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A short story by Etta Belle Walker

Charlottesville And Albemarle County

Title:     Charlottesville And Albemarle County
Author: Etta Belle Walker [More Titles by Walker]


Every school child knows the outstanding facts about Thomas Jefferson. He will rattle off quickly that he was born near Charlottesville in Albemarle County, in 1743, that he was at William and Mary College when only seventeen and played his fiddle which he had carried as he rode the long miles between Charlottesville and Williamsburg. He graduated there and was admitted to the bar. Thomas Jefferson drafted, at the request of the Committee, the Declaration of Independence. He was Governor of Virginia during the trying years of the Revolutionary War. We shall not give all the offices which he held, except to mention that he spent some years abroad in France as United States Minister. For almost forty years he served his country, having been President of it from 1801 to 1809.

It is from the quaint letters of his granddaughter, Ellenora Randolph, that one may read of the tenderness, the lovable disposition and the human side of this great American.

She was said to be his favorite grandchild and she writes of how she sat on his knee and played with his huge watch chain. He never went to Philadelphia without bringing her little luxuries which it was impossible to buy in Virginia. He brought her a Bible, a lady's side saddle, a Leghorn hat, and a set of Shakespeare.

She tells how Jefferson's wife had died when his daughters were quite young and that he had been so kind and sympathetic in "shaping their lives."

There is an interesting love story here, too, for Ellenora met and fell in love with Joseph Coolidge of Boston. He came a-wooing the Virginia beauty, and according to the custom of that day, he wrote Mr. Jefferson of his intentions to marry his granddaughter before he proposed to her.

The following is Jefferson's reply to Joseph Coolidge:

"MONTICELLO, October 24, 2021.

"I avail myself of the first moment of my ability to take up a pen to assure you that nothing would be more welcome to me than the visit proposed and its object.... I assure you no union could give me more satisfaction if your wishes are mutual. Your visit to Monticello and at the time of your convenience will be truly welcome, and your stay, whatever may suit yourself. My gratification will be measured by the time of its continuance....

"I expect in the course of the first or the second week of the approaching month to receive here the visit of my ancient friend, General LaFayette. The delirium which his visit has excited in the North envelopes him in the South also ... and the county of Albemarle will exhibit its great affection and unending means in a dinner given the General in the building of the University, to which they have given accepted invitations to Mr. and Mrs. James Madison and myself as guests; and at which your presence as my guest would give high pleasure to us all, and to name, I assure you more cordially than sincerely your friend;


The wedding accounts give the names of fifty distinguished Americans who came to pay their respects to Ellenora and her husband. Every distinguished foreigner came in person; besides these, there came many of the men who had known and loved Jefferson during all his years of service. Imagine all the horses that had to be fed, all the gigs and coaches and all the Negro servants who had to be quartered. No one is surprised that what the man had accumulated was fast disappearing with so much hospitality.

But Ellenora had her troubles upon arriving in Boston. Her presents and other possessions had been sent by boat and it had sunk! Her letter tells of her great distress at losing the trinkets associated with her happy girlhood. But most of all, she expressed her grief upon losing a writing desk which Grandfather Jefferson had had made for her by his master carpenter, a Negro servant. This was a very talented carver who had faithfully carried out each detailed design which his master had given him. Now he was old and had grown blind and he could no longer make one. This is Jefferson's letter to his granddaughter--and explains how a most historic desk went a-travelling:

"It has occurred to me that perhaps I can replace it (desk) not indeed to you, but to Mr. Coolidge, by a substitute, not claiming the same value from its decorations but the part it has bourne in our history, and the event with which it has been associated.... Now I happen to possess the writing box on which the Declaration of Independence was written. It was made from a drawing of my own, by Ben Randall, a cabinetmaker in whose house I took lodging on my first arrival in Philadelphia, in May, 1776, and I have had it ever since. It claims no merit of particular beauty. It is plain, neat and convenient and taking no more room on a writing table than a modern quarto volume it displays itself sufficient for any writing. Mr. Coolidge must do me the favor of accepting this. Its imaginary value will increase with the years. If he lives till my age, he may see it carried in the procession of our nation's birthday."

So this is how the famous desk went to New England and was finally sent to the State Department in Washington by the Coolidges in 1876.

When Thomas Jefferson was an old man, he began to carry out his dream, one which he had had for a long time, to build a university. All his life he had loved to draw plans and he carefully made his own blueprints. He drew plans for lovely Monticello when he was twenty-eight years old. His friends came from far and near to get him to draw plans for their homes. Ashlawn, Montpelier and others are monuments to this master builder. He had his own ideas about educating the young men of Virginia. He wanted to see them fitted to be fine citizens by having a good education, for he knew it was through good citizens that a good government would be realized. But first he had to educate his friends along this line. Many of them still thought a tutor in the family was the best way. Many did not believe in "mass education." For ten long years he worked to get a bill through the Legislature which called for the establishment of the University of Virginia. At last, in 1825 the school was opened. But many years passed before Jefferson could get the buildings he had dreamed of and had planned. Then when he was eighty-two, his dream came true.

Today one may see his university, set on a sloping hill. The buildings are models of architecture and Jefferson himself superintended the construction of them. It is told that he often watched the carpenters from Monticello through a telescope. Jefferson also planned those early courses of study and helped in the selection of the faculty. The spirit of Jefferson is still felt there today and each generation of students has been enriched by it and the noble traditions of the school.

