Monticello is a word derived from Italian, meaning “little mountain”. The name suits the location of the house, which sits on a hilltop in Charlottesville, Virginia, overlooking the beautiful Piedmont region. Jefferson inherited the land from his father when he was 14 years old, and began designing his own house when he was 26. He was inspired by the classical architecture of ancient Rome and Greece, as well as by the works of Andrea Palladio, a 16th-century Italian architect. He also incorporated elements from French, British, and American styles, creating a unique and elegant structure that reflects his personal taste and vision.
Jefferson spent more than 40 years building and remodeling Monticello, making it his lifelong project and passion. He supervised every detail of the construction, from the materials to the furnishings. He also experimented with new technologies and innovations, such as skylights, dumbwaiters, clocks, and a polygraph machine. He designed Monticello not only as a residence, but also as a museum of his interests and achievements. He displayed his collection of books, maps, paintings, fossils, artifacts, and inventions in various rooms and cabinets. He also kept records of his daily activities, weather observations, plant experiments, and slave accounts.
Monticello was not only a home for Jefferson and his family, but also a plantation that relied on the labor of hundreds of enslaved African Americans. Jefferson owned more than 600 slaves throughout his life, who worked in the fields, gardens, workshops, and household. Some of them were skilled artisans, such as carpenters, blacksmiths, weavers, and nail makers. Some of them were also related to Jefferson by blood, such as Sally Hemings and her children. Jefferson’s relationship with Hemings has been a subject of controversy and debate for decades, as it reveals the complexity and contradiction of his views on slavery and race.
Today, Monticello is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Historic Landmark. It is owned and operated by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation (TJF), a nonprofit organization that preserves and educates about Jefferson’s legacy. Visitors can tour the house and grounds, see the original objects and artifacts, learn about the lives of the enslaved people, and enjoy the scenic views. Monticello is also featured on the reverse side of the U.S. nickel coin since 1938.
Monticello is more than just a house; it is a reflection of Thomas Jefferson’s personality, philosophy, and vision. It is a testament to his contributions to American democracy, culture, and science. It is also a reminder of his contradictions and flaws as a human being. Monticello is a place where history comes alive and where we can learn more about ourselves as a nation.