Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson [NOOK Book]

Overview

Twilight at Monticello is something entirely new: an unprecedented and engrossing personal look at the intimate Jefferson in his final years that will change the way readers think about this true American icon. It was during these years–from his return to Monticello in 1809 after two terms as president until his death in 1826–that Jefferson’s idealism would be most severely, and heartbreakingly, tested.

Based on new research and documents ...

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Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson

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Overview

Twilight at Monticello is something entirely new: an unprecedented and engrossing personal look at the intimate Jefferson in his final years that will change the way readers think about this true American icon. It was during these years–from his return to Monticello in 1809 after two terms as president until his death in 1826–that Jefferson’s idealism would be most severely, and heartbreakingly, tested.

Based on new research and documents culled from the Library of Congress, the Virginia Historical Society, and other special collections, including hitherto unexamined letters from family, friends, and Monticello neighbors, Alan Pell Crawford paints an authoritative and deeply moving portrait of Thomas Jefferson as private citizen–the first original depiction of the man in more than a generation.

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Editorial Reviews

Michael Grunwald
…a well-researched narrative of Thomas Jefferson's post-presidential years—with a notable non-emphasis on the best-known aspect of those years, Jefferson's correspondence with Adams. Crawford deserves credit for focusing on less trampled ground and for shedding new light on Jefferson's dysfunctional family life and shopaholic tendencies.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Crawford (Unwise Passions: A True Story of a Remarkable Woman) does a thorough if artless job of narrating Thomas Jefferson's postpresidential years. Crawford's narrative is a slave to chronology, which works against him. The first 50 pages are a highly condensed account of his life up through his presidency: information which, if it must be included, could have been more elegantly inserted into the main narrative. After this false start, Crawford's story improves as he delivers an exhaustive account of Jefferson's tangled dotage: the attempted murder of his much-loved grandson by another relative, his dealings with other descendants both white and black; his de facto bankruptcy; and his late relations with such fellow founders as Adams and Madison. Much of this has been recounted before, though interesting and surprising details abound. For example, a young Edgar Allan Poe was at Jefferson's funeral. Despite all this diligence, however, Crawford's narrative regularly stops dead in its tracks, especially when the author crawls inside Jefferson's head, presuming to know his thoughts at a given moment. Crawford is quite sure, for example, that on the first day of February 1819, Jefferson dwelled upon "the planters' financial plight, and his own... but this difficulty, Jefferson told himself, was surely temporary." (Jan.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

These books offer distinct perspectives and insights into public and private moments in the life of Thomas Jefferson, first U.S. secretary of state and third President-and one of the most fascinating figures in American history. Cerami (Jefferson's Great Gamble ) offers a second work on Jefferson as perceptive and well written as his first. This time his focus is the long-standing personal and political feud between Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, secretary of the Treasury. Fearing that tensions between them on issues such as agriculture versus industry, states' versus federal rights, and South versus North would destroy the new nation, Jefferson reluctantly saw that his country would survive only through compromise. It was 1790. He invited Hamilton and his own ally, James Madison (aware of the purpose of the evening), to a private dinner at his home, then in New York. Compromise was achieved, Jefferson and Madison agreeing not to oppose federal assumption of states' war debts, Hamilton agreeing to the national capital being constructed in northern Virginia. Cerami wittily recounts the evening in rich detail, embracing the culinary details as well as the larger story of President Washington's quarrelsome cabinet, the evolution of the dual party system, and Jefferson's emergence as a persuasive national leader.