Many famous students have gone there. Edgar Allan Poe wrote "The Raven" and "Anabel Lee" there. An Arctic explorer from the University was Elisha Kane. Walter Reed studied medicine and, as we know, won the fight against yellow fever by his heroic experiments. Each year, men go out from this great old school who help to build a greater country--just as Jefferson dreamed they would.

After his death on July 4, 1826, someone found a paper on which he had written these words:

"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."

And today, one finds his tomb halfway up the hill to Monticello and the words above are cut upon the simple shaft which marks his grave.

Monticello is open to the public and may be reached by a hard surface road leading out of Charlottesville. Through careful research and diligence the Monticello Memorial Association has brought back to the home much of the fine furnishings which Jefferson himself had collected. At the present time the second and third floors of the mansion are being faithfully restored.


"Here goes to thee, Jack Jouett!
Lord keep thy memr'y green;
You made the greatest ride, sir,
That ever yet was seen."

So reads the last stanza of an inscription on a tablet erected in his memory. But who was Jack Jouett and what of his "greatest ride?"

During the stirring days of the American Revolution Thomas Jefferson was Governor of Virginia. Hearing that the British were expected to reach Richmond he recommended that the capital of the colony be moved to Charlottesville until after danger from the enemy should pass. This was done and Jefferson stayed at his home, Monticello.

At Cuckoo Tavern in Louisa County, fifty miles from Charlottesville, young Jouett was sitting around one night getting the latest news of the rebellion, when Tarleton, who commanded a British force, came into the place. Jouett hid from sight and overheard Tarleton talking with several other English officers. They said they were impatient to be on their way to Monticello to capture Jefferson, Patrick Henry and other Virginia leaders. Jack stayed to hear the route they would take to Charlottesville and then slipped away on his horse.

The famous ride occurred on back roads in order to beat the British to their destination. He crossed to the main road long enough to tell a family of Walkers that the British were coming for the Governor. Later Tarleton drew in at the same home and demanded breakfast from Mrs. Walker. Knowing that time meant a great deal to the rider going ahead with the news, she delayed the meal as long as possible.

As Jouett climbed the last hill to Monticello he heard the horses of Tarleton's party in the distance, so he spurred his animal on and in a last-minute sprint he reached the home. The plans were revealed and Jefferson hurriedly assembled his family. As their carriage left by a back road the English came up another and searched in vain for the Governor.

Jouett went from there to Charlottesville to warn the members of the legislature of the impending danger and they fled to Staunton--all but seven of the legislators who were overtaken and captured. The story is told of how he saved General Stevens, a member of the Assembly. As they rode along, some British soldiers saw them and set their horses at a great pace. Jack had on a plumed hat which might appear important to the soldiers; he told the general to ride slowly across an open field as if he were the owner out on an inspection tour of his lands. He himself would dash off in the hope of getting the troopers to follow him. The plan worked. Jouett finally left the pursuers far behind and later on he returned to his home in Charlottesville.

Much later the Virginia legislature passed a resolution commending the valor of Jack Jouett and presented him with a pair of pistols and a sword as a mark of appreciation of his service to the State. Swan Tavern, left him by his father, occupied his time after the war. He died in Kentucky where he had moved as an old man.


Thomas Jefferson knew the two young men whom he wanted to explore the great Northwest, for they had been born almost at the foot of Monticello. They were Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Each of them, almost as boys, had been a soldier and each loved adventure.

Meriwether Lewis had inherited a fortune from his father and he could have settled down to a life of ease. But after eighteen he would not go to school any longer. He had fought in the Whiskey Rebellion in Pennsylvania and then entered the army. He was commissioned captain in 1800 and served for three years. Then Thomas Jefferson asked him to be his secretary and it was in this office that Jefferson found his admirable qualities.

William Clark was four years older than his friend Lewis. He was born in 1770 and was a brother of George Rogers Clark. When he was fourteen years old he went with his family to the Ohio River where his brother George had built a fort. There he learned the ways of the Indians and often he was in the thick of their raids. He, too, joined the regular army and received his commission when he was only eighteen years old. He went to St. Louis and was commissioned as second lieutenant of the artillery and ordered to join the great expedition.

Captain Lewis was first in command and he selected his men carefully. There were fourteen soldiers in the little party and two Canadian boatmen, an interpreter, a hunter and a Negro servant.

Thomas Jefferson did not give them a lot of orders. The following instructions show his wisdom:

"Treat them (Indians) in the most friendly and concilliating manner which their own conduct will admit; allay all jealousies as to the object of your journey; satisfy them of its innocence; make them acquainted with the position, extent, character, peaceable, and commercial intercourse with them; confer with them on the points most convenient as mutual emporiums and the articles of most desirable interchange for them and us. If a few of their influential chiefs, within practicable distance wish to visit us, arrange such a visit with them, and furnish them with authority to call on our officers on their entering the United States, to have them conveyed to this place at the public expense. If any of them should wish to have some of their people brought up with us and use such arts as may be useful to them, we will receive, instruct, and take care of them."

The fact that so little trouble was had by the party is due to the skill which Clark used in handling the Indians. We will not go into the details of the expedition, for everyone knows what a wonderful, rich territory was gained for the United States by that expedition.

[The end]
Etta Belle Walker's short story: Charlottesville And Albemarle County