Monday, June 4, 2018

June 2018

Saving Monticello: The Newsletter
The latest about the book, author events, and more
Newsletter Editor - Marc Leepson
Volume XV, Number 6  
                                                                    June 1, 2018
The study of the past is a constantly evolving, never-ending journey of discovery.” – Eric Foner

JOHN LOCKE IS BACK:  Most readers of this newsletter know that when Thomas Jefferson died (on July 4, 1826), he left his family with a huge debt: more than $107,000. That forced his heirs—his daughter Martha Randolph and her son Thomas Jefferson Randolph—to sell virtually all of Monticello’s furniture and furnishings (as well as his enslaved people)—and eventually Monticello itself.

That sad state of affairs is an integral part of Saving Monticello and I cover it in detail in the book. As I wrote, the Randolphs held a sale on the mountain on January 15, 1827, that lasted five days. There is no complete record of who bought the items, but family letters reveal that Jefferson’s grandchildren purchased most of the furniture and furnishings. Jefferson’s art works (including sixty-three paintings) and books were not part of the January 1827 auction.

The family decided to market the paintings and other works of art in Boston, where they thought the collection would bring better prices than in Charlottesville. They held a sale at the Boston Athenaeum in July 1828 with disappointing results. A second sale took place five years later, on July 19, 1833. It was an auction at Harding’s Gallery in Boston. Again, the results were disappointing; only a few paintings were sold.

I didn’t go into detail in the book about where the paintings went or what they sold for. But I’ve since learned that an unidentified buyer bought a portrait (for $35) that Jefferson owned of the famed Enlightenment philosopher John Locke. That painting—a copy of one from the Royal Society in London, which Jefferson purchased in 1789—had hung in the upper tier of the Parlor at Monticello in a group with Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton. Jefferson called them “my trinity of the three greatest men the world had ever produced.”

Sometime after 1833, the Locke portrait made its way to Harvard University. In 1959, Harvard donated the painting was given to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation and it was restored to its place in the Parlor.

Flash forward to a few years ago. A group of visitors touring Monticello noticed that the Locke painting was in not-great condition. Inquiries were made. The visitors then generously decided to donate the funds to have it conserved. To do the work, Monticello hired Scott Nolley, who runs Fine Art Conservation of Virginia.

                                                Before                                          After
In a short, but fascinating video, Nolley, Monticello Assistant Curator Emilie Johnson, and Monticello Museum Technician Caitlin Hepner explain the complex process of getting the painting back to its original 18th century condition. It involved a “reversal,” and much in-repainting and retouching.

The before-and-after images are from the page on the Monticello web site that includes the video. Take a look:

EVENTS: Here’s a rundown on my June speaking events. For info on my latest book, Ballad of the Green Beret, please go to
·         Saturday, June 9 – Talk on Flag: An American Biography and book signing at the Maryland DAR Chapter Regents Club Luncheon, Chevy Chase, Maryland
·         Saturday, June 16  – Talk on Ballad and book signing for the Mount Vernon Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America, Alexandria, Virginia
·         Thursday, June 21 – Talk on Flag and book signing for Washington (D.C.) Metro Oasis (Life-Long Learning), Bethesda, Maryland. For info and reservations, call 301-469-6800
·       Saturday, June 23 - Virginia Chapter of the Sons and Daughters of the Pilgrims, Charlottesville, Virginia
·         Tuesday, June 26   Talk on Saving Monticello and book signing for the Augustus P. Gardner American Legion Post, McLean, Virginia

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 IDEAS:  Want 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, and What So Proudly We Hailed, and Ballad of the Green Beret.