evidence of Levy’s views on social issues. But I recently found some primary source material that strongly indicates his views on one of the hot-button, non-business political issues of the late 19th and early 20th centuries: the role of the federal government in policing state election laws. This controversial issue centered on what, if anything, the government should do about voting restrictions imposed on African Americans—including poll taxes and literacy tests—in the South following the Civil War. 

In 1889 and 1890, during the administration of Republican President Benjamin Harrison, congressional GOP reformers, led by Rep. Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts and Sen. John Sherman of Ohio, introduced legislation that would increase federal control over national elections in the states. The proposed law was similar in intent to the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 that outlawed Jim Crow laws aimed at disenfranchising African Americans that had been put in place in the South during Reconstruction. 

The legislation, known as the Federal Elections Bill, was controversial. Its opponents, including virtually every Democrat in Congress, dubbed it the “Force Bill,” as they viewed it as the federal government unconstitutionally forcing its will on the states. It passed the House on July 2, 1890, by just six votes. Then it was bottled up with a filibuster up in the Senate and did not become law. 

Two years later, in 1892, former President Grover Cleveland, a Democrat, ran against Harrison to reclaim the presidency. In the fall of that year prior to the election—six years before he ran for Congress—Jefferson Levy, a strong Cleveland supporter, founded an organization called the Virginia League of Democratic Clubs. As its name implies, the league was made up of nearly all the influential Democratic Party organizations in the Old Dominion. 

Within six weeks of the organization’s founding, Levy “succeeded in making it one of the most complete and effective organizations in the country,” the Washington Evening Star reported. 

“During the [presidential] campaign it numbered over 35,000 members and, according to the assertions of the chairman of the democratic state committee, was the cause of carrying the state by such a tremendous majority for Cleveland and the party.” 

A report in the Staunton (Virginia) Spectator on September 28, 1892, noted that Levy’s league, based in Charlottesville, supplied Virginia Democratic clubs with campaign literature, thereby “rendering very valuable service to the cause of Democracy, now the only hope of saving liberties of the people, and relieve them from unjust taxation.”


While searching for more info on the League I happened on an image of a certificate of membership (above) signed by Jefferson M. Levy. I couldn’t help notice that it prominently featured two mottos, “Home Rule” and “No Force Bill.” Both were Cleveland campaign slogans. The former refers to the States’ Rights philosophy of “a free popular government, based on home rule and individual liberty,” as the official Democratic Party Presidential Platform of 1892 put it.

“No Force Bill” refers to the Cleveland pledge not to allow the Federal Elections Bill to become law—which it didn’t. Jefferson Levy’s strong support of the Cleveland ticket and its No Force Bill pledge strongly indicates he was all on that quintessential States’ Rights social issue.

*************************

On the other hand, Jefferson Levy’s last public statement as a member of Congress—what he called a “general resume” of his work on Capitol Hill that he made on March 4, 1915, on the House floor as his congressional career was about to end—contains not a word about the Force Bill or any other social issue. 

In this long oration centering on his “distinct views” and “strong convictions,” Levy stuck strictly to matters of business and commerce. 

In this list of what Levy considered his accomplishments in his six-year career in the House of Representatives he sounded off about his opposition to congressional investigations of the Steel Trust. He went on at length about the Federal Reserve Act of 1913, which created the Federal Reserve System ruled by a new a board of presidential appointees. Levy had been a sponsor of the original legislation establishing the system.

He spoke about what he called a pattern in Congress of “unjust attacks” against New York City, particularly in regard to laws dealing with currency and finances. He explained why he opposed the imposition of an income tax and additional antitrust legislation. He noted that he had been a consistent exponent of a strong U.S. military. He explained how he had worked to streamline Interstate Commerce Commission railroad regulatory procedures and how he proudly worked to defeat a bill that would have abolished dealing in cotton futures options. 

Levy also touted his unsuccessful efforts to get the government to sell $240-million worth of Panama Canal bonds (rather than institute a special “war tax”) and his successful effort to block legislation depriving New York State of its territorial rights to the Niagara River. 

Congressman Levy on Capitol Hill 

The lone populist accomplishments he spoke of were writing amendments that limited loan interest rates to a maximum of 12 percent a year and that increased pay for U.S. Postal Service watchmen, messengers and laborers. He called the latter “a tardy act of justice to men in humble positions who serve the country faithfully.” 

Jefferson Levy ended his congressional farewell with another complaint about the “slurs” he said “have ignorantly been sometimes made upon my great city”—New York City, that is. He allowed, however, that he had “no hard feelings on the matter,” and said he would “cherish” the “many strong friendships” he had made in Congress. 

 

EVENTS: I have two scheduled this month, both of them for Context Conversations.

