Sunday, March 1, 2015

March 1, 2015

Saving Monticello: The Newsletter

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

Volume XII, Number 3                                                             March 1, 2015

SM in the NYT: Three weeks ago I was very pleasantly surprised to read a terrific article in The New York Times on a topic I know quite well and am greatly interested in. Entitled “The Near Death, and Revival, of Monticello,” the article, by the noted presidential scholar Michael Beschloss, was, in essence, a 925-word distillation of the main points of Saving Monticello.

To his credit, Beschloss (in the photo below, speaking at the 2008 dedication of the Monticello Visitors Center) cited the book in the article.

I am pleased to report that the mention of Saving Monticello—along with a little help from Facebook, Twitter and replies to comments on the NYT web site by yours truly—created a small buzz for my book in February 2015, something that pleases the author of a book that was published in 2001.

Virtually all of the facts in the article may be found in Saving Monticello. That includes Beschloss’s opening statement that in 1876, fifty years after Jefferson’s death, Monticello “was enmeshed in weeds, with the main house in danger of collapse.” He goes on to say that—as I amply show in the book—that situation stemmed from “Jefferson’s propensity to play fast and loose with his personal finances.”

He notes, as I reported, that Jefferson left his heirs with $107,000 in debts, that his slaves (and other possessions) were auctioned off in 1827, and that Monticello was put up for sale. There were not takes for years, he wrote, because “the site was hilly and remote, and such iconoclastic Jeffersonian details as narrow staircases and ill-defined bedrooms struck some well-heeled Virginia couples as the enemy of gracious living.”

Bescloss reports that Jefferson’s daughter Martha sold Monticello and its remaining 522 acres for $7,000 to James Turner, “an eccentric local druggist whom Martha Jefferson Randolph considered to be a madman.” And that in 1834 Barclay sold the place to Uriah Phillips Levy, “who braved anti-Semitism in the United States Navy to become the first Jewish commodore, and also helped persuade Congress to end the naval practice of flogging.”

Beschloss (a former Monticello trustee) notes that Uriah Levy willed Monticello “to the federal government as a school for Navy orphans” in 1862, and that after Levy’s death, “Thanks to souvenir-seekers and vandals, the estate soon became, as one visitor recalled, ‘an absolute ruin,’ with caretakers herding cattle during the winter into Jefferson’s old basement.”

He reports that Jefferson Monroe Levy bought out the other heirs for $10,050 in 1879 and vowed “to restore Monticello ‘to the original plans and style,’ and within a decade, “a visiting reporter [magazine writer Frank Stockton, as I note in the book] found it ‘as sound and substantial a country mansion as it ever was.’” Then he covers the attempt led by Maud Littleton in 1912 to take Monticello from Jefferson Levy and turn it into a government-run shrine to Thomas Jefferson.

That’s where Beschloss quotes me. “Marc Leepson wrote in his 2001 book, Saving Monticello, that there was a ‘strong anti-Semitic subtext in Mrs. Littleton’s campaign,’ with its ‘themes of greed, selfishness and lack of patriotism.’” I thank him for that.  

This narrative of the Levy family ends with: “Monticello never became a Camp David, but [Jefferson] Levy finally relaxed his opposition to the notion of the old house as a public museum. By 1923, money was raised through national subscriptions to compensate the 71-year-old Levy for Monticello. He died the following year.”

To read the entire article, go to

EVENTS:  Here’s a rundown on my March events. Most are in conjunction with my latest book, What So Proudly We Hailed: Francis Scott Key, A Life.

·        Tuesday, March 3 – Talk on Francis Scott Key for a the Ketoctin DAR Chapter in LeesburgVirginia
  • Saturday, March 14 – Talk on Francis Scott Key for the Baltimore DAR Chapter in Maryland
  • Tuesday, March 17 – Talk on Francis Scott Key at the Annual Meeting and Dinner of the General Society of the War of 1812, Washington, D.C.
  • Wednesday, March 18 – Panel on Vietnam War Literature, 2:00 p.m.University of Virginia Bookstore, as part of the Virginia Festival of the Book, CharlottesvilleVirginia. Free and open to the public. Info:
  • Thursday, March 19 – Panel on Early American Lives: Francis Scott Key and Cadwallader Colden, 2:00 p.m.University of Virginia Harrison Institute at the Small Special Collections Library, U-Va. Central Grounds, as part of the Virginia Festival of the Book, Charlottesville,Virginia. Free and open to the public. Info:
  • Friday, March 20 – Talk on researching primary source documents at Charlottesville High School
  • Wednesday, March 25 – Talk on LafayetteGeorge Military CollegeMilledgevilleGeorgia
  • Sunday, March 28 – Presentation of researching history at Writers Project Runway conference, Ida Lee Recreation Center60 Ida Lee Drive, NWLeesburgVirginia.
  • Tuesday, March 31 – 7:00 p.m. talk on Francis Scott Key at the Beatley Central Library, 5005 Duke StreetAlexandriaVirginia. Free and open to the public.

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