Thomas Jefferson Papers

Adam Hodgson’s Account of a Visit to Monticello, [17 June 1820]

Adam Hodgson’s Account of a Visit to Monticello

[17 June 1820]

———. I fear, however, that I am leaving no room for an account of my very interesting visit to Monticello. I went nearly 25 miles out of my way to obtain a letter of introduction to Mr. Jefferson, from his friend, Judge ——, of Staunton, to whom I was recommended by the late amiable and very popular Governor of the State of Mississippi.

On the 18th instant, I left Hayes’s tavern, at the foot of the Blue ridge … We shortly afterwards passed through Charlottesville, where General Tarleton was near capturing Mr. Jefferson and the State Legislature, being prevented only by a private intimation, sent by a female relation of one of1 the officers, a few miles distant, at whose house the General and his suite had invited themselves to breakfast. Here we saw an extensive university, which the State is erecting under Mr. Jefferson’s auspices, and to which it is intended to invite the ablest Professors which Europe can supply.

We arrived at Monticello, three miles farther, about eleven o’clock, ascending the South West Mountain, on which the house is situated, by a winding carriage-road through the wood. I sent in my letter to Mr. Jefferson, who soon afterwards came out and gave me a polite reception, leading me through the hall, hung with mammoth bones and Indian curiosities, to a room, ornamented with fine paintings. A young lady was playing on a piano-forte, but retired when we entered. Our conversation turned principally on the Indians, and the fine timber of the United States. With respect to the former, he considers them quite on a level, as respects intellectual character, with the Whites, and attributes the rapid civilization of the Choctaws, compared with that of the Creeks, on whom, perhaps, greater efforts have been bestowed, to the advantages possessed by the former for the growth of cotton, which had gradually induced them to spin and weave. He observed, that notwithstanding the fine specimens which have been preserved of Indian eloquence, the Indians appear to have no poetic genius; and that he had never known an Indian discover a musical taste; that, on the contrary, the Africans almost universally possess fine voices and an excellent ear, and a passionate fondness for music. With this I have often been struck, as I passed through the Southern States, especially when I have seen them assembled at public worship, or packing cotton at New Orleans. Mr. Jefferson said that he never knew a person who had resided long among the Indians, return and settle among the Whites; and I understood him to say also, that he never knew a person who left the coast for the western country, or his descendants, return to the Atlantic States. After sitting about an hour, I rose to take leave, when Mr. J. pressed me to stay to dinner, to which I assented, on condition that he would not allow me to be any restraint upon him. He said he must leave me for an hour to ride, as his health had a few months since begun to fail, for the first time. I found no difficulty, however, in amusing myself in the museum and the grounds and garden. In the former, was the only upper jaw ever yet discovered, as I was told, of a large animal now extinct, and some maps traced by the Indians on leather. The view on every side of the house, except one, where a small arc of the horizon is intercepted by a hill, is very extensive and beautiful. The Blue ridge affords an interesting variety of romantic scenery in a broken curve, extending, I believe, above 100 miles; one peak at the distance, I understood, of more than 120 miles, being sometimes visible. The horizon, on the Atlantic side, is about 40 miles distant; and bounds a flat well-wooded country, which appeared tame, when contrasted with the sublimity of the mountains. These, and especially a hill of the shape and dimensions of the largest pyramid in Egypt, which gives Mr. Jefferson a meridian line of 40 miles, frequently exhibit the phenomenon of looming.

On Mr. Jefferson’s return from his ride, we had some interesting conversation respecting the university, and a favourite plan of his of dividing every county into districts, in which there should be schools, and a humble sort of college at convenient distances, a superior college, with every possible advantage, being established in the State. After dinner, when the ladies had retired, and we were quite alone, he expressed his sentiments very freely on the present situation of England, and the character of many of her public men. He then stated the views and feelings which he had entertained with respect to her while President, as well as those which had been generally entertained by the American Government; the various causes which had contributed to the unhappy misunderstanding between the two countries, and the grounds for believing that many of them were of a nature which rendered their recurrence improbable. He then described, with a good deal of spirit and minuteness, the character of the different ministers we have sent to Washington, and concluded with an earnest hope, that as the two Governments at length understood each other perfectly, the people might gradually be soothed into better humour with one another. The particulars of this very interesting conversation, which lasted two hours, and of which I have preserved a memorandum, I will give you when we meet.*

Mr. Jefferson’s appearance is rather prepossessing. He is tall and very thin, a little bent with age, with an intelligent and sprightly countenance. His manners are dignified, but courteous and gentlemanly; and he enters into conversation with great ease and animation.

After two hours téte-à-téte, I rose about six o’clock to take my leave. He invited me to stay all night; but I thought I had already encroached sufficiently on his time, and I was not sure that we should withdraw to the ladies, of whom I had just seen enough to feel persuaded that I should have passed a very agreeable evening with them. While sitting with this philosophical legislator and his polished family,2 in a handsome saloon, surrounded by instruments of science, valuable specimens of the fine arts, and literary treasures of every nation, and every age, I could not help contrasting my situation with some of those which I had occupied during the preceding month, when sleeping on a bear-skin, on the floor of an Indian hut, listening to the traditions of my Chickasaw or Choctaw host, or dandling on my knee a young Indian warrior, with his miniature belt and mocassins, his necklaces and feathers, and his little bow and arrow, doomed to provoke nothing but a smile. In the course of a few weeks, I had passed from deep forests, whose silence had never been broken by the woodman’s axe, to a thickly settled country, where cattle were grazing in extensive meadows, and corn fields waving in the wind; where commerce was planting her towns, science founding her universities, and religion rearing her heaven-directed spires. In the same period, I had traced man through every successive stage of civilization, from the roaming savage, whose ideas scarcely extend beyond the narrow circle of his daily wants, to the statesman who has learnt to grasp the complicated interests of society, and the philosopher, to contemplate the system of the universe.

Crossing the Rivannah, at the bottom of Mr. Jefferson’s grounds, the water up to our saddle-skirts, we proceeded to Mr. Boyd’s tavern, about eight miles distant. On Monday, the 19th, we resumed our journey . . .

I forgot to say, that at Mr. Jefferson’s, I saw the belt and shot pouch of the famous Tecumseh …

Printed in Hodgson, Letters from North America, written During a Tour in the United States and Canada (London, 1824; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library, 1829 description ends , 7 [no. 349]; TJ’s copy in IGK), 1:313–9, 320; at head of text: “Richmond, 21st June, 1820.” Different version of one paragraph previously printed in Hodgson, Remarks during a Journey through North America in the years 1819, 1820, and 1821 (New York, 1823), 261 (see note 2 below).

Adam Hodgson (1789–1862), merchant, banker, and author, was born in Liverpool, England. He was a partner from at least 1814 in Rathbone, Hodgson & Company, an enterprise that traded widely in both Europe and North America. In 1819 Hodgson crossed the Atlantic to gather information for his firm and meet potential trading partners. He left the company a few years after his return to Liverpool in 1821 and made his living thereafter as a cotton and insurance broker and banker. Hodgson helped found the Liverpool and Manchester Railroad in 1824 and was an organizer and the longtime managing director of the Bank of Liverpool. He served as an officer of numerous charitable and religious organizations and was an unwavering opponent of the slave trade. Besides works on his North American travels, Hodgson wrote A Letter to M. Jean-Baptiste Say, on the Comparative Expense of Free and Slave Labour (Liverpool, 1823), and A Letter to the Right Honorable Sir Robert Peel, Bart., on the Currency (1848). He was also a justice of the peace from 1835 until his death and a borough magistrate during his final years. Hodgson died near Lancaster, England (UkLA: Lancashire Anglican Parish Registers; Kevin J. Hayes, ed., Jefferson in His Own Time [2012], 88; Hodgson to TJ, 13 Sept. 1824; Gore’s Directory of Liverpool and Its Environs [1827]: 73, 78, 82, 182, 357; [1853]: 128, 130–3, 675; [1860]: 73, 75–7, 81, 84, 302; Henry Booth, An Account of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway [1831], 11; UkNA: England census, Lancashire, 1851, 1861; Liverpool Mercury, 19 Aug. 1814, 30 Dec. 1862).

Although Hodgson indicates above that he arrived at Monticello on 18 June, TJ’s receipt of a letter of introduction of 16 June 1820 from Archibald Stuart (judge ——, of staunton) a day earlier suggests that his visit actually took place on 17 June. The former governor of the state of mississippi was David Holmes.

The intimation that TJ and the legislators assembled at Charlottesville in June 1781 should flee the oncoming British force commanded by Banastre Tarleton was conveyed to both by John (Jack) Jouett, a young militia captain, who, as TJ later reported, “seeing them pass his father’s house in the evening of the 3d. and riding through the night along by-ways, brought the notice” (PTJ description begins Julian P. Boyd, Charles T. Cullen, John Catanzariti, Barbara B. Oberg, James P. McClure, and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 1950– , 43 vols. description ends , 4:261; MB description begins James A. Bear Jr. and Lucia C. Stanton, eds., Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767–1826, 1997, 2 vols., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , 1:510).

The large animal now extinct was the mastodon. The arc of the horizon is intercepted at Monticello by Montalto. The geographic feature in the shape and dimensions of the largest pyramid in egypt was Willis’s Mountain in Buckingham County.

1Printed text: “of of.”

2Remainder of paragraph printed with some variations in Hodgson, Remarks, preceded by “Monticello, the well-known seat of Mr. Jefferson, is finely situated on an eminence which commands a magnificent prospect. Here I experienced a very polite and hospitable reception, from this retired and philosophic Statesman; whose urbanity and intelligence can scarcely fail to make a favourable impression on a stranger. While conversing with him.”

Authorial notes

[The following note(s) appeared in the margins or otherwise outside the text flow in the original source, and have been moved here for purposes of the digital edition.]

* * It is with great regret that I feel myself constrained to omit what would, perhaps, have been more generally interesting than any thing these volumes contain. It is not, indeed, probable, that Mr. Jefferson would object to the publication of any thing which he saw fit to communicate in conversation with a stranger; but there is not time to obtain his permission, and without it, delicacy imposes a restraint, which I feel unwilling to break through.

Index Entries

  • African Americans; and music search
  • African Americans; and religion search
  • arrows search
  • Blue Ridge Mountains; visible from Monticello search
  • bows, archery search
  • Boyd’s Tavern (Albemarle Co.) search
  • building materials; timber search
  • cattle; mentioned search
  • Chickasaw Indians; mentioned search
  • Choctaw Indians search
  • clothing; shoes search
  • corn; as crop search
  • cotton; as crop search
  • cotton; at New Orleans search
  • cotton; spinning of search
  • Creek Indians; TJ on search
  • education; in Va. search
  • exercise, physical; and health search
  • gardens; at Monticello search
  • Great Britain; and U.S. search
  • Great Britain; ministers to U.S. search
  • Hayes’s Tavern (Albemarle Co.) search
  • health; exercise, TJ on search
  • Hodgson, Adam; Account of a Visit to Monticello search
  • Hodgson, Adam; identified search
  • Hodgson, Adam; introduced to TJ search
  • Hodgson, Adam; travels of search
  • Hodgson, Adam; visits Monticello search
  • Holmes, David; introduces A. Hodgson search
  • horses; TJ rides search
  • household articles; saddle skirts search
  • Indians, American; and music search
  • Indians, American; and poetry search
  • Indians, American; artifacts of, at Monticello search
  • Indians, American; Chickasaw search
  • Indians, American; Choctaw search
  • Indians, American; Creek search
  • Indians, American; maps by search
  • Indians, American; speeches by search
  • Indians, American; TJ on search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Descriptions of; appearance search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Descriptions of; by A. Hodgson search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Descriptions of; conversation search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Health; debility search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; education search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; Great Britain search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; Indians search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; subdividing states into hundreds or wards search
  • Jouett, John (Jack) search
  • leather; map drawn on search
  • looming, phenomenon of search
  • maps; Indian search
  • mastodon (mammoth, Ohio); fossils in Entrance Hall at Monticello search
  • Montalto (part of TJ’s Monticello estate) search
  • Monticello (TJ’s Albemarle Co. estate); described search
  • Monticello (TJ’s Albemarle Co. estate); Entrance Hall search
  • Monticello (TJ’s Albemarle Co. estate); gardens search
  • Monticello (TJ’s Albemarle Co. estate); Parlor (Drawing Room) search
  • Monticello (TJ’s Albemarle Co. estate); portraits and paintings at search
  • Monticello (TJ’s Albemarle Co. estate); roads at search
  • Monticello (TJ’s Albemarle Co. estate); Visitors to; Hodgson, Adam search
  • music; and African Americans search
  • music; and Indians search
  • music; piano search
  • paintings; at Monticello search
  • pianos search
  • poetry; and Indians search
  • religion; and African Americans search
  • Revolutionary War; and Va. search
  • shoes; moccasins search
  • Stuart, Archibald; introduces A. Hodgson search
  • Tarleton, Sir Banastre; military activities of in Va. search
  • Tecumseh (Shawnee chief); belt and shot pouch of search
  • textiles; and weaving search
  • United States; and Great Britain search
  • Virginia, University of; Construction and Grounds; visitors to search
  • Virginia, University of; Faculty and Curriculum; recruitment of faculty from Europe search
  • Virginia; and education search
  • Virginia; General Assembly search
  • Virginia; TJ on subdividing into hundreds or wards search
  • Willis’s Mountain; and phenomenon of looming search
  • Willis’s Mountain; described search