Thursday, January 4, 2018

January 2018

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

Volume XV, Number 1                                                                      January 1, 2018

ONE GREAT CLOCK: A little over eighty years ago, on December 15, 1937, to be exact, the Charlottesville Daily Progress newspaper reported that a Richmond jewleler named Otto Frederick Ostergren had repaired Thomas Jefferson’s famed seven-day clock. Ostergren, the article said, got the clock working properly for the first time since the late 1850s during the time when Uriah Phillips Levy owned Monticello

“Jefferson may have been a novice, but he evidently knew enough about clocks to design a good one that had but one major fault,” the newspaper reported in 1937. “This fault was in the striking mechanism, which if it ever got out of order, would stop the entire complicated apparatus. As a result, the great clock has run but a third of the time during the 130 years it has been at Monticello.”

Ostergren, the article went on to say, simplified the clock’s mechanism “to take care of the major difficulties.” Once more, it said, “the people of Charlottesville will hear the doleful tolling of the hours as they did back in the days when the clock was running and the striking hammer resounded on the huge disk placed up in the roof. At times, the tolling would continue for hours, and then someone would have to climb out on the roof and set the apparatus right.”

Dec 15

Jefferson designed the one-of-a-kind clock, and sent his plans to a Philadelphia clockmaker named Peter Spruck to build. Spruck created it with the help of his apprentice Robert Leslie in 1793. It wasn’t installed in Monticello’s Entrance Hall, though, until 1805 when Jefferson was president. The Great Clock has remained there ever since—one of only a handful of items that has been in Monticello continuously from Jefferson’s time to today.

I first mention the Great Clock in Saving Monticello in the section on the brief (1831-34) ownership of Monticello by the eccentric Charlottesville pharmacist James Turner Barclay. He bought the place from Jefferson’s daughter Martha and her son Thomas Jefferson Randolph after they had sold virtually all the furniture and furnishings in the years following Jefferson’s death in 1824.

According to his daughter, Barclay bought special tools to repair the clock, which, she said, had been broken for “many years.”

Barclay signed a contract to sell Monticello to Uriah Levy in 1834, but the sale was delayed for two years when the parties had a dispute over what exactly would convey to Levy. The contract called for Levy to receive Monticello and its “appurtenances” and 230 acres of land. Barclay would keep the houses’ valuable pier mirrors and the seven-day clock.

However, a land survey revealed that Barclay had sold off all but 218 of Monticello’s acres. So Levy asked Barclay to annul the initial contract, which he did. The parties wrote a new one in which Barclay dropped the price to $2,500 and, according to Levy, threw in the mirrors and clock. Barclay disagreed with that and legal wrangling (a lawsuit and a counter suit) ensued. It ended in 1836 when the parties settled the lawsuits and Uriah Levy took possession of the house—including the Great Clock and the mirrors.

Image result for daily progress monticello clock jefferson

Uriah Levy, a U.S. Navy lieutenant when he bought Monticello, spent most of his time at sea, in the 1850s. His caretaker at Monticello, Joel Wheeler, lived in and ran Monticello, but didn’t exactly maintain the place well.

That included the Great Clock, which was in the mid-1850s was unused and in bad shape. “Dust and rust corrode the silent wheels,” a visitor reported in 1856. According to the Richmond clockmaker Frederick Ostergren the Great Clock would stay in that condition until 1937.

You can read a full description of the Great Clock on the Thomas Jefferson Foundation’s online Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia at

To read the Daily Progress article, go to

EVENTS: Here are my January speaking events. For info on my new book, Ballad of the Green Beret, please go to
  • ·       Thursday, January 4 – Talk on Saving Monticello and book signing for the Leesburg Rotary Club, Leesburg, Virginia
  • ·       Tuesday, January 9 – 12:30 p.m. talk on Francis Scott Key and “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia. Open to the public. For info, call 703-537-3068 or go to
  • ·       Thursday, January 11 – Talk on Flag: Saving Monticello and book signing at the monthly meeting of the Falls Church (Va.) DAR chapter.
  • ·       Thursday, January 25 – 1:00 p.m. talk on What So Proudly We Hailed: Francis Scott Key: A Life and book signing for Montgomery County (Md.) Oasis, 7125 Democracy Blvd. Bethesda. Open to the public. For info, call 301-469-6800, ext. 211.

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If you’d like to arrange an event for Saving Monticello—or for any of my other books, including Ballad of the Green Beret—please email me at

For details on other upcoming events, go to

GIFT IDEASWant a personally autographed, brand-new paperback copy of Saving Monticello? Please e-mail me at I also have a few as-new, unopened hardcover copies.

Or go to to order copies through my local bookstore, Second Chapter Books in Middleburg, Virginia. We also have copies of Desperate Engagement, Flag, Lafayette, and What So Proudly We Hailed, and Ballad of the Green Beret.