July 28, 2015
On the occasion of Lafayette’s reunion with Jefferson at Monticello in 1824, Lafayette presented this gift to the fourth President of the United States, an inkwell in the shape of Voltaire’s head, glaze ceramic, n.d. Photo courtesy of Monticello/Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc.
“I well remember the visit of Gen. Lafayette to Monticello. The whole place was in gala array in his honor. He was met at Red Gate and escorted to Monticello by the Jefferson Guards and the Virginia Militia.” Special to the Sunday World. Cincinnati, Ohio, 29 January 1898, in article about Rev. Peter F. Fossett, is probably the last surviving, former slave of Thomas JeffersonPhoto courtesy of http://usslave.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-rev-mr-fossett-of-cincinnati-former.html
Engraving depicting Lafayette’s Welcome to Jefferson’s Monticello in 1825.Photo courtesy of http://usslave.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-rev-mr-fossett-of-cincinnati-former.html
Mary Randolph’s Memory Book, 1825–1908. Loaned by a member of the Coolidge family.Photo courtesy of Monticello/Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc.
Editor’s Note: A new exhibition at Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia, celebrates the lasting friendship between Lafayette and Jefferson. Open to the public and housed in in the David M. Rubenstein Visitor Center, the current exhibit runs from August 1, 2015 through January 15, 2016.
Featuring select items from Monticello’s collection, the exhibit was assembled by Emilie Johnson, Ph.D., Assistant Curator at Monticello; she specializes in late 18th and early 19th century American cultural landscapes, architecture, and material culture, with a particular focus on plantations. A graduate of Wake Forest University, Johnson holds an M.A. in Art History from the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art and her doctorate in Art and Architectural History from the University of Virginia. At Monticello, she plans special exhibitions, including this one about Lafayette and another about Jefferson’s visit to Shakespeare’s house in Stratford in 1786.
Emilie Johnson recently met with David Lincoln Ross, Editorial Director, Friends of Hermione-Lafayette in America at Monticello to talk about the friendship between Lafayette and Jefferson.
Question: What was the background and thinking about creating this special Jefferson-Lafayette exhibition?
EJ: With an upsurge of interest in Lafayette, thanks to the Hermione’s voyage to the United States and Laura Auricchio’s recent biography, The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered, it was an opportune time to celebrate Lafayette’s visits to Monticello and his long friendship with Jefferson with a small exhibition.
The title of the exhibition — Lafayette at Monticello: “The Happy days I Have Past” – comes from a letter Lafayette wrote to Jefferson a few days after he left Monticello. Lafayette stated “The Happy days I Have Past at Monticello Are over; But they Have Left on My Heart an Impression Never to Be efaced.”
Susan Stein, the Richard Gilder Senior Curator and Vice President of Museum Programs, thought this was a great idea and the project received support from staff across Monticello.
Q: What are some of the highlights from Monticello’s exhibition, items that have not been seen before by the public and their either historical significance or of a deeply personal character.
EJ: This exhibition combines objects from Monticello’s collections and objects loaned to us from generous collectors. The inkwell in the shape of Voltaire’s head is a delightful object with an intriguing connection to Lafayette’s 1824 visit. Family lore claims that Lafayette brought the inkwell to Jefferson when he came to Monticello.
In the exhibition, the inkwell is paired with a fragmentary volume of British author Frances Wright’s A few days in Athens, being the translation of a Greek manuscript discovered in Herculaneum, published in 1822. Jefferson filled seven pages of his literary commonplace book with excerpts from the book, and described it as “equal to the best morsels of antiquity.” High praise, indeed! The inscription on the flyleaf, though badly mutilated, reads “from Thomas Jefferson to La F . . ., Nov 4,” suggesting that Jefferson gave his prized copy to his dear friend upon his arrival. Adding layers to the significance of this object was the connection between Wright and Lafayette. She was his protégé, and Frances Wright and her sister traveled with Lafayette on parts of the American tour. The Misses Wright arrived at Monticello only a day or two after Lafayette.
With her father, Martha Jefferson Randolph hosted a welcoming dinner for Lafayette on the evening of his arrival. Accounts of the dinner suggest about twenty guests, including many of Jefferson’s grandchildren and their spouses. A satin dress shoe like this might have been worn by one of the granddaughters or granddaughters-in-law for the celebration.
Lafayette’s return to Monticello in August 1825 was shorter and more poignant. Jefferson’s health had declined in the ensuing ten months, the family’s financial straits had not improved, and Lafayette must have known it would be the last time he would see his friends. The General left a souvenir for one of Jefferson’s granddaughters, a touching message in her autograph book that read “I am the first to write on Your Book, dear Mary Jefferson Randolph: the first I shall Ever be Among Your friends to love You and Your dear family, to Bestow Upon You, in Every Circumstance of Your life, the paternal good Wishes and feelings Which I am Happy to Be Entitled to Express.” Lafayette’s message reveals the multi-generational friendships that he formed with members of the Jefferson family.
