Monday, February 3, 2020

February 2020






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

Volume XVII, No. 2                                                       

February 1, 2020

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

THREE-POUND DIAMOND: “The Second-Biggest Diamond in History Has a New Owner.” That headline in The New York Times on January 15 caught my attention because—well, who isn’t interested in the second-biggest diamond in recorded history?

The headline also called to mind something I’d discovered about Jefferson M. Levy twenty years ago while researching Saving Monticello. Going through stacks of newspaper clippings in the archives of the American Jewish Historical Society in New York City back then, I found two 1905 articles about Levy and the “largest diamond on record.” 



Turns out that Jefferson Levy, the big New York City real estate and stock speculator who owned Monticello from 1879-1923, was the largest American stockholder in a syndicate called Premier Diamond that had just extracted a half-pound, 3,032-carat diamond out of a mine near Pretoria, South Africa.

Here’s the gist of what I wrote about that state of events in Saving Monticello: Levy, a “rich speculator,” I noted, “got immensely richer in January of 1905” when the South Africa miners discovered that giant stone

That state of events prompted the New York American on January 30 to ask: ‘Will Jefferson M. Levy, former [and future, as it would turn out] Congressman, capitalist and owner of Monticello, be the diamond king of America? Will his ownership of a large share of the great Premier diamond mine of the Transvaal from which a 3,032-carat stone was taken a few days ago, make the New Yorker a rival of the late Cecil Rhodes?’ ”

Levy, the paper went on to say, “will not say, but he does admit that luck has showered wealth upon him from an unexpected source which may exceed the wildest dreams of his fancy.”



“I really got into this thing quite by accident,’ Levy told the paper, “Constantly I am making investments, and when the diamond shares were offered me at what I considered a very low price, I took them. But even with my real estate and other large holdings, I almost forgot the Premier stock.”

The January 15, 2020, NYT article reported that the baseball-sized second-biggest diamond (below) that was discovered last year was the “the largest rough diamond discovered since 1905.” That 1905 stone, which would become known as Cullinan Diamond, likely was the one that Levy’s Premier Mine unearthed. Levy’s syndicate sold it to the government of South Africa  (then known as The Transvaal), for around $750,000. 



The government subsequently had it cut it up into two giant stones, and in 1907, in a goodwill gesture to help heal the wounds of the long (1899-1902) Boer War, gave the two stones to King Edward VII of England. Today they are incorporated into the English monarchy’s Crown Jewels. You can read the entire New York Times article at http://bit.ly/JMLdiamond

EVENTS: I have one event this month. On Wednesday, February 5, I’ll be doing a talk on Saving Monticello and a book signing at The Village at Orchard Ridge retirement community in Winchester, Virginia.


There’s always the chance that I may add a last-minute talk or signing. For the latest on that, or to check out my other scheduled 2020 events, go to the Events page on my website at http://bit.ly/Eventsandtalks

If you’d like to arrange an event for Saving Monticello, or for any of my other books, feel free to send me email at marcleepson@gmail.com For info on my latest book, Ballad of the Green Beret, go to http://bit.ly/GreenBeretBook

GIFT IDEAS:  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.


Tuesday, January 7, 2020

January 2020



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

Volume XVII, Number 1                                          January 1, 2020

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

HAPPY 2020: And happy 17th anniversary to the Saving Monticello newsletter. This publication began in 2003 after I had attended a book-marketing panel at the Virginia Book Festival in Charlottesville and one expert advised starting a newsletter. I went with the newsletter form because in those days weblogs had just become known as “blogs” and weren’t on my radar.

I don’t know if I thought back then how long I’d keep doing the newsletter, but it’s pleasantly surprising that I have produced one every month since. It’s also been an unexpected pleasure to regularly find material I hadn’t come across while doing the research for the book twenty years ago.
Thanks very much to all the SM Newsletter subscribers—especially those who have told me about newspaper and magazine articles and other primary-source materials that were new to me. I continue to search digital archives (thank you, Google University) for potential newsletter items, often while doing research for my other books. It’s always a shot in the arm when I come upon newly digitized material that augments what I have written in the book about the history of Monticello.

