Monticello confiscated!

History is full of stories about great men doing great things, and somehow the last line of those stories always seems to be “…and they died impoverished and encumbered with large amounts of debt.” I wouldn’t say Jefferson was exactly impoverished, but the debt part is definitely true. Shortly after his death in 1831, his only surviving daughter Martha inherited the estate and was forced to sell it only a few years later.

If you grew up in Virginia, or have lived here for any extended period of time, you’re likely familiar with Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello located about an hour west of Richmond near Charlottesville. I hope, dear readers, that you need no refresher on Jefferson (or as his pals like to call him–TJ), but just in case, he was our nation’s third president and the guy who basically wrote the Declaration of Independence. Kind of a big deal.

History is full of stories about great men doing great things, and somehow the last line of those stories always seems to be “…and they died impoverished and encumbered with large amounts of debt.” I wouldn’t say Jefferson was exactly impoverished, but the debt part is definitely true. Shortly after his death in 1826, his only surviving daughter Martha inherited the estate and was forced to sell it only a few years later.

After passing hands, the estate was eventually purchased by Uriah P. Levy in 1834. Levy was the first Jewish Commodore of the U.S. Navy and a veteran of the War of 1812. He was also a philanthropist and a great admirer of Jefferson. He believed that the houses of great men should be kept as “monuments to their glory” and in that spirit, he bought the estate for the bargain price of $2700. His preservation and restoration efforts are one of the reasons visitors and tourists can still enjoy Monticello today.

In October of 1861, however, a new owner appeared on the scene: the Confederate government. The fact that a high-ranking U.S. naval officer like Levy owned the estate didn’t sit too well with them, so they promptly confiscated it and re-sold it.

From the Richmond Examiner:

TO BE CONFISCATED. – The home of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, which, on the settlement of his estate many years since, was purchased by one Uriah P. Levy, will soon pass into the possession and ownership of the Confederate States Government. Proceedings were begun yesterday before H. L. Brooke, Receiver, to sequestrate “Monticello,” as the property of an alien enemy, the present owner, Levy, being abroad in charge of a United States ship of war. The people of Charlottesville called the late owner of Monticello “Commodore Levee.” He is a first Captain in the United States Navy, and of Jewish parentage. 10/11/1861

Uriah Levy passed away shortly after Monticello was confiscated and it was discovered that he had willed the estate to the U.S. government. In the midst of the war, the U.S. Congress refused to accept the somewhat complicated donation and the ownership was left in Confederate hands. After the war, lawyers for Levy’s estate recovered the property and after a long legal battle among Levy’s heirs, his nephew Jefferson Levy came to own the estate. He continued the restoration and preservation efforts started by his uncle and eventually sold it to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation who owns the property to this day.

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Phil Williams

In addition to being an amateur Civil War enthusiast, Phil is a musician, beard owner, dance party enthusiast, blogger, technology geek, and spends whatever time is left over working in the advertising industry. He can also be found DJing around RVA as his alter-ego Robot E. Lee.

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