Author Signed Copies of “The Invention of Nature”


Andrea Wulf, the acclaimed author of Founding Gardeners, reveals the forgotten life of Alexander von Humboldt, the visionary German naturalist whose ideas changed the way we see the natural world-and in the process created modern environmentalism. Von Humboldt (1769-1859) was an intrepid explorer and the most famous scientist of his age. In North America, his name still graces four counties, thirteen towns, a river, parks, bays, lakes and mountains.

In 1804, at the end of a five year expedition in Central and South America, von Humboldt visited Washington, D.C., specifically to meet President Thomas Jefferson. President Jefferson was thrilled ot welcome Humboldt, and was eager to hear all about the lands south of the newly-acquired Louisiana Purchase. These meetings were the start of a 21-year friendship and correspondence on topics including science, politics and nature.

andreawulfANDREA WULF was born in India and moved to Germany as a child. She lives in London, where she trained as a design historian at the Royal College of Art. She is the author of Chasing Venus, Founding Gardeners and The Brother Gardeners. She has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times.






Jefferson in France: Then and Now

The five years that Thomas Jefferson lived in Paris, France made for some of the most influential times in his life. While abroad, Jefferson had the opportunities to experience great art and architecture, some of which followed him back to the states. The Hôtel de Salm, which currently houses the headquarters of the Legion of Honor, was a building that greatly intrigued Jefferson. Jefferson wrote about this Parisian architecture to Madame de Tessé: “While in Paris, I was violently smitten with the Hôtel de Salm, and used to go to the Thuileries almost daily, to look at it.” He saw the remodeled Palais Royal, the Halle aux Bleds, and various cathedrals, including Sainte-Genevieve (the Panthéon) and the Madeleine. These structures, in particular the dome of Hôtel de Salm, were the inspiration for Monticello design.

Today, Jefferson’s admiration of the Hotel de Salm remains through a 10-foot bronze statue on the left bank of the Seine River in Paris. The statue is situated so that Jefferson’s eyes point towards his inspiration, holding a piece of paper showing his first vision of Monticello.

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From my own time in France it was easy to see how Jefferson was so heavily influenced by Paris. Jefferson described what he gained from France as a “treasure of art, science and sentiment.” I believe anyone could agree on this statement, even in today’s world. Paris is one of the cleaner cities I’ve encountered, and also one of the greenest. There are many parks, including the royal Tuileries, Jefferson’s preference, that give the city a more peaceful feel. Also, nearly all of central Paris is built of beautiful, timeless buildings. After a visit, it was clear why Jefferson loved spending time there and was so inspired.

France was not only an influence on Jefferson’s architecture preferences, but also his everyday life. After his five year stay, he had 86 crates arranged to be shipped back to Philadelphia, including chairs, clocks, and goblets. Today you can find French-inspired items and Jeffersonian reproductions through The Shop at Monticello.



The Revolving Bookstand: Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an

Eleven years before composing the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson bought a Qur’an. How did this purchase influence Jefferson and what role did Islam play with other American Founding Fathers? Wm. Scott Harrop reviews Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders by Denise Spellberg in this month’s Revolving Bookstand feature.

Thomas Jefferson's Quran

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

In 2007, when Congressman Keith Ellison borrowed a Qur’an once owned by Thomas Jefferson for his ceremonial oath of office, he renewed a debate as old as the American republic.  For some critics, a Muslim holding elected office constitutes a fundamental threat to American identity, an anathema to its founding values.

In Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders, Denise A. Spellberg, Associate Professor of History at the University of Texas, counters that key America founders contemplated Islam in civic life.  In Spellberg’s judgment, an “American Muslim citizen with full civil rights” is “quintessentially evocative of our national ideals.”

Jefferson’s ownership of a Qur’an provides Spellberg with an intriguing hook for her inquiry.  Proof that Jefferson owned a copy of the Qur’an is preserved in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia.  There, the “Virginia Gazette Daybook” records that on October