For example: I just found a one-paragraph article from The Sun, the old New York City newspaper, dated October 9, 1887, that provides details of Jefferson Monroe Levy’s ownership of the Merchants’ Hotel in New York City. That article buttresses what I wrote in Saving Monticello about how Levy became a millionaire around that time primarily through buying, selling, and managing real estate in his hometown—and in Charlottesville. (He also had great success as a stock market speculator.)
I described some of Jefferson Levy’s more notable real estate dealings in the book. But I hadn’t known that he owned the Merchants’ Hotel for four years. 

The Merchants' Hotel
One of New York City’s oldest hotels, dating from the late 18th century, the Merchants’ also was one of the city’s most exclusive. It was “famous before the Astor House [the city’s first luxury hotel] was built in 1836,” according to the article. Jefferson Levy purchased the place in 1883 (four years after he’d bought Monticello) for $80,000, and sold it in 1887 for $185,000, more than doubling his investment.

Levy did well in that business venture. As the article noted, he also had received “$11,000 in rents from it, beside his profit on the present transfer.”

In the early and mid 19th century the Merchants’ Hotel on Cortlandt Street in Lower Manhattan—as its name implies—was a home away from home for out-of-town merchants. They came in New York mostly from the West and South, usually on semi-annual trips to “purchase goods [from][ the great wholesale houses,” as an October 10, 1887, New York Evening World article put it in announcing the sale—but not naming its new owner. The hotel “in those days was a much larger and more pretentious hostelry than it is now,” the paper said, “and covered two lots adjoining” Broadway. “It was a favorite resort for the merchants… who flocked here in thousands.”  



The article went on to note that those merchants, with their “persuasive eloquence,” were known to “break the hearts of the chambermaids and dining-room girls right and left.” 

Dining-room girls?

James Monroe (Thomas Jefferson’s Albemarle County neighbor) stayed at the Merchants’ Hotel in June 1817 when he became the first sitting U.S. president to visit the Big Apple, according to the 1915 book, Old Taverns of New York by William Harrison Boyles.

After a visit to City Hall to meet with the city’s mayor, Jacob Radcliff, and New York’s Gov. DeWitt Clinton, Boyles wrote, the President “was escorted by a squadron of cavalry to the quarters provided for him at Gibson’s elegant establishment, the Merchants’ Hotel in Wall Street.”

Following another round of official duties, President Monroe “returned to the hotel at five o’clock and sat down to a sumptuous dinner prepared for the occasion.” Among the guests were the former New York Gov. Daniel Tompkins, who then was Monroe’s Vice President, and sitting N.Y. Gov. Clinton.

The Merchants’, Boyles noted, was “selected as a proper place to lodge and entertain the President of the United States” because “there is hardly a doubt that it was considered second to none in the city.” The Merchants’ Hotel is long gone. Today, the 54-story skyscraper called One Liberty Plaza takes up the entire block of Cortlandt Street where the hotel stood, between Church Street and Lower Broadway, two blocks east of the 9/11 Memorial.



EVENTS: I have one event in January. On Sunday, January 12, I’ll be doing a talk on Saving Monticello for Sephardi Federation of Palm Beach County, Florida, at Temple Shaarei Shalom in Boynton Beach. I’ve done more than 225 talks on the book since it came out in 2001, but this will be a first. I’ll be doing it live—but electronically via Zoom.


