In the beginning…all America was Virginia

Ahhh…Virginia! I fell in love with the state the first time I drove through the Shenandoah Valley more than 30 years ago. The landscape is among the loveliest in the country.

Monday, we journeyed to Monticello to visit the home of the author of words that capture the hope and aspirations of so many of us, Thomas Jefferson.

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Monticello is certainly a lovely, unique home, but it’s the paradox of its architect which drew me there. Why did the man who prized liberty above all else kept others in bondage? Jefferson wrote and spoke of his abhorrence of slavery, advocated a slave-free America, yet owned them and only set five of the 140 he owned free upon his death. The rest were sold along with Monticello by his grandson to help pay off Jefferson’s large debt — about $2 million in today’s dollars.

The five slaves freed were Sally Hemings and her four children. Sally was the half-sister of Jefferson’s wife who became his lover, bearing him six children, after the death of his wife.

Did Jefferson keep the slaves he inherited from his father and through his marriage because to release them was to subject them to a harsher existence? Probably. Or did he keep them out of financial necessity? Certainly. I left Monticello with no deeper understanding of its enigmatic leader.

Yesterday, we visited Jamestown — birthplace of an English North America. I was really impressed with the exhibit at the Jamestown Settlement. Nicely done!

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It provided an integrated look at the three cultures colliding with the arrival of English colonists in 1607 — The Native Americans (Powhatans), the English, and the Angolans who were sold as slaves to the colonists in 1619 by Portuguese slavers in exchange for food and supplies.

The Jamestown settlement has been reconstructed along with replicas of the three ships which bore the colonists and supplies to the New World. John missed my short tour of the ships to discover he is going to be a grandfather!

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A small portion of a Powhatan village is also on display. Fascinating for those interested in Native American history.

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Today, we journeyed back to the 18th century at Williamsburg, listening to a captivating speech by — who else — Thomas Jefferson. His thoughts on self-governance by an educated citizenry, public education, free speech and religious freedom (as well as freedom FROM religion!) remain relevant in our time.

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