<< Days 39 and 40: Williamsburg, Virginia | Day 42: New River Gorge, West Virginia >>
Williamsburg to New River Gorge, West Virginia
This morning we were on the road by 9:15, with a long drive ahead to the New River Gorge in West Virginia.
There was a steady stream of traffic on our 4-lane highway heading toward Richmond. Each side of the road was lined with thick trees.
After Richmond, we encountered a bumpity-bump section of road that presented a challenge to California’s highway 680 as Ben’s “worst road.”
Every two-tenths of a mile there was a small mile-marker sign, counting down the miles for us: 159.8, 159.6, 159.4, etc. We had never seen anything like it. Here is mile marker 159.2:
Perhaps the Virginia transportation department had some extra funds that they had needed to spend (which they could have used for the road itself, in our opinion), or perhaps the sign maker was very well connected to the holder of the state purse-strings. In any event, we felt that the constant mileage reminders were a bit unusual.
Wildflowers were growing along the roadside.
As we approached Charlottesville, I was looking at my map and noticed that Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, was located just a few miles from the freeway. Monticello is designated as a World Heritage Site. Since we were so close, we just couldn't pass up the opportunity for a visit.
The road to Monticello:
At the Visitor’s Center, we purchased tickets for a 30-minute tour of the house. There was a special “children’s tour” offered, but we would have had to wait three hours, so we opted for the regular tour.
We took a shuttle up to the house. We had 20 minutes to wander around before our tour started.
There were some gardens along the front road in an area called “Mulberry Row.”
When Jefferson lived in Monticello, this row had been lined with mulberry trees and a variety of structures, including five small log cabins for some of the slaves.
Yes, one of history’s greatest ironies was that Thomas Jefferson—one of the men who wrote the “all men are created equal” language found in our country’s Declaration of Independence—owned slaves. Approximately 110 of them. How can this be? I don’t know . . . but it was. Jefferson wrote that he thought slavery was an “abominable crime,” and yet he only freed two slaves during his lifetime, and five were emancipated through his will.
Here is the foundation of one of the slave homes.
As we were wandering down Mulberry Row, we overheard one of the guides leading the “Plantation Community” tour, which covered the slave quarters and other aspects of plantation life. I listened to the guide’s story about a valuable and highly skilled slave named Jamie Hubbard. Hubbard ran away twice. The first time that Hubbard was caught and returned to Monticello, Jefferson did not write about any punishment. However, the second time that Hubbard ran away, Jefferson was quite angry and wrote about the event and aftermath. After several months, Hubbard was caught and returned to Monticello. The tour guide then explained that Jefferson wrote about how he had ordered Hubbard to be “severely flogged” (Jefferson’s words) in front of the other slaves as a warning to what would happen if any others ran away. Jefferson also sold Hubbard immediately and recommended that the new owner sell Hubbard to someone in the southern states or Florida (which was in essence a death sentence). The new owner did not sell Hubbard; however, Hubbard ran away several years later, and there is nothing more written about him to indicate if he was successful in escaping to his freedom.
We walked to the main entrance of Monticello for the start of our house tour.
David Ronka was our guide for the Monticello tour.
David started by explaining that Jefferson had spent 40 years in public service. Jefferson had retired to Monticello in 1809 and lived there until his death 17 years later.
Outside the home, we could hear the Chinese gong on the roof. This gong was connected to the interior clock, and could be heard from 6 miles away when Jefferson lived here.
No photographs were allowed inside the home. Jefferson liked expensive things—good wine, European paintings and furniture, and new inventions and gadgets. He was deeply in debt when he died, and his home, belongings, and slaves were all sold to help pay for his debts. Monticello had been purchased by members of the Levy family, who had held Jefferson in high esteem and kept his home maintained. A private foundation had subsequently purchased the home in 1923. Every effort had been made to repurchase the furnishings and belongings that had been in the home; 60% of the interior items had been found.