On Wednesday, May 12 at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time I’ll be doing a talk on the little-known but crucial Civil War Battle of Monocacy, which took place on July 9, 1864, and after which Confederate Gen. Jubal Early attacked nearby Washington, D.C.—the first and only fighting that took place in the Nation’s Capital during the war.

The talk, based on my book Desperate Engagement, includes many historical images, and looks closely at the controversial Early (who went on to be an outspoken proponent of The Lost Cause Theory), and Union Gen. Lew Wallace (who went on to write the novel Ben Hur, among many other things), who was vastly outnumbered but held Early up at Monocacy giving Gen. U.S. Grant time to bring troops up from Virginia to defend Washington—which is why the Battle of Monocacy is called “The Battle That saved Washington, D.C.” For more info and to register go to http://bit.ly/ContextMonocacy

On Saturday, May 15, at 5:00 p.m. Eastern I’ll present my talk on the life of Francis Scott Key, based on my FSK biography, What So Proudly We Hailed: Francis Scott Key, A Life. The talk includes scores of historical photographs about his life as a mover and shaker in the Early Republic, along with a raft of little-known facts on how the prominent Washington, D.C., lawyer came to write what would become the National Anthem on the night of September 13-14, 1815, during the bombastic Battle of Baltimore. For more details and to register, go to http://bit.ly/FSKContext



Last-minute events are listed on the Author Events page on my website, https://marcleepson.com

GIFT IDEA:  Want a personally autographed, new paperback copy of Saving Monticello? Please e-mail me. I also have a few as-new, unopened hardcover copies, along with a good selection of brand-new copies of my other books.

The SM Newsletter on Line: You can read back issues of this newsletter at http://bit.ly/SMNewsLtr

Monday, April 5, 2021

April 2021

 

Saving Monticello: The Newsletter

The latest about the book, author events, and more

Newsletter Editor - Marc Leepson

 

Volume XVIII, Number 4                                                              April 1, 2021

The study of the past is a constantly evolving, never-ending journey of discovery.” – Eric Foner

 

A ‘PURPOSEFUL LITTLE WOMAN’: I am no fan of Maud Littleton, the Long Island socialite who in 1909, after a visit with her husband, Martin Wiley Littleton, to Monticello decided that Jefferson Levy had no right to own Thomas Jefferson’s “Essay in Architecture.” Two years later, she mounted a national campaign to convince Congress (Martin Littleton was a member of the House from New York) that the government should confiscate the property and turn it into a government-run house museum.

In her well-funded and well-organized campaign, Mrs. Littleton, as she was referred to in the press, unfairly attacked the Levy family in barely concealed anti-Semitic terms (calling them “aliens” and “outsiders,” for one thing). She also based the campaign on the falsehoods that Levy was turning the house into a shrine to his uncle, Uriah P. Levy; that he never allowed people to come on the grounds; and that he kept made it difficult for Jefferson family members to visit his gravesite. Not to mention calling Monticello—which Jefferson Levy had repaired, restored, and preserved for more than thirty years—a “poor, neglected, forsaken home.”


Mrs. Littleton (above) knew how to work the news media—which in the early twentieth century consisted exclusively of newspapers—and received much favorable press. However, some of the extensive coverage of her 1912-17 fight to wrest Monticello from Jefferson Levy was decidedly condescending and sexist. I included quotes from two such editorials in Saving Monticello, and recently came across other examples primarily thanks to the ever-expanding Library of Congress online digitized historic American newspaper database called “Chronicling America.”

An editorial, for example, in the February 26, 1014, Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, contained an  egregious description of Mrs. Littleton’s campaign to wrest Monticello from Jefferson Levy as “hysterical prodding by a lady from New York.” Another, in the April 1, 1914, Newport News, Virginia, Times-Herald, lambasted her movement as little more than an idle rich woman’s crusade for headlines.

“Mrs. Littleton,” that editorial pontificated, “is not averse to the applause, and she is winning.” Her “agitation gives Mrs. Littleton something to do, which she can do brilliantly, and it draws upon her the attention of the nation, which she seems to enjoy with great complacency. Perhaps it’s more fascinating than bridge.”

The Fort Wayne (Indiana) News on January 9, 1917—just three months before the U.S. entered World War I and Congress dropped the Monticello matter—bashed Mrs. Littleton in a strongly worded editorial the blasted her movement for trying to force Jefferson Levy to sell Monticello to the government.

Not bothering to mention Maud Littleton or her female supporters by name, the newspaper decried “certain women” who were looking for “some means of getting themselves before the public,” and who “began to squawk quite dolorously that Mr. Levy should be forced to relinquish the property and that the federal government should take it over.”