There’s always the chance that I may have a last-minute talk or signing. For the latest on that, or to check out my scheduled 2020 events, go to the Events page on my website at http://bit.ly/Eventsandtalks

If you’d like to arrange an event for Saving Monticello, or for any of my other books, feel free to email me. For info on my latest book, Ballad of the Green Beret, go to http://bit.ly/GreenBeretBook

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



Monday, December 2, 2019

December 2019


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

Volume XVI, Number 12                                                       December 1, 2019

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

A RATHER FAMOUS PERSONALITY: On April 13, 1956, Thomas Jefferson’s 212th birthday, the U.S. Postal Service issued a new twenty-cent stamp at a ceremony at Monticello. The blue-and-white stamp shows the west front of Thomas Jefferson’s “Essay in Architecture,” the so-called “nickel view.” William K. Shrage who worked at the federal Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington, designed the stamp.


Postmaster General Arthur E. Summerfeld spoke at the unveiling ceremonies that day at Monticello. In his remarks, Summerfield lauded Thomas Jefferson—and Monticello. The house, he said, reflects the “living evidence of the inner life of Jefferson.” Noting its “strength and dignity,” the Postmaster General said Monticello also “possesses deep artistic and cultural values,” has “noble simplicity,” is “highly practical and warmly livable,” and has “long been a symbol of our leadership for freedom.”

The new stamp, he said, “will herald to all the world our continued dedication to human freedom.”

Eleven years later, in June 1966, Linn’s Weekly Stamp News published an article by Dr. Oscar Stadtler—a Cleveland dentist with a strong interest in Jewish history and philately—titled “Of Monticello—And Uriah P. Levy.” In it, Dr. Stadtler wrote about Monticello’s unexpected “Judaica connection;” that is, the Levy family’s stewardship—the subject of Saving Monticello.

In the article, Dr. Statdler admiringly quoted from a Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation brochure, which reported that the Foundation bought Monticello from the Levy family, “which had owned it for over 75 years.”


Steve Lewis, a Levy descendant (a great grandnephew of Jefferson Levy and a great-great-great grandson of Uriah Levy’s mother, Rachel), kindly sent me a copy of this fascinating stamp magazine article, which I hadn’t seen.

I was pleased to see that most of the facts in Dr. Stadtler’s article about Uriah and Jefferson Levy and their ownership of Monticello were correct.

On the other hand, Dr. Stadtler had several facts wrong—most likely because he used the unreliable 1963 Uriah Levy biography, Navy Maverick, as his main source.

Most of the misstatements are trivial, including Jefferson Levy’s age when he died (he was 71, not 70). But Dr. Stadtler quoted from a letter that’s cited in Navy Maverick that is all but certainly made up. In it, Uriah Levy supposedly is writing to a business acquaintance in 1832, extolling Jefferson as the “greatest men in history—author of the Declaration of Independence and an absolute democrat.”
He goes on to laud Jefferson for doing “much to mold our Republic in a form in which a man’s religion does not make him ineligible for political or government life. As a small payment for his determined stand on the side of religious liberty I am preparing to personally commission a statue of Jefferson.”

I quoted that letter in Saving Monticello, but pointed out in an endnote that the authors provided no information about the letter’s whereabouts, nor did they give its exact date. What’s more, I have repeatedly tried (as have other historians) to find the letter, and have come up empty. 

Despite its dubious nature, that quote is often repeated as a convenient explanation for Uriah Levy’s 1832 decision to commission a seven-and-a-half-foot-tall statue of Thomas Jefferson in Paris. Among many other places, you can find the quote on the Uriah Levy page on Monticello’s website, which was written by Professor Mel Urofsky in 2001 and includes Navy Maverick as a source. It’s also on the UPL Wikipedia page.

Another error in Dr. Stadtler’s article: He says Uriah Levy decided to live at Monticello after he bought it in 1836 (the papers were signed in 1834, but closing was held up for two years), which is untrue. Then U.S. Navy Lt. Levy spent comparatively little time at Monticello, although he moved his elderly mother, Rachel Phillips Levy, into the house in 1837. She died two years later at Monticello, where she is buried along Mulberry Row.

Uriah’s permanent address when he wasn’t on a cruise was in New York City. He certainly visited Monticello, sometimes for weeks at a time, but not very often. On the other hand, I cannot argue with Dr. Stadtler’s characterization of Uriah Levy as “a rather fabulous personality.” If you read Saving Monticello, you will see just how fabulous he was.