Crawford (Thunder on the Right ) offers his own equally compelling look, in this case at Jefferson's life, post-presidency, from 1809 until his death in 1826. Then a private citizen, Jefferson was burdened by financial and personal and political struggles within his extended family. His beloved estate, Monticello, was costly to maintain and Jefferson was indebt. Newly studying primary sources, Crawford thoroughly conveys the pathos of Jefferson's last years, even as he successfully established the University of Virginia (America's first wholly secular university) and maintained contact with James Madison, John Adams, and other luminaries. He personally struggled with political, moral, and religious issues; Crawford shows us a complex, self-contradictory, idealistic, yet tragic figure, helpless to stabilize his family and finances. Historians and informed readers alike will find much to relish in both of these distinctive works of original scholarship. Both are recommended for academic and large public libraries. [For Crawford, see Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/07.]-Douglas King, Univ. of South Carolina, Thomas Cooper Lib., Columbia

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal

Crawford (Thunder on the Right) gives readers more than just a look at Thomas Jefferson's final years-drawing on new research and documents, he presents them with extensive information on his youth and his ascension to the presidency. Actor/narrator James Boles's (Tulia) reading is steady, if a bit pedantic. The subject matter, however, is enough to keep all listeners fascinated. Recommended for academic and large public libraries. [Audio clip available through www.tantor.com.-Ed.]
—Joseph L. Carlson

School Library Journal

Crawford (Unwise Passions: A True Story of a Remarkable Woman) does a thorough if artless job of narrating Thomas Jefferson's postpresidential years. Crawford's narrative is a slave to chronology, which works against him. The first 50 pages are a highly condensed account of his life up through his presidency: information which, if it must be included, could have been more elegantly inserted into the main narrative. After this false start, Crawford's story improves as he delivers an exhaustive account of Jefferson's tangled dotage: the attempted murder of his much-loved grandson by another relative, his dealings with other descendants both white and black; his de facto bankruptcy; and his late relations with such fellow founders as Adams and Madison. Much of this has been recounted before, though interesting and surprising details abound. For example, a young Edgar Allan Poe was at Jefferson's funeral. Despite all this diligence, however, Crawford's narrative regularly stops dead in its tracks, especially when the author crawls inside Jefferson's head, presuming to know his thoughts at a given moment. Crawford is quite sure, for example, that on the first day of February 1819, Jefferson dwelled upon "the planters' financial plight, and his own... but this difficulty, Jefferson told himself, was surely temporary." (Jan.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
Event-filled but melancholy history of the 17 years following Jefferson's departure from the presidency in 1809. The 66-year-old retiree was an international icon who received a steady stream of visitors and mail, writes Crawford (Unwise Passions: A True Story of a Remarkable Woman and the First Great Scandal of Eighteenth-Century America, 2000, etc.). His visitors eagerly set down their experiences, and Jefferson was an indefatigable letter-writer, so scholars have access to a mountain of material, capped by the legendary correspondence with John Adams. Money rarely left Jefferson's thoughts during his final years. Presidential pensions did not exist, and he was juggling huge loans. He expected to live off his 10,000 acres and 200 slaves, a characteristically unrealistic financial plan-much of the book is taken up by accounts of his ineffectual efforts to better his fortune. Crawford's chronicle of the founding of the University of Virginia, which Jefferson considered his greatest achievement next to the Declaration of Independence, details the president's difficulties with the state legislature: True Jeffersonians, the lawmakers didn't want to spend the money. A dedicated acolyte of the Enlightenment, Jefferson disliked the increasingly urban, populist and religious America of his retirement years. He also disliked the uneducated, pugnacious politicians (such as Andrew Jackson) preferred by new states west of the Appalachians. This distaste belied his credentials as a fervent, egalitarian democrat, but Jefferson was a man of disturbing contradictions. Historians love to quote his eloquent youthful denunciations of slavery, but Crawford reminds us that in retirement, immune frompolitical damage, he refused to speak out and counseled correspondents against action. During the first great political debate on slavery in 1820, he unconditionally supported the Southern position. Detailed explanations of the Negro's inferiority from a man who prided himself on his scientific acumen make sad reading, as does the steady decay of Jefferson's personal and financial fortunes. Nonetheless, nearly all of his thoughts and actions merit attention. Insightful analysis and lucid prose make this autumnal portrait a rewarding experience.
From the Publisher
"A breath of fresh air in the vast collection of Jeffersonian biographies.... Narrator James Boles convincingly presents the bleak drudgery of life at Monticello." —-AudioFile
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781588368386
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/19/2008
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 646,977
  • File size: 4 MB

Meet the Author

Alan Pell Crawford is the author of Unwise Passions: A True Story of a Remarkable Woman–and the First Great Scandal of Eighteenth-Century America and Thunder on the Right: The “New Right” and the Politics of Resentment. His writings have appeared in American History, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, and he is a regular book reviewer for The Wall Street Journal. Crawford has had a residential fellowship at the International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello. He lives in Richmond, Virginia.


