Thomas Jefferson Papers

Benjamin J. Barbour’s Account of a Visit to the University of Virginia and Monticello, 8 June 1820

Benjamin J. Barbour’s Account of a Visit to the University of Virginia and Monticello

Barboursville June 8th 1820

Dear Tom

Your last letter I received just as I was leaving Winr and owing to my being busy there, and since my arrival, I have failed to answer it. I visited Charlolle for the purpose of seeing the University, and had expected to have the pleasure of seeing you, but as you will testify, was dissappointed, the buildings however I saw, and felt much pleased with; as to the design there is something truly beautiful, and somewhat grand; the effect produced on every friend to literature and his state must of course be pleasing;—the elegant edefices crowning our hills and associating with them the idea of their being as a mighty fountain from which thousands will drink knowledge, is sufficient to excite the deepest interest.

I then paid my first visit to the sage of the mountain but he was from home, and I enjoyed but a poor view of the curiosities of his house, so much so that I shall go again. The old fellow has something of design in fixing his seat on that mountain, for illustrious as he is now, and dying covered with fame as having been the chief architect in this beautiful temple of liberty, his tomb will in after ages be as eagerly sought after by the classic and patriotic as was ever the holy sepulchre of Jerusalem by the deluded pilgrim, riding up the other day, and suffering my imagination1 to fly beyond the swiftness of time, glancing my eye over a neglected tomb stone, persuading myself that I was viewing the grave of Jefferson, some centuries hence, I felt myself inspired with a holy reverence.

MS (ViHi: Barbour Family Papers); consisting of a letter in Barbour’s hand addressed to an unidentified correspondent; apparently unfinished, given lack of signature and abrupt end in the middle of a page.

Benjamin Johnson Barbour (1802–20), the son of TJ’s correspondent and United States senator James Barbour, died at the family’s Barboursville estate less than a month after dating the above letter. His obituary describes him as possessing a “sincere, liberal and honorable heart” and a “fine native capacity, cultivated and expanding under an assiduous application to literary and scientific pursuits.” A brother of the same name, born just under a year after Barbour’s death, was rector of the University of Virginia, 1866–72 (Barbour to Lucy M. Barbour, Winchester, 27 June 1819, 29 Feb. 1820 [ViHi: Barbour Family Papers]; Richmond Enquirer, 11 July 1820; “Elegy on the Death of Benjamin Johnson Barbour” by “Condolius,” Washington Daily National Intelligencer, 9 Aug. 1820; gravestone inscription in family cemetery at Barboursville; DVB description begins John T. Kneebone, Sara B. Bearss, and others, eds., Dictionary of Virginia Biography, 1998– , 3 vols. description ends , 1:328–31).

winr: Winchester. The Church of the holy sepulchre in Jerusalem is believed by many Christians to be located on the site of Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection.

1Manuscript: “imgination.”

Index Entries

  • Barbour, Benjamin Johnson; Account of a Visit to the University of Virginia and Monticello search
  • Barbour, Benjamin Johnson; identified search
  • Jerusalem; Church of the Holy Sepulchre search
  • Monticello (TJ’s Albemarle Co. estate); Visitors to; Barbour, Benjamin J. search
  • Virginia, University of; Construction and Grounds; visitors to search