Q: Why is Monticello so special to understanding Jefferson the man?
EJ: Monticello has been called Thomas Jefferson’s three-dimensional autobiography. Since 1923, curators, historians, and restorers have been working to re-create Monticello as Jefferson knew it and have collected furniture, objects, books, and works of art that Jefferson owned and used at Monticello.
Lafayette had a very strong presence at Monticello. In 1790, Jefferson commissioned a portrait of the General from French artist Joseph Boze. Jefferson’s painting is now at the Massachusetts Historical Society, and a copy hangs in Monticello’s parlor as it did during Jefferson’s lifetime. Jefferson displayed a plaster bust of Lafayette by Houdon in his “gallery of worthies” in the Tea Room. Jefferson had at least one engraving of Lafayette. Lafayette surely saw the Boze portrait and Houdon bust, and possibly the engraving, when he visited in 1824 and 1825.
Q: How many times Lafayette paid a visit to Jefferson, and are there any journal entries or documents that show what Jefferson might have served in foods and drink during his stay, you might reference the Dining at Monticello Cookbook.
EJ: We only know of Lafayette making two visits to Monticello, the first in November 1824, near the beginning of his triumphal tour of America, and the last in August 1825, shortly before Lafayette departed America to return home. His 1824 visit lasted ten days, while his second visit was only four-days long.
Lafayette enjoyed many dinners at Monticello, accompanied by old friends, invited guests, and members of Jefferson’s family. Menus have not survived, but we can imagine the diners consumed vegetables from Monticello’s extensive gardens and meat dishes. Lamb and mutton were popular on Jefferson’s table, and Jefferson particularly enjoyed a boiled beef roast known as Boulli. On November 4, 1824, James Madison was late to the welcoming dinner, only arriving as the guests were drinking wine after dinner. The wine was likely French, and could have been Ledanon, Bergasse claret, Clairette de Limoux, Muscat de Rivesalte, or brandy, all of which were in the wine cellar at Monticello in 1824. (Editor’s Note: Though no longer called as such, “Ledanon” and “Bergasse claret”, are from vineyards located in present-day Rhône Valley appellations in France; that is red wines likely made from a blend Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre grapes.”) If you want to learn more about dining, socializing, cuisine, and wine, I suggest looking at Dining at Monticello, 2005, Thomas Jefferson Foundation.
Q: While Jefferson and Lafayette were not as close as Lafayette and Washington, tell us from your readings how you would describe the friendship over the decades? Did they correspond as often as Washington and Lafayette?
EJ: Whereas the relationship between Washington and Lafayette has been described as paternal and filial, Jefferson and Lafayette interacted as peers. They first met in 1781, when Jefferson was the Governor of Virginia and Lafayette was leading troops through the region, ultimately against Cornwallis at Yorktown. They reunited in Paris in January 1785. Lafayette had just returned from the United States, and brought with him news of the death of Jefferson’s daughter, Lucy Elizabeth.
Throughout the rest of Jefferson’s time in Paris, they saw each other frequently. Lafayette introduced Jefferson to his powerful network of relatives and friends, contacts that were invaluable to Jefferson’s mission of solidifying American political and economic interests in France. After Jefferson returned to the United States in 1789, their correspondence continued, resulting in at least 185 letters between the two men from 1781 to 1825.
Q: Lastly, while visiting with you, you talked with great interest about the strong connection between Lafayette and Jefferson’s daughter? Tell us about that friendship, and did it extend after Jefferson’s death on July 4 1826?
In 1784, Lafayette wrote to his wife Adrienne :
“I must not forget, dear heart, to commend to your attention Mr. and Miss Jefferson. The father, an admirable, cultivated and charming man, overwhelmed me with kindnesses when he was Governor of Virginia during the war, and I very much hope that he may like France well enough to wish to replace Mr. Franklin, which will not be difficult to manage should he consent. As to the daughter, she is a very attractive young woman, and I here and now appoint you to be her mother, chaperone and anything else you can think of. I beg you to take them under your wing, and to do all you can for them … It would be no bad thing if you took them to see Madame de Tessé.”
Lafayette’s 1824 and 1825 visits to Monticello renewed his friendship with Martha Jefferson Randolph, the “very attractive young woman” Lafayette had asked his wife to mentor in 1784. During his stay at Monticello, Lafayette met Martha’s children (some of whom were close to her age during her years in Paris). Re-acquaintance kindled powerful memories for both Lafayette and Martha Randolph. Lafayette’s message in Mary Randolph’s memory book is a poignant indication of Lafayette’s affectionate regard for Jefferson’s daughter and grandchildren.
Martha wrote Lafayette immediately before he left the United States for France. Lafayette responded to her upon his return to LaGrange, but did not hear anything more from Martha, or her father, before Jefferson’s death on July 4, 1826.
In August of that year, Lafayette had learned the news and wrote Martha a letter in which he asked her “Be so kind as to write to me, my dear unhappy friend, tell me every particular respecting the family, to whom I beg you to ofer my condoling, affectionate Regards.”