From the Hardcover edition.
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Read an Excerpt

Part One

Morning and Midday

Chapter 1

A Society of Would-be Country Squires

The Virginia Piedmont, to which Thomas Jefferson returned upon his retirement from the presidency early in 1809, had not changed much since his birth there on April 13, 1743. Jefferson was born at his father’s tobacco plantation, Shadwell, on the Rivanna River, which flows through a gap in a small range called the Southwest Mountains. A few miles west of Shadwell, on the far side of the Southwest Mountains, the town of Charlottesville would be established. Just past Charlottesville stood the Blue Ridge Mountains, beyond which lay the Shenandoah Valley, walled off by the more imposing Alleghenies. On the other side of the Alleghenies stretched the great American West.

This was rugged territory in 1734, when Peter Jefferson received his first land grant in what would become Albemarle County, and it would remain rugged for decades to come. As late as the American Revolution, a halfcentury after Shadwell was built, Albemarle was a “dreary region of woods and wretchedness,” in the words of Thomas Anburey, a British officer held prisoner near Monticello but, as a gentleman, given considerable freedom of movement. Wild horses roamed at will, “and have no proprietors, but those on whose lands they are found,” Anburey observed. Hogs ran wild, and packs of wolves preyed on the deer as well as on any sheep the planters kept. Even in Jefferson’s time, a Monticello slave would recall, “you could see the wolves in gangs runnin’ and howlin’, same as a drove of hogs.” The Indians that had once lived there and left traces of their existence—an abandoned burial mound stood on Peter Jefferson’s property—had moved south and west or vanished altogether by the time the Englishmen began to build their houses.

The countryside where Peter Jefferson established his family was unlike that of the Virginia Tidewater, where wide and deep rivers—the James, Potomac, York, Rappahannock, and Appomattox—cut through vast expanses of fertile flatlands. Forty or fifty miles west of Richmond, as the Blue Ridge comes into view, the land becomes hilly; the valleys between the hills are cobwebbed with creeks, a geography that presented a greater agricultural challenge than the planters of the Tidewater were accustomed to, as Peter Jefferson and other settlers would soon discover.

These settlers, unlike the Jeffersons, were not all of English derivation. There were also scores of Scots-Irish and Germans who had come down from Pennsylvania through the Shenandoah Valley. These were farmers who made tidy livings from small but well-tended plots of ground, as John Hammond Moore has written in his history of Albemarle County, “doing their own work, with the help of sons, relatives, and hired hands.” Having never depended upon slaves to labor for them, these hardworking men (and women) either had little patience for the pretensions of the lordly slaveholders—or were intimidated by them.

Two years after Thomas Jefferson’s birth, when the first list of Albemarle County “tithables,” or white males eighteen and older, was compiled, there were only 1,394 taxpayers in the entire county. The total population of Albemarle—male and female, young and old, white and black, was about 4,250. About half of the people of Albemarle were enslaved, many just brought over from Africa.

The smallest group, though they wielded by far the greatest influence, were the self-styled gentlemen who had come from the East, bringing their slaves, their liquor, and sometimes their libraries. The most influential of the English settlers were the Jeffersons and the future president’s maternal relatives, the Randolphs.





To clear Albemarle’s hilly land and grow crops on it proved challenging to all the settlers, lowborn and high. Much of this land, cut deep with gullies, bristled with the stumps and lifeless trunks of trees that had been killed rather than chopped down. To save time and trouble, the settlers merely hacked off a strip of bark all around the trunk, leaving the tree to wither and die, usually within a couple of years. Although trees might put out a spindly growth of leaves the next season, Anburey wrote, they would soon stand skeletal and bare against the sky, giving the landscape a “very singular, striking, and dreadful appearance.” Eventually, the rotting trees toppled over “with a most horrible crash,” but until they fell, farming went on as if they were not there at all. The underbrush was either burned away or dug out with hoes. The soil “was scratched with plows,” according to Anburey, “and the first crop was planted under the canopy of dead branches.”