THE MEDALLION: Uriah Levy, as I noted in Saving Monticello, spent a good deal of time in Paris during his Navy days. He even lived there for a year beginning in August 1828. The next time he returned to the City of Light, in 1832, Levy arrived with a mission: to commission a larger-than-life sculpture of Thomas Jefferson from one of the best-known sculptors of the day, Pierre Jean David d’Angers (1788-1856).

I covered that experience in depth in the book, including mentioning the oft-quoted suspect letter explaining why Lt. Levy took that extraordinary step.
I didn’t realize until recently that David—the leading monument maker in Paris whose many commissions for statues, portraits, busts and medallions came from patrons throughout the world—also created a bronze portrait medallion of Uriah Levy at about the same time, most likely at Uriah’s request.


Susan Stein, Monticello’s long-time curator, emailed me last month to say that she had unexpectedly come across a copy of the medallion at the David d’Angers Gallery, which is located in the restored 13th century Toussaint Abbey (above), in David’s home town, the city of Angers in the Loire Valley.

I did a bit of searching and found that another copy is in the National Gallery of Art’s West Building in Washington, D.C., along with a sixteen-inch high bronze maquette of the Jefferson statue by David d’Angers that now stands in Statuary Hall in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol a few blocks away. As Susan told me, it’s great to see a “new” life portrait of Uriah Phillips Levy. That’s the medallion below, showing the forty-year-old, hirsute Navy lieutenant.





EVENTS: I have one event in December. On Thursday, December 12, I will be doing a talk on Saving Monticello and a book signing at the Washington, D.C. SAR Chapter’s annual Holiday Dinner in Washington, D.C.



There’s always the chance that I may have a last-minute talk or signing, especially around Christmas. For the latest on that, or to check out my scheduled 2020 events, go to the Events page on my website at http://bit.ly/Eventsandtalks

If you’d like to arrange an event for Saving Monticello, or for any of my other books, feel free to email me. For info on my latest book, Ballad of the Green Beret, go to http://bit.ly/GreenBeretBook

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

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

November 2019


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


Volume XVI, Number 11                                                       November 1, 2019

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

SEQUESTRATION: As I wrote in Saving Monticello, the Confederate States of America seized all of Uriah Levy’s Virginia land (including Monticello) under the sequestration terms of the CSA’s Alien Enemies Act—the law that the Confederate Congress had passed and Jefferson Davis had signed on August 8, 1861.

The Act called for the removal of all residents of northern states from the Confederacy. It also authorized the CSA to take possession of property in the South owned by ousted northerners. The clip below from the October 11, 1861, Richmond Enquirer, contains a list of the largest northern landowners in Virginia and their estates. The properties—which the article calls “estates held by alien enemies” would be confiscated—AKA “sequestered.”




According to an another article in the Richmond Examiner, which I quoted from in the book, the proceedings to sequestrate Monticello began on October 10, 1861, while “the present owner, Levy, [was] abroad being in charge of a United States ship of war.” The article went on to point out that the “people of Charlottesville called the late owner of Monticello ‘Commodore Levee.’ He is a first Captain in the United States Navy, and of Jewish parentage.”

Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper of New York City reported the sequestration four months later, saying that Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello had been confiscated, along with “all its lands, negroes, cattle, farming utensils, furniture, paintings, wines, etc., together with two other farms belonging to the same owner, and valued at from $70,000 to $80,000.” The Union-friendly newspaper went on to expound on Uriah Levy’s patriotism and military service, and concluded: “Certainly no officer in the army or navy has been so victimized by the rebels.”

Coda: Uriah Levy fought the order in the Confederate courts; and the suit continued, as I note in the book, after he died in 1862. Finally, in November of 1864, the CSA prevailed and Monticello was sold to Benjamin Franklin Ficklin, a Confederate Army officer, who was forced to relinquish the property to Levy’s heirs after the Civil War ended in March 1865. Ficklin had paid the CSA $80,000 (in Confederate money) for the property.

