George Flower’s Account of a Visit to Poplar Forest and Natural Bridge
Monday 24 [25 Nov. 1816]
Took a parting glass of Toddy with my travelling companions and rode to Poplar Forest Mr Jefferson was at home and two Miss Randolphs his grand’trs
Tuesday 25— [26 Nov. 1816]
A Quiet day of rest: spent in leisurely1 conversations with mr J & the Ladies.— If the inhabitants had not spoken English I should have imagined myself in a french house2 I have often had occasion to remark, in houses of the higher classes in America, that the arrangment is more of french than English
Wednesday 26 [27 Nov. 1816]
Left Poplar Forest about Noon and assisted by the direction of Mr J. I went as far as Douglasses at3 the foot of the Mountain on my way to the Natural Bridge
Thursday 27— [28 Nov. 1816]
Rode over a mountainous road for 20 Miles—to Rock Bridge.4—This Singular piece of natural architecture is composed of limestone. It is an arch of Stone over a chasm in the mountains of immense height.5 A Stream of water flows6 below. The sensacions when standing on the arch are fearful—on approaching the side to look down apprehension increases and it seems impossible to avoid seizing hold upon the nearest7 tree or Stone to prevent the magical power of the giddy height8 from precipitating us to the bottom.—
Viewing it from below, all painful sensacions of fear vanish and we are reveled in admiration at the sight of an earthly arch set in the heavens. This singular Scene—produces sensations as singular as itself.9
During the War a manufactory of shot was carried on here. Returnd to James River ferry to Sleep.10
MS (ICHi: Flower Diary, vol. 3); in Flower’s hand; partially and incorrectly dated. MS (ICHi: Flower Diary, vol. 2); in Flower’s hand; partially and incorrectly dated.
In a manuscript he compiled in or before 1860, Flower wrote of his visit to the ex-president’s home in Bedford County: “I found Mr Jefferson at his ‘Poplar Forest’ estate, in the western part of the state of Virginia. His house was built after the fashion of a French Chateau. Octagon rooms, floors of polished oak, lofty ceilings, large Mirrors, betokened his French taste, acquired by his long residence in France. Mr Jefferson’s figure was rather majestic; tall, (over six feet) thin, and rather high-shouldered—Manners simple, kind, and courteous. His dress in colour and form was quaint and old fashioned, plain and neat—a dark pepper-and-salt coat cut in the old quaker fashion, with a single row of large metal buttons, Knee-breeches, gray worsted stockings, shoes fastned by large metal buckles—such was the appearance of Jefferson when I first made his acquaintance, in 1816. His two Granddaughters—Miss Randolphs—well-educated and accomplished young ladies, were staying with him at the time” (MS in an unindentified hand, with corrections and emendations by Flower, in ICHi: Flower Family Papers; printed in Flower, History of the English Settlement in Edwards County Illinois, Founded in 1817 and 1818, by Morris Birkbeck and George Flower , 43, with introductory material on p. 7).
The two miss randolphs who accompanied TJ to Poplar Forest were Cornelia J. Randolph and Ellen W. Randolph (Coolidge). For TJ’s description of this natural bridge in his Notes on the State of Virginia, see Peden, Notes, 24–5.
1. Word not in vol. 2 MS.
2. Remainder of entry not in vol. 2 MS.
3. In vol. 2 MS, “to” is substituted for preceding five words.
4. Sentence not in vol. 2 MS.
5. Vol. 3 MS: “heigth.” Vol. 2 MS omits preceding two words and begins next sentence with “Trees grow upon the top, and.”
6. Vol. 2 MS: “runs rapidly.”
7. Remainder of paragraph in vol. 2 MS reads “object; Tho’ grasping it with all the force that a fearful apprehension will bestow it seems scarcely sufficient to prevent the magical influence of fear from precipitating one to the bottom.”
8. Vol. 3 MS: “heigth.”
9. Sentence not in vol. 2 MS.
10. Sentence in vol. 2 MS reads “Pass’d the night at Green Lees ferry.”
11. Sentence not in vol. 2 MS.
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