A Virginia farm field “should seem dangerous to walk in . . . for the trees are of a prodigious magnitude and height, from which are impending in awful ruins vast limbs, and branches of an enormous size, which are continually breaking off.” The fences that enclosed these farmlands and kept livestock from wandering off were constructed in a zigzag arrangement so haphazard that New Englanders made a joke of it: when a man was drunk, they would say he was “making Virginia fences.”

Very little of the acreage to which the planters held title was under cultivation at any one time, and farming anywhere except in the bottomlands along the river proved arduous. When tobacco was ready for transport, farmers rolled their hogsheads to the riverbanks and waited until a “freshet” swelled the streams, which enabled them to get their crops to the Tidewater on canoes and batteaux.

After such a storm, Anburey noted, the waters rolled down from the mountains, overflowed the banks for miles on end, and washed away the earth, “which being of a red cast, appeared like a torrent of blood.” When the water was high, boats could move all the way to Richmond. For much of the year, however, the Rivanna, being either iced over in winter or too shallow in summer, was not navigable at all.

Virginia farmers relied on fires as well as floods. In the spring and fall, planters eager to rid their fields of weeds, fallen leaves, and stubble set fires “which traverse whole counties,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in his book Notes on the State of Virginia. Fires “are very frequent,” Anburey reported, “and at Charlottesville I have seen the mountains on a blaze for three or four miles in length.”

The fields were plowed “not more than two inches deep,” in Jeff Randolph’s words, and the few nutrients left in the soil after tobacco, wheat, and corn had been grown on a given field were washed away by the same thundershowers that allowed farmers to get their crops to market. This erosion contributed to the soil’s depletion with astonishing speed. Eventually, entire fields were “abandoned to gullies[,] broom, and briers,” Randolph observed. By 1804, “nine tenths of the cleared land in [the area around Shadwell and Monticello] was in this condition,” its owners “having sold it at low rates and moved west.”





Most Virginians, black and white, lived in cabins or shacks, but here and there, on the hills overlooking the Rivanna, stood crude manor houses that their builders called mansions, surrounded by unpainted wooden outbuildings, stables, and slave quarters. These plantations were, for the most part, self- contained, self-supporting communities and the closest approximations of towns or cities for miles around.

Travel between these plantations and to the towns back east—sixty miles east to Richmond, say, or a hundred forty to Williamsburg—could be perilous. The dirt roads and carriage trails that connected the plantations were often impassable. Finished goods, like crops, moved mostly by boat. So, quite often, did the settlers. Whether they went by boat or made their way along the crude roads, people traveling to visit neighbors frequently found themselves facing vast clouds of black smoke from the farmers’ fires.

Because Virginians lived at such distances from one another, they took every opportunity to socialize. They endured considerable hardship to attend barbecues, fish fries, and horse races, and at all of these events drunkenness was commonplace. The society into which Thomas Jefferson was born aspired to gentility but rarely achieved it. Taverns predated houses of worship, which, although established by the Church of England, were attended but grudgingly by the colonials they had been built to serve.

Under English common law, which prevailed through the colonial period, Virginians could be fined for missing church once, flogged for a second infraction, and put to death for a third. Until Thomas Jefferson, as a member of the Virginia legislature, recommended revisions to the penal code, “free-thinkers” could find their children taken away. During Jefferson’s childhood such laws, though rarely, if ever, enforced, remained on the books.

This was not a pious culture, nor an especially law-abiding one, but it was convivial. As soon as work was done, when holidays rolled around, or when there was business to attend to at the courthouse, the leading men of the county entertained themselves in raucous fashion, playing cards, dice, and billiards, often for high stakes. Violence often followed, “it not being the fashion of the day,” in Jeff Randolph’s words, “for men to restrain their tempers.”