NAVAL ACADEMY:  It’s not every day that you get escorted through the security gate  into the U.S. Naval Academy—much less give a talk following Friday night services at the amazing Miller Chapel, the certerpiece of the Academy’s Commodore Uriah P. Levy Center.

But that’s what happened on October 11, when Benno Gerson of the Friends of the Jewish Chapel and Rabbi Steve Ballaban, the Naval Academy’s Jewish Chaplain, graciously welcomed me to the gleaming chapel.



Rabbi Ballaban told me he’d keep the service short—and he was true to his word.

He then gave me a terrific introduction and I proudly stood in front of a group of midshipmen and members of the Annapolis Jewish community to fill them in on the life of  Uriah P. Levy and his family, his distinguished naval career, as well as his—and his nephew Jefferson M. Levy’s—stewardship of Monticello, the heart of Saving Monticello.

It was a memorable evening, made even more special when I signed books for the Midshipmen and FOJC members at the Oneg following the service. My thanks to everyone who made the evening possible, especially Mr. Gerson, Rabbi Ballaban, and David Hoffberger, the facilities manager for all of the Naval Academy’s chapels.
         
SOUTHERN JEWISH: I had another memorable Saving Monticello experience on Friday, October 25, when I did the Keynote Speech at the 44th annual Southern Jewish Historical Society Conference in Charlottesville. The Conference organizer, Phyllis Leffler, an emeritus professor of U.S. History at the University of Virginia, invited me to do the talk, as well as to accompany two busloads of conference goes on an 8:30 a.m. special tour of Monticello that morning.

We broke into four groups and had a great tour that ended at the grave of Rachel Levy, Uriah Levy’s mother, who died at Monticello in 1839, and is buried on Mulberry Row (photo below). After the tour, we drove back to Charlottesville for lunch (featuring the famed local Bodo’s bagels) at the Brody Jewish Center, the home of U-Va.’s Hillel, a block from the University of Virginia’s grounds. I did the talk as the last bagels were being consumed.



I am extremely grateful to Phyllis Leffler, the current SJHS President and the Conference Program Committee Chair and Georgia State University History Professor Marni Davis, as well Hillel Rabbi Jake Rubin and Danielle Buynack, the Hillel Development Director, for putting on a special event.                                            
    
CORRECTION: Last month I mentioned that the Saturday morning Lift program at Congregation Kol Ami in White Plains, New York, was started by Harley Lewis—the Levy descendant who has helped me immeasurably with my research of her family and Monticello—and her late husband Dick. Harley emailed me, though, to say that they did not start Lift. “It was the genius of [Kol Ami] Rabbi Shira [Milgrom],” she wrote. “But we were at the first one… along with a few other congreganants and became devoted fans” of the program. I stand corrected—and honored that I was asked to be speak about Saving Monticello and the Nunez/Phillips/Levy family at the September 21, 2019, Lift.

EVENTS: I have two events in November. On Wednesday, November 6, I will be doing a talk on Saving Monticello and a book signing at the monthly luncheon meeting in Potomac, Maryland, of a retiree group of a large corporation.

The following evening, Thursday, November 7, at 7:00, I will be part of the screening of an excellent documentary called “Just Like Me: Vietnam War Stories from All Sides” by the filmmaker Ron Osgood at the McGowan Theater at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. The event is free and open to the public. I will join Ron on stage after the screening to discuss it and take audience questions. For more info, go to http://bit.ly/ArchivesScreening 



There’s always the chance that I may have a last-minute talk or signing. For the latest on that, or to check out my scheduled 2019 events, go to the Events page on my website at http://bit.ly/Eventsandtalks

If you’d like to arrange an event for Saving Monticello, or for any of my other books, feel free to email me. For info on my latest book, Ballad of the Green Beret, go to http://bit.ly/GreenBeretBook

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

Saturday, October 5, 2019

October 2019


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

Volume XVI, Number 10                                                   October 1, 2019

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

SUCCESSIVE PARTIES OF VISITORS: Jefferson Levy, who owned Monticello from 1879 until he sold it to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation in 1923, lived in New York City and was active in the state Democratic Party. He would go on to serve three terms as a U.S. Congressman from lower Manhattan from 1899-1910 and 1911-1915.



