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Category Archives: Monticello

He is a BIG problem, but I can put up with him.

Dear Sir
The mad-man Stewart is again here. he has called on me for $:105—which I was obliged to let him have, or I supposed suffer him to go to Jail…
George Jefferson to Thomas Jefferson, November 16, 1801

… I note & approve what you did as to Stewart. he is the best workman in America, but the most eccentric one: quite manageable were I at home, but doubtful as I am not …
To George Jefferson, December 3, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Some employees, no matter how skilled, need close supervison.
George Jefferson was the President’s cousin and Richmond-based business agent. William Stewart was a Philadelphia blacksmith hired by the President to move to Monticello. A ship captain’s bill for moving the family of six was $75. Stewart demanded $105 reimbursement instead. When George asked for documentation for the extra $30, Stewart cited (but didn’t produce) a letter from the President supposedly authorizing the extra funds. George thought it better to pay Stewart and get rid of him, but he made clear what he thought about the man.

Jefferson accepted George’s decision. He also acknowledged Stewart’s skill and great eccentricity. The latter could be managed if he were close by but must be tolerated from a distance.

Stewart’s wife died in 1805 and was buried in the Monticello cemetery. He was fired two years later, after fully training the slave Joe Fossett, who served in that capacity until Jefferson’s death in 1826. Fossett was freed in Jefferson’s will, but his wife and 10 children were sold because of Jefferson’s debts. Fossett eventually purchased his wife and some of their children from slavery.

”Everyone, to a person, commented on how thorough you were
and how every detail that was possible to recreate was covered.”
President, Cole County Historical Society
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1 Comment Posted in Monticello, Personalities of others, Slavery Tagged , , , , , , |

I am very anxious to obtain the disease here.

… inoculated two persons with the matter [cowpox vaccine] of the 24th. & 4. with that of the 26th. the latter has no effect, but the two former shew inflammation & matter. one of them complains of pain under the arm pit, & yesterday was a little feverish … we have considerable hopes he has the true infection … you shall be regularly informed of the progress & success of this business … I am very anxious to obtain the disease here.
To Benjamin Waterhouse, August 14, 1801

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Persistent leaders keep trying until they find something that works.
New England physician Waterhouse (1754-1846), one of the founders of Harvard Medical School, was the first person to test the cowpox vaccine in America, on four of his own children. His effort to enlist President Adams’ support for a public campaign was unsuccessful, but President Jefferson embraced the concept immediately.

This is one of several letters in 1801 where Jefferson wrote about the cowpox vaccine. Numerous attempts to induce immunity by infecting healthy people with the live vaccine had been unsuccessful. In this account, Jefferson reported the first hoped-for response at Monticello, evidence of an slight infection. Immunity to cowpox also protected against the much more deadly smallpox.

Jefferson would later have all of his family and slaves inoculated and circulated the vaccine widely among his Virginia neighbors. Some accounts credit Jefferson with conducting the first mass public health campaign in America.

“The feedback from our conferees has been overwhelmingly favorable …”
Executive Director, Missouri Safety Council
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Who exactly is in charge here? Part 7

[This is the 7th interchange in Jefferson’s internal dialog between his head and his heart, anguishing over Maria Cosway’s departure.]

Head. Very well. Suppose then they come back. They are to stay two months, & when these are expired, what is to follow? Perhaps you flatter yourself they may come to America?

Heart. God only knows what is to happen. I see nothing impossible in that supposition. And I see things wonderfully contrived sometimes to make us happy. Where could they find such objects as in America for the exercise of their enchanting art? especially the lady, who paints landscapes so inimirably [inimitably?] …
To Maria Cosway, October 12, 1786

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders do well to remain optimistic. Part 7
Jefferson’s logical Head has already advised his Heart to forget the Cosways. Even if there is a return visit, it, too, will end. Is Heart so presumptuous to think these European artists would cross the Atlantic just to see him?
Heart replies that it could happen! Sometimes things just work out very well for our happiness.
Heart, using a little logic of its own, cites the grandeur of America and the many scenes awaiting permanent capture by the lady’s paint brush if they did come. (This passage also contains an eloquent and romantic description of Monticello, often reproduced as evidence of Jefferson’s lifetime love of his mountaintop home.)

Jefferson’s presentations are “wonderfully contrived” to make your audience happy!
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Leave a comment Posted in Human nature, Monticello Tagged , , , , , , , , |

What the heck is floorcloth?

1805 May 26. (Jefferson to Thomas Claxton). …I have desired Mr. Smilie (the person whom I was told you employed) to provide floorcloth for the hall and passage below only.”
1805 June 8. (Jefferson to James Dinsmore). “…I wish to have the hall floor painted … The painters here talk of putting a japan varnish over the painted floor and floor-cloth after the paint is dry, which they say will prevent its being sticky and will bear washing …”
1805 June 9. (Jefferson to Thomas Claxton). “The floor cloth for the hall is prepared and will be painted immediately in the Capitol.”


Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Today’s post has nothing to do with leadership!
After nearly 24 years as Thomas Jefferson, I know all the main aspects of his life, most of the not-so-well known aspects, and quite a bit of trivia. Every so often, though, I come across something new from his everyday life. Such is the subject of today’s post.

Floorcloth is fabric that has been painted and sealed and then used like we might use an area or throw rug, a runner or an accent piece. They were popular in the 1700s and 1800s but rendered obsolete by linoleum. The first excerpt above pertains to floorcloth in the President’s House, which we now call the White House. The second excerpt is for  Monticello, the third for the Capitol Building in Washington City.

According to this article,, both Washington and Jefferson imported floorcloth from England. This account even gives instructions for making your own, painting your design on the papery back side of a piece of vinyl flooring.

You can learn more about floorcloth at, the company cited in the article.

After nearly a quarter century of studying this man, it is fun to learn and add tidbits like this to my store of knowledge!

“The feedback from our conferees has been overwhelmingly favorable …”
Executive Director, Missouri Safety Council

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1 Comment Posted in Miscellaneous, Monticello Tagged , , , , , |

I lost almost everything in the fire.

My late loss may perhaps have reac[hed y]ou by this time, I mean the loss of my mother’s house [Shadwell] by fire, and in it, of every pa[per I] had in the world, and almost every book. On a reasonable estimate I calculate th[e cost o]f t[he b]ooks burned to have been £200. sterling. Would to god it had been the money [;then] had it never cost me a sigh! …
If this conflagration, by which I am burned out of a home, had come before I had advanced so far in preparing another, I do not know but I might have cherished some treasonable thoughts of leaving [thes]e my native hills.
To John Page, February 21, 1770

Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Resilient leaders rebound from losses.
Jefferson was born at Shadwell plantation. When not occupied with the House of Burgesses in Williamsburg or traveling because of his law practice, he lived there with his mother. He was nearly 27 when this fire destroyed the house and practically all of his possessions. That included copies of his correspondence, all of his legal work, and his what he cherished most, his books. He didn’t mind the value lost. He minded a great deal the wisdom contained in those volumes.
He had already begun work on his own home across the Rivanna River, a hilltop he named Monticello (Italian for little mountain). The ground had already been leveled and probably work had begun on a one room building, now known as the South Pavilion. Jefferson moved there in November, 1770. The main mansion, which today we call Monticello, was still a dream. It wouldn’t be habitable for six or seven years.
Who knows whether Jefferson’s “home” might have been some other place else, as he hinted in this letter, had work at Monticello not already begun.

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Leave a comment Posted in Family matters, Monticello Tagged , , , , , , , |