A feature article ran in several newspapers four years earlier, in January 1913, when Mrs. Littleton was working full time lobbying Congress after the House in December 1912 had defeated a bill that would have set in motion a government takeover of Monticello. The article—headlined, “Brings Dismay to Congressmen Who Oppose U.S. Ownership of Monticello,” in The Rock Island (Illinois) Argus of January 22, 1913—was written by Robert F. Wilson, evidently a Washington correspondent.

It focused on Mrs. Littleton’s campaign to gather signatures on petitions from across the country and then put pressure on members of the House representing those districts to vote to take over Monticello. Calling Mrs. Littleton “a purposeful little woman,” Wilson wrote that she had become “a constant source of amusement to the legislators.” After the House had voted down the proposal to confiscate Monticello in December, Wilson wrote, “the fair crusader only lifted her perky chin a bit higher and declared bravely that she had only begun to fight.”



Going through my own files, which I compiled more than twenty years ago, I found a copy of a pro-Jefferson-Levy editorial in the March 24, 1914, Charlottesville Daily Progress with a strongly worded pro-property-rights tinge that lambasted Mrs. Littleton—and Native Americans.

“We know nothing about Mrs. Littleton’s antecedents,” the editorial announced, “but the way she has trailed [Jefferson Levy] seems to indicate that she is of aboriginal strain. She has tracked him down not because he ought to be tracked down and scalped, but because of the zest she has for the chase, and the ambition she has for the scalp—the one thrills the blood, and the other adorns the person.”

********************

PHILIP L. LEWIS, 1923-2021: Dr. Philip Lewis, a great-nephew of Jefferson Monroe Levy, died March 5, at age 97. Born and raised in New York City, Dr. Lewis graduated from Dartmouth College and Albany Medical College in New York.

While serving as a captain in the U.S. Air Force at Lowry AFB in Denver, he founded the base’s first pediatric clinic. He went on to a nearly 60-year career as a prominent Denver-area pediatrician. Dr. Lewis, whose grandfather, L. Napoleon Levy, was Jefferson Levy’s brother, also was a clinical professor at the University of Colorado Medical School—and, according to his son Steven Lewis—the last of his generation of descendants of Uriah and Jefferson Levy.

Dr. Lewis

I was struck by the words of remembrance by former patients and family friends on legacy.com and tributearchive.com

One acquaintance, Regina Mitchell, wrote: “What an incredible man with a gentle and caring soul. Dr. Lewis cared for my four children from birth to his retirement. He treated his patients like family.”

Another, Matt Haligman, said: “Phil was my family’s childhood doctor and I actually looked forward to my annual physicals, shots and all! Dr. Lewis had such a calm demeanor and was always interested in your life and activities. He was like the Mr. Rogers of doctors.

“I’m 62 now, but to this day I still use Dr. Lewis as a role model for taking good care of yourself. He was a wonderful person and he always made people feel good. Literally and figuratively.”

My deepest condolences to Steve Lewis and the family.

EVENTS: None scheduled this month. Something could pop up, though, so stay tuned to the Author Events page on my website, https://marcleepson.com

GIFT IDEA:  Want a personally autographed, brand-new paperback copy of Saving Monticello? Please e-mail me. I also have a few as-new, unopened hardcover copies, along with a good selection of brand-new copies of my other books.

The SM Newsletter on Line: You can read back issues of this newsletter at http://bit.ly/SMNewsLtr

Friday, March 5, 2021

March 2021

 

Saving Monticello: The Newsletter

The latest about the book, author events, and more

Newsletter Editor - Marc Leepson

 

Volume XVIII, Number 3                                                      March 1, 2021

The study of the past is a constantly evolving, never-ending journey of discovery.” – Eric Foner

 

SISTER AMELIA: Soon after Jefferson Levy, a life-long bachelor, took control of Monticello in 1879, he put his mother Frances (known as Fanny) in charge of running the household—with the help of his younger sister Amelia.



All of them lived in New York City, but spent considerable time at Monticello, especially after Jefferson Levy and his Monticello superintendent Thomas Rhodes began repairing and restoring the place, which nearly went to ruin during the seventeen years the family fought over Uriah Levy’s will.

After Fanny Levy died in January 1893, Jefferson Levy asked Amelia—who had married Charles Mayhoff, a German immigrant and successful New York City cotton broker—to take over from her mother as his hostess during his frequent stays at Monticello. Amelia did so with relish, and continued in that role until Jefferson Levy sold Monticello to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation in 1923.

Amelia Levy Mayhoff, who was named after her aunt Amelia Levy (one of Uriah Levy’s sisters), and her husband lived most of the year in Manhattan at 66 East 34th Street, the same block where Jefferson Levy lived. The Mayhoff’s only child, Monroe, was born in 1897. Amelia took control of Monticello’s social activities for the first time in the summer of 1893.