We entered the main door into a square “hall” that some of Jefferson’s guests had described as a “museum.” On the walls were various displays of animal antlers, maps, Native American items that had been sent to Jefferson by Lewis and Clark, and other things.
The “family sitting room” was next, where Jefferson’s daughter Martha homeschooled her 11 children. Jefferson’s wife had died after 10 years of marriage, and Martha had come to live with Jefferson when he moved to Monticello.
We visited the library, where Jefferson kept approximately 1500 books. He read in seven languages.
Our guide stated that Jefferson fathered at least one child with Sally Hemings, one of his house slaves. (Sally was ¼ African-American, and was the half-sister of Jefferson’s wife--both with the same father.) Jefferson also allowed one of his grandsons to give school lessons to slaves who wanted to learn.
As Jefferson neared his death, he wrote that his generation had “failed to eradicate” the “hideous evil” that was slavery. Jefferson chose to continue his lavish lifestyle rather than live up to his own high ideals. The reality is that if he had freed his slaves, he would have had to change the way he lived, as he did not have the money to pay servants to care for his plantation.
Jefferson may have been a “great man” in many respects. However, the fact that he owned many slaves severely diminishes the integrity of his words about equality and the “inalienable right” of all men to “liberty” and the “pursuit of happiness.”
After the house tour, we were free to wander around the grounds and take photos. Under the house were a series of rooms along a long tunnel. Here is a “privy”.
Jefferson's documents indicate that he made special payments--$1 per month--to the slaves who volunteered to undertake the task of cleaning out the privies.
Many areas on the Monticello grounds have been excavated by archaeologists, and there were some cases displaying found items.
The kitchen area was separate from the main part of the house:
Here we are on the steps of Monticello:
Jefferson and many family members are buried on the Monticello property. Jefferson wrote his own epitaph: “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia.”
He did not mention being the 3rd President of the United States; he viewed that as a position bestowed upon him by the American men who voted for him, and not a position that he earned through his own efforts.
We decided to walk back to the Visitor’s Center, rather than take the shuttle bus. The path wound through a small forested area.
This tree had a smaller tree clinging to it, like a creepy parasite.
We said goodbye to Jefferson at the Visitor’s Center.
After visiting Monticello, we continued our journey east through the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Farms dotted the countryside.
Three crosses were sticking out of a field.
We could see the Appalachian Mountains stretched out in the distance.
These are the mountains in which I was born (in southeastern Kentucky). They are covered from top to bottom in green trees—quite a contrast to those “bald” and “golden” hills in central California.
“Welcome to West Virginia!”
I soon found a squiggly two-lane road that cut up and over the mountains.
Here are some homes and buildings that we passed along the way.
The vines appeared to be lifting the roof right off of this home.
We passed the Meadwestvaco Gauley lumber mill:
In the small town of Rainelle, the business community appeared to have fallen on some hard times.
The houses were in neat rows.
The most well-maintained building in town appeared to be the beautiful white church.
Essentially all of the historical markers that we passed celebrated actions by Confederate soldiers. I caught a portion of this one, which marked where General Lee had his headquarters in 1861.
We crossed the New River Gorge Bridge and caught our first glimpse of the river that we would be rafting tomorrow.
We arrived at our campground near the New River Gorge. The children immediately got busy fabricating a “twig house.” Wow!
They also accumulated a stash of “treasures” consisting of items found in the woods.
One of the river guides was having a reunion nearby, complete with a DJ who very LOUDLY played what surely must have been every 1980’s song that I have ever heard. The music vibrated all around us through our evening meal and into the night. Sigh . . . who can sleep when your toes just wanna’ keep tapping to “Rock the Casbah” by the Clash, the catchy “You Give Love a Bad Name” by Bon Jovi, or, better yet, “I've Been Waitin’ For a Girl Like You” by Foreigner.
<< Days 39 and 40: Williamsburg, Virginia | Day 42: New River Gorge, West Virginia >>
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