When Levy gained control of Monticello, the house and grounds were in terrible condition—as evidenced by the Saving Monticello cover image, the oldest-known photo of the Jefferson’s house, from around 1870. In 1879, Levy hired an on-site superintendant, a man named Thomas Rhodes, and began extensive restorations. By the summer of 1880, they had made enough progress repairing and restoring the place that Jefferson Levy felt comfortable inviting friends and relatives to visit Jefferson’s mansion.

As I noted in Saving Monticello, a Washington Post columnist in June 1880 wrote that Levy was “restoring the interior of the irregular old Monticello mansion and will make it both in finish and furniture as nearly what it was in Mr. Jefferson’s time as possible.” Levy “will begin this week a series of entertainments to his friends, as he intends having successive parties of visitors throughout the summer.”

Those entertainments continued for the next forty-three years. In the book I chronicle some of the many visits of dignitaries, politicians and others to Monticello during that time. I just learned—while delving into the New York Public Library’s digital archives—that in 1882, Levy invited the former Democratic governor of New York Samuel J. Tilden, to be his guest at Thomas Jefferson’s “Essay in Architecture.”

Six years earlier Tilden had been on the losing end of the bitterly contested and hotly controversial presidential election of 1876. He won the popular vote, but came up one electoral vote short of winning the race because of disputed votes in four states. A special, fifteen-member congressional commission of eight Republicans and seven Democrats was set up to decide the issue. The commission voted along party lines, with Tilden thereby losing the election to Rutherford B. Hayes as a result of an eight-to-seven vote.

In a letter Levy wrote to Tilden on July 12, 1982 (below), he invited his fellow Democrat, in the name of party unity (and the spirt of Thomas Jefferson), to come South for some R&R.


        
In the letter, Jefferson Levy alludes to the disputed election, telling Tilden that he was “the choice in 1876 of the people and Democracy….”  Then Levy puts in a plug for Jeffersonian Democracy, telling Tilden that his “whole desire is to extend to you the pleasure of visiting the Home of the Author of the political doctrines you profess.” He proposed a visit “any time in the fall.”

Tilden (below) politely declined on December 19. In much clearer handwriting, by the way, he wrote:
 “It would afford me great delight to see the home of Jefferson, but I have not been able to find an opportunity, and have, reluctantly, given over the hope of doing so during the present season.”


  
THE CHAPEL IN THE WOODS: I have done more than two hundred talks on Saving Monticello since it came out early in November of 2001. The one I did on Saturday, September 21, at Kol Ami Congregation in White Plains, New York, turned out to be one of the most memorable.

I was very grateful to Rabbi Shira Milgrom for inviting me to come up to do the talk for that day’s Shabbat Morning Lift, an informal gathering that starts with coffee and bagels and often includes a guest speaker. After the talk the Rabbi leads an “informal and participatory” Shabbat service.

What made this even more special was that Harley Lewis and her late husband Dick thought up the Second Lift concept years ago. As most SM newsletter readers know, Harley Lewis, a great grandniece of Jefferson Levy, kindly provided me with a ton of primary-source material and invaluable advice when I was doing the research for the book in 1999 and 2000. And she has been an enthusiastic supporter of the book and my work ever since.



My wife Janna and I had dinner Friday evening as the guests of one of Harley’s sons, Tom Lewis, and his wife Debbie (in the photo above with Harley and me). They couldn’t have been more welcoming and hospitable. I spoke to Harley on the phone that evening and we made plans to meet after the talk on Saturday.

