Monticello

The famous home of Thomas Jefferson was a work-in-progress during most of Jefferson’s lifetime, designed and redesigned, built and rebuilt over more than forty years. Jefferson described the house as his ‘essay in architecture.’ The final product is a monument to Enlightenment rationality and the cultivation of a refined and 5centscontemplative way of life. The home and grounds are now lovingly (that’s not too strong a word) maintained by the private Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation. The waiting line for entrance to the house can be two or even three hours long during the summer. It’s worth it, but even a stroll around the grounds is rewarding if you don’t have the time to wait. The guides are very well informed, so ask lots of questions. Don’t ask about Sally Hemings, though (somebody will bring that up anyway). Ask about the contributions of slave labor to Jefferson’s way of life, and why he (unlike Washington and Madison) did not free all his slaves in his will.

Located in the Virginia Piedmont, Monticello is about two miles southeast of Charlottesville and approximately 125 miles from Washington, D.C.; 110 miles from Williamsburg, Virginia; and 70 miles from Richmond, Virginia. From Interstate 64, take exit 121 (if traveling westbound) or 121 A (eastbound) to Route 20 South (If traveling westbound, turn south, or left, on Route 20). To go to the Monticello Visitors Center, turn right at the first stoplight. To go to Monticello, turn left on Route 53, just after the first stoplight. The entrance to Monticello is located on the left, approximately one and a half miles from Route 20.

John Dickinson Plantation, Deleware

John Dickinson was one of the most effective spokesmen for the colonial cause in the disputes with Great Britain during the years leading up to the American Revolution. Dickinson (1732-1808) grew up on his father’s plantation near Dover, Delaware, but practiced law in Philadelphia during the 1760’s and 1770’s. He attended the Stamp Act Congress which organized resistance to British tax policies, and his series of “Letters of a Farmer in Pennsylvania” in 1767 became the classic statement of opposition to direct parliamentary taxation of the colonies. Dickinson eventually voted against the Declaration of Independence, but remained in the Continental Congress and drafted America’s first constitution, the Articles of Confederation. Dickinson’s restored boyhood home is now preserved. along with reconstructions of other farm structures, on 18 acres of the original plantation. Living history interpreters enact the life of a working colonial plantation, including members of the Dickinson family, plantation tenants, and the family’s slaves. The visitor center contains permanent exhibits on the life of John Dickinson and the history of the plantation.

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Links: John Dickinson Plantation

Rosedown Plantation State Historic Site, Louisiana

Rosedown Plantation is in West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana, north of the town of St. Francisville. West Feliciana has historically been a largely agrarian region where the proximity of the Mississippi River, which forms its western boundary, has created deep soil deposits in relatively flat valleys. These rich soils became extremely productive and valuable during the cotton boom of the nineteenth century. Rosedown Plantation was one of the largest and richest of the plantations that developed out of the cotton boom. At its height, Rosedown Plantation comprised approximately 3,455 acres, the majority planted in cotton and worked by as many as 450 slaves. The main house at Rosedown was constructed in 1834 in the Carolina Tidewater style with a neoclassical columned facade and double front galleries. The home was furnished with the finest pieces the family could obtain, many of which are still on display at Rosedown today. Formal gardens covered approximately 28 acres around the house. The plantation declined after the Civil War because of the loss of slave labor. Today, the main house, historic gardens, thirteen historic buildings, and 371 acres of Rosedown Plantation are preserved as an historic site by the state of Louisiana.

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Links: Rosedown Plantation State Historic Site, Louisiana

Somerset Place, North Carolina

Somerset Place is a classic antebellum southern plantation. The plantation at Somerset Place was active from 1786 to 1865. It cultivated rice, corn, and wheat and included as many as 100,000 acres during its history. The plantation was worked by more than three hundred slaves of African descent, including 80 who were brought to Somerset directly from their west African homeland in 1786 because of their experience with rice cultivation. The plantation house was built by wealthy planter Josiah Collins III, around 1830. The plantation declined immediately after the Civil War when the end of slavery deprived the plantation system of its economic viability. Today the main house at Somerset Place is furnished with period pieces, including a few that belonged to the Collins family. Outbuildings include the kitchen, smokehouse, dairy, and a small house which served as the residence for the Collins family until the mansion was built. Since the early 1950’s archaeological excavations have investigated the lives of the plantation gentry and the slave community. Living history reenactments depict the persistence of African culture and traditions in the slave community as well as the agricultural and domestic technology with which the slave laborers worked.

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Links: Somerset Place Plantation