In 1748, five years after Jefferson’s birth, fighting had gotten so vicious that Virginia’s colonial legislature passed a general statute against maiming, making it a felony to cut out another person’s tongue, put out his eye, or bite his nose or lip; thirty years later, just before the Revolution, the lawmakers added a prohibition against “gouging, plucking or putting out an eye, biting, kicking or stomping upon” a fellow subject of the British crown.

At horse races, competition was often restricted “to the better sort of Virginians only,” Anburey found, and the planters, serving as their own jockeys, were uninhibited in the use of the whip, which they applied to one another as readily as to their mounts. Fox hunting, though viewed in some Tidewater circles as vulgar, remained popular in the Piedmont, where the sportsmen not only chased their prey with the help of dogs but shot at it as well. These would-be country squires seldom turned their weapons on one another, and murder was rare. Dueling, however, was an accepted practice, associated with an aristocratic way of life that ambitious English settlers were determined to transplant in the New World.


From the Hardcover edition.
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Table of Contents

Prologue "I Shall Be for Ever at Ease" xiii

Part 1 Morning and Midday

Chapter 1 A Society of Would-be Country Squires 3

Chapter 2 An Upcountry Prince 8

Chapter 3 The Education of a Philosopher 14

Chapter 4 The Young Revolutionary 17

Chapter 5 The Crucible of Revolution 20

Chapter 6 "Whence He Might Contemplate the Whole Universe" 24

Chapter 7 "The Hated Occupations of Politics" 26

Chapter 8 The Revolutionary Takes Command 33

Chapter 9 "In a State of Almost Total Incapacity" 41

Part 2 Late Afternoon and Sunset

Chapter 10 "A Prisoner Released from His Chains" 55

Chapter 11 "Elevated Above the Mass of Mankind" 63

Chapter 12 "When I Expect to Settle my Grandchildren" 70

Chapter 13 "The Shock of an Earthquake" 78

Chapter 14 Old Friends Reunited 83

Chapter 15 At War Again 91

Chapter 16 "This Enterprise Is for the Young" 98

Chapter 17 "When I Reflect That God Is Just" 105

Chapter 18 A Library for "the American Statesman" 110

Chapter 19 Jeff Randolph Takes a Wife 113

Chapter 20 The Realm of "Sobriety and Cool Reason" 117

Chapter 21 "To Witness the Death of All Our Companions" 123

Chapter 22 "The Eternal Preservation of Republican Principles" 128

Chapter 23 The Indulgent Patriarch 134

Chapter 24 The "Yellow Children" of the Mountaintop 139

Chapter 25 "Something Very Great and Very New" 150

Chapter 26 Struggling "All Our Lives with Debt & Difficulty" 157

Chapter 27 Blood in the Streets of Charlottesville 164

Chapter 28 Fire, Sickness, Drought, and Storm 170

Chapter 29 A Philosophe's Faith 182

Chapter 30 "We Shall Have Every Religious Man in Virginia Against Us" 190

Chapter 31 The Death Knell of the Union 194

Chapter 32 The "HideousEvil" of Slavery 197

Chapter 33 "Ah, Jefferson!" "Ah, Lafayette!" 201

Chapter 34 "More Than Patience Could Endure" 208

Chapter 35 "Take Care of Me When Dead " 213

Chapter 36 "An Inspiration from the Realms of Bliss" 223

Chapter 37 "I Have Given My Whole Life to My Country" 227

Chapter 38 "Is It the Fourth?" 234

Epilogue 247

Acknowledgments 265

Notes 267

Index 311

Illustration Credits 321

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 31, 2014

    Read this on the recommendation of Clay Jenkinson of the "T

    Read this on the recommendation of Clay Jenkinson of the "Thomas Jefferson Hour" radio broadcast....What a great read, anything but dry.
    Jefferson came alive for me and I could hardly put the book down. The are a couple of fun surprises, such as who shows up at his funeral.
    Excellent book group material, plenty of great topics to discuss such as his indebtedness, slaveholding, family chemistry.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2012

    Highly Recommended

    An excellent attition to other books about Thomas Jefferson. Adds little know facts about his daily life and opinions on life.

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    Posted February 26, 2011

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