I was bowled over when Harley arrived during the coffee hour and stayed to take in the talk. I hadn’t seen her since the dedication of the Uriah Levy statue at Congregation Mikve Israel in Philadelphia in 2011, when we both took part in the festivities.

Another special thing about the talk was the venue, the serene and beautiful Chapel in the Woods on the Kol Ami campus. And what made the weekend even more special was that we learned on Saturday that one of Harley’s grandchildren and his wife had her first great-grandchild the day before. The child, descended directly from Uriah Levy’s great grandfather Dr. Samuel Nunez, is a tenth-generation American.     


    

EVENTS: I have four in October, three of them on Saving Monticello:

F    Friday, October 4. I will kick off the 22nd Annual Conference on the Art and Command of the Civil War sponsored by the Mosby Heritage Area Association, a local historic preservation group in Middleburg, Virginia, where I live. My talk will be on my only Civl War book, Desperate Engagement, which is about the July 1864 Battle of Monocacy and Confederate Gen. Jubal Early’s subsequent attack on Washington, D.C., the subject of the three-day conference. Some tickets remain. For all the details, go to http://bit.ly/MHAATalk

Friday, October 11. A talk on Saving Monticello at the U.S. Naval Academy’s Commodore Levy Chapel following the 7:00 p.m. Oneg services. The event is free and open to the public, but because of security at the Academy, visitors must register in advance. For info on that, contact the Friends of the Jewish Chapel at the USNA in Annapolis at 410-268-0169, email info@fojcusna.org

Saturday, October 12. A talk on Saving Monticello and book signing at the monthly luncheon meeting of the SAR George Washington Chapter in Alexandria, Virginia.

·        Friday, October 25. My third talk of the month on Saving Monticello, as the Keynote Speaker at the annual Southern Jewish Historical Society conference in Charlottesville, Virginia. For info conference, including how to register, go to http://bit.ly/SJHSConf





There’s always the chance that I may have a last-minute talk or signing. For the latest on that, or to check out my scheduled 2019 events, go to the Events page on my website at http://bit.ly/Eventsandtalks

If you’d like to arrange an event for Saving Monticello, or for any of my other books, feel free to email me. For info on my latest book, Ballad of the Green Beret, go to http://bit.ly/GreenBeretBook

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

Photo credit: Monticello image: The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. “Residence of Thomas Jefferson.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1820. http://bit.ly/Montpic

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

September 2019


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


Volume XVI, Number 9                                                         September 1, 2019

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

ELEGANT & DIGNIFIED COUNTRY HOME: A couple of weeks ago, as I was working on my next book—a house history of Huntland, a historic country estate in Middleburg, Virginia—I came across the fact that when the place sold in 1927, a Realtor name H.W. Hilleary helped arrange the settlement. That name might ring a bell if you’ve read Saving Monticello. That’s because in 1919, Jefferson Levy chose Hilleary as his real estate broker when he decided to sell Monticello.

Hilleary started marketing Monticello in April 1919 (asking price: $500,000) with newspaper and magazine advertisements and with an elaborate sales brochure. One of the many joys of doing the research for the book came when I sat down at the Monticello research department about twenty years ago with a copy of that brochure.



It’s an old-fashioned, elaborate piece that includes the text of Thomas Jefferson’s first Inaugural Address and an essay on his monumental political career. On the last page Hilleary makes a discreet sales pitch, quoting an “eminent Frenchman”—undoubtedly the Marquis de Lafayette, who paid a visit to Monticello during his 1824-25 Farewell tour.

Monticello, Lafayette said, “is infinitely superior to any of the houses in America from point of taste and convenience and deserves to be ranked with the most pleasant memories of France and England.”
In 1919 Hilleary also sent a prospecting letter to upper-crust individuals around the country. It read, in part: “You are familiar, I am sure, with ‘Monticello,’ in the beautiful County of Albemarle, near the University of Virginia…. This historic home, this architectural gem, this most picturesque estate, I have the privilege of offering.

