Sunday, February 1, 2015

February 1, 2015

Saving Monticello: The Newsletter

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

Volume XII, Number 2                                                             February 1, 2015

‘THE SALE OF MONTICELLO’: That was the headline in an article published on December 1, 1864, in The New York Times. The sale in question had taken place on November 17, 1864. It was the hill-top auction in which the Confederate States of America (which had confiscated Monticello during the Civil War because it was owned by a northerner, Uriah Levy), sold Thomas Jefferson’s house and Uriah Levy’s Monticello possessions to CSA Col. Benjamin Franklin Ficklin of the 50th Virginia Regiment. The price: $80,500 in Confederate money.

As I noted in Saving Monticello, the CSA had taken control of the place early in the war, but only got serious about selling Monticello in the fall of 1864 when the South’s treasury was in dire need of cash. Uriah Levy had died in 1862. George Carr, his Charlottesville lawyer, had been fighting a legal battle to prevent the South from selling Monticello.

The CSA sued Carr and Monticello’s caretaker, Joel Wheeler, and prevailed. Soon thereafter, an advertisement appeared in the Richmond Enquirer. The sale would take place at Monticello, “a large and commodious Brick Dwelling House,” the ad said, “late the property of Captain U.P. Levy, deceased, an alien enemy.”

The New York Times account of that day’s events reported that “a large number of people” were present. That included Uriah Levy’s youngest brother, Jonas Phillips Levy, who was living in WilmingtonNorth Carolina. Jonas P. Levy (the father of Jefferson M. Levy), was a born and bred northerner who had fought in the Mexican War as the commander of the USS America.

The article, based on an account in the LynchburgVirginiaRepublic, notes that Jonas Levy spoke to the crowd before the auction began, saying he did not show up “to interfere with or prevent the sale in any way, and that while he for the present waived his rights in the premises, he intended to bid for the property himself.” After the deputy marshal running the auction reminded the crowd that the Jefferson family graveyard was not part of the sale, Jonas Levy spoke up again about the fact that his mother’s grave would be part of the deal.

“Captain Levy,” the account says, “said his mother was also interred on the place, and he hoped whoever became the purchaser of Monticello would let her rest in peace.”First Monticello was auctioned off. The first bid was $20,000. Jonas Levy was not the successful bidder, although he did come away with two of Uriah Levy’s former possessions: a slave and a model of his brother’s last ship, the Vandalia. Of Uriah Levy’s nineteen slaves, the “first negro man, Fuke, brought $7,000,” the article says. “The next, Fleming, $7,450; Lewis, $7,350; John, sold to Capt. Jonas P. Levy for $5,400.” A “negro woman with seven children, one at the breast,” sold for $23,100. Three “girls, from five to nine years old,” went for $11,000, and “two smaller girls” for $3,200.

Col. Ficklin also bought a bust of Jefferson, “which stood in the hall on a fluted Corinthian pedestal,” for $50. A pianoforte was sold for $5,000; a marble-topped sideboard for $510. Jonas Levy got the Vandalia model for $100. Other items sold that day included a washstand, cows, oxen, shoats, and a threshing machine. The total take was estimated to be $350,000.

The article ends with a lament about how Jefferson’s gravestone had been defaced by people who took chippings from it, and how, visitors had scribbled their names on Monticello’s walls. “Hundreds of them can be seen and read on each side of the front entrance to the hall,” the article said, “pieces of the bust of Mr. JEFFERSON were chipped off; chairs, tables, mirrors, vases, broken and destroyed; and in some cases mementoes of rare virtue and art have been purloined, while the family resided here as well as in their absence.

Shame! shame upon our thoughtless countrymen. Why should they be so disrespectful to the sepulcher of the great patriot of the Revolution?”
To read the entire article, go to

MAGNET ON MONTICELLO: In a blog post last fall titled “How Private Philanthropy Saved the Founders’ Homes: Mount Vernon and Monticello Nearly Vanished” Myron Magnet, the author of The Founders at Home: The Building of America, 1735-1817 (2013), writes about how the homes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson came to be the beautifully restored presidential house museums they are today.

Mr. Magnet’s account of the saving of Monticello leans heavily on Saving Monticello, a fact that he kindly notes.

To wit: After talking about Jefferson granddaughter Virginia Trist speculating that Uriah Levy was considering marrying one of her sisters (which I cover in the book), he writes: “But nothing came of the notion, though Levy stayed on friendly terms with Jefferson’s descendants for many years, as Marc Leepson reports in his invaluable account of the Levy family’s 89-year tenure at Monticello, Saving Monticello.”

You can read the entire post at

EVENTS:  Here’s a rundown on my February events. All but one are for my latest book, What So Proudly We Hailed: Francis Scott Key, A Life.

  • Monday, February 9 – Talk on Francis Scott Key for a woman’s book club in Middleburg,Virginia
  • Saturday, February 14 – Talk on Francis Scott Key for the Providence DAR Chapter, Fairfax,       Virginia
  • Tuesday, February 17 – Talk on Francis Scott Key at the Annual Meeting and Dinner of the General Society of the War of 1812, Washington, D.C.
  • Saturday, February 21 – Talk on Francis Scott Key for the Cameron Parish DAR Chapter, ChantillyVirginia
  • Monday, February 23 – Talk on Saving Monticello, The Village On Pheasant Ridge, RoanokeVirginia
  • Tuesday, February 24 – Talk on Francis Scott Key, The Glebe, DalevilleVirginia
  • Tuesday, February 24 – Talk on Francis Scott Key, Runk and Pratt at Liberty Ridge, LynchburgVirginia.  

If you’d like to arrange an event for any of my books, email  For more details on other upcoming events, go to which is  the “Author Events” page on my website,