Jefferson Levy and sister—like Thomas Jefferson and his daughter Martha before them—regularly hosted long visits from friends and relatives who often arrived at Monticello with children and servants. At other times Amelia played host to innumerable social events, with and without her brother present, presiding over countless dinner parties at Monticello, and welcoming visiting members of Congress, university professors, and friends from Charlottesville, New York, and elsewhere. She also occasionally accompanied Jefferson Levy on his travels to Washington and to Europe

Charles Mayhoff sometimes joined his wife at Monticello. When he did, the couple stayed in a suite of rooms on the first floor. Saturdays most often were set aside for receiving guests.

In October 1904 a visitor from Ohio reported that Mr. and Mrs. Mayhoff were “occupying the residence this fall.” Carl Mayhoff was “most courteous and kindly in his treatment of me,” the visitor said. “He showed me into the house and gave me much local history of the place.”

Jefferson Levy left his entire estate to his sister in a will he had executed on September 28, 1923, less than six months before he died. Within days after her brother’s death Amelia Mayhoff announced that she would not stand in the way of the transfer of Monticello to the Foundation, following the closing of that real estate deal in December 1923.


She also—as I noted in Saving Monticello—actively tried to keep the Levy legacy alive after her brother’s death, offering, as the executor of his estate, to sell the full-length portrait of Uriah Levy that hung in Monticello for many years (above, handing in Monticello circa 1912) to the Foundation, an offer that was refused.

“It was my brother’s wish that it be sold to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation,” Amelia wrote in a letter to the Foundation on March 10, 1924. “Arrangements for its purchase of the property had been almost completed when my brother died. I will carry out his wish in that respect.”

Four years later, Amelia Mayhoff offered to donate a portrait she had inherited of Jefferson Levy to the Foundation, along with the Uriah Levy portrait that had long been hung in Monticello, provided that they were put on display in the house.

Jefferson Levy “was a representative in Congress from the State of New York for three terms and made a strenuous fight for the cause of sound money and for legislation which finally culminated in the Federal Reserve Act,” Amelia wrote to the Foundation. “He restored the ancient beauties of the place and brought to it many ornaments which were in keeping with the ideals of Thomas Jefferson. I ask that his portrait now at Monticello be rehung.”

She went on to say that if the Foundation accepted and rehung the portraits, she would “give other relics to Monticello in my possession” to the Foundation.

“I have a great sentiment for Monticello, which was my home in my childhood [she was born in 1857], girlhood and womanhood,” she said. “I also think that it is only appropriate for some recognition to be given the family that preserved Monticello for ninety-one years [it actually was 89] and were in possession of it for a longer period than any other owner.”

After the Foundation turned down her request to donate the portraits, she presented the full-length Uriah Levy oil painting to the U.S. Navy. It is on display today at the Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis. Amelia Mayhoff presented the life-sized oil painting of Jefferson Levy to the New York Democratic Club. Jefferson Levy was one of that New York City organization’s founders.

Amelia Levy Mayhoff continued to promote Uriah Levy’s legacy until a few years before her death at age 90 on June 7, 1947. On March 28, 1943, during the height of World War II, she agreed to serve as the sponsor—a woman chosen to christen a ship—of the USS Levy, a 1,300-ton, $3.5 million destroyer escort named after her uncle.

She christened the ship that day at the Federal Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company’s Port Newark shipyard. The ship joined the war in May, and went on to serve in the Pacific. Also in attendance that day at Port Newark was her niece, Frances Levy Lewis.


Two months later, in May 1943, Amelia presented a copy of a photograph of Uriah Levy (above) to the Jewish War Veterans of the United States, which had lobbied the U.S. Navy to name a ship in honor of Levy, the first Jewish American to have a full Navy career (1812-1862), and the nation’s first Jewish Commodore—the highest rank in the Navy at that time.

She also bequeathed an 1815 painting of Uriah in his dress Navy uniform (below) to the American Jewish Historical Society in Waltham, Mass., and a framed photograph of her father, Jonas Phillips Levy, to the Center for Jewish History in New York City. 




EVENTS: I have three Zoom events on tap for March.

·         On Saturday, March 6, at 5:00 p.m. Eastern time, I’ll be doing a talk on Monticello and the Levys for Context Conversations. For more info and to register, go to http://bit.ly/ContextMonticello

·         On Thursday, March 11, it’s a Q&A about the Levys and Monticello for the CloseUp Foundation, which offers programs for teachers across the country.

·         On Saturday, March 13, at 5:00 p.m. Eastern, a talk on the life of Francis Scott Key highlighting the writing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” for Context Conversations. Info: http://bit.ly/ContextFSK

GIFT IDEA:  Want a personally autographed, brand-new paperback copy of Saving Monticello? Please e-mail me. I also have a few as-new, unopened hardcover copies, along with a good selection of brand-new copies of my other books.