“The present owner, for sentimental and other reasons, has never consented to part with it. I am allowed now to bring it to the attention of those who can appreciate and are able to own a property of such distinction and merit. If interested, I shall be glad to give you detailed information and to quote the authorized price.”

Hilleary sent one of the letters to William Summer Appleton, the founder of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities in Boston, and one to Sidney Fiske Kimball at the Archaeological Institute of America. Kimball, who had taught architecture at the University of Virginia, was nationally recognized as the foremost expert on Thomas Jefferson’s architecture. Kimball and Appleton declined Hilleary’s offer.

Two years later, Hilleary came up with a second, longer marketing letter, which he mailed along with the brochure to potential buyers. He wrote, in part: “I am only presenting [Monticello] to a limited and special list of some of those who are deemed both able and worthy to become the owners of such a shrine.

I respectfully submit that this is a unique proposition from every standpoint, possessing as it does, such historic distinction; such positive value in buildings and land; such a splendid location, overlooking the great University of Virginia, which Mr. Jefferson founded, and in a region of so many other historic homes where the best social and climatic conditions exist and so easily accessible to all the principal cities.

I trust ‘Monticello’ will appeal to you for your individual use as an elegant and dignified country home of which any man might well be proud. The ownership of such a property by one able and so inclined will make its consecration as a memorial to the great American, Thomas Jefferson, and his works an ever present possibility and inspiration. I would indeed be gratified to have the privilege of showing you this property at your convenience.”

In my Huntland research I found a copy of that letter that Hilleary sent on July 21, 1921, to William du Pont, Sr. (1855-1928), a grandson of E.I. du Pont de Nemours, the founder of the world’s largest chemical company. No doubt du Pont was on Hilleary’s list because in 1900 he had purchased Montpelier, the Central Virginia home of another Founding Father, James Madison. William du Pont also owned large estates in Wilmington, Delaware, and near Brunswick, Georgia. A few years ago, I learned that a copy of that letter also went to Thomas S. Walker, a big Minnesota timber baron and one of the wealthiest men in the country.

Here’s a screenshot of a digital copy of the letter that I found in the William de Pont papers, which are housed in the Manuscripts and Archives Department of the Hagley Museum and Library. The Hagley is located in Wilmington, Delaware, along the Brandywine River on a 235-acre site where E.I. du Pont built a gunpowder factory in 1802



Oddly, the letter is addressed to “Mr. Wm. Buront.” There is no record that Mr. Buront—or Mr. du Pont—replied. Two-and-a-half years later, Hilleary sold Monticello to the newly formed Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, which continues to own and operate Monticello today.

NUMBER 9, NUMBER 9: As I posted on my Facebook page last week, I was very happy (and a bit humbled) to learn that Saving Monticello has just gone into its 9th printing in paperback at the University of Virginia Press. The hardcover (from Free Press at Simon & Schuster) came out in 2001, but went out of print after three printings a few years later. U-Va. Press came out with the paperback in 2003. My thanks to everyone who has supported the book over the years.

EVENTS: I’m still in all-but full-time writing mode for the Huntland book, and have just one event in September.

On Saturday, September 21, I will be doing a “Shabbat Lift” talk on Saving Monticello at follow morning services at Congregation Kol Ami in White Plains, New York. The event is free and open to the public.

I’m particularly excited about this talk because Harley Lewis—Jefferson Levy’s great grandniece who helped me more than anyone as I researched and wrote the book—will be in the audience in this, her synagogue.

For more info, go to http://bit.ly/KolAmiMonticello or email alisonadler@nykolami.org  



There’s always the chance that I may have a last-minute talk or signing. For the latest on that, or to check out my scheduled 2019 events, go to the Events page on my website at http://bit.ly/Eventsandtalks

If you’d like to arrange an event for Saving Monticello, or for any of my other books, feel free to email me. For info on my latest book, Ballad of the Green Beret, go to http://bit.ly/GreenBeretBook

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