Environmental History Class Visits Monticello and Montpellier

JD Diefenbach ’19

Last Friday Mr. LaVoie’s Environmental class spent the day at Monticello and Montpelier. Currently, we are studying the effects of nature in American History and the relationship between nature and our founding fathers.

The third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, designed Monticello, which  he inherited from his father, at age 26. The plantation is located in Charlottesville Virginia, and it was about 5,000 acres. The landscape provided him with enough space to grow a tobacco farm and other mixed crops. Thomas Jefferson had hundreds of variations of fruit and vegetables at his disposal. He also created a college, University of Virginia, nearby his plantation. From his own home, he could have seen the institute. Our class saw the buildings at UVA from his balcony. Inside Jefferson’s home, we discovered multiple paintings and artifacts. From Indian weapons and carvings to paintings of Aristotle, Jefferson had several pieces of history throughout his home.  The former plantation is now a National Historic Landmark.

The fourth President of the United States, James Madison, owned a plantation as well. The property is located in Orange County, Virginia and the residence is placed on the highest point of elevation in the surrounding area. From his house, Madison had a wide open view of his plantation. He was able to oversee all of the planting, harvesting, cleaning and cooking from his home. James Madison was looked upon very fondly after becoming President and for his success in growing and selling tobacco. At the time, it was a tradition in America to visit the President’s home. Madison’s home would soon become a tourist place. In order to prepare for this, Madison made a few arrangements within his plantation. Unlike most slave owners, James Madison had his slave quarters next to his home. He wanted visitors to see that his family had a great relationship with his slaves. Everything Madison did on his plantation was show off his wealth or his American ideals of freedom and opportunity. Our class walked the same trails Madison and his slaves had used. While on the trails, we saw a portion of the graves. It was quite snowy so it was hard to tell. But, our tour guide told us that when the temperature rises and the snow starts to melt, some of the snow will stick in the gravesite, making it visible.

Overall, our class was able discover our Founding Father’s relationship with nature. None of them wanted to conquer nature, but instead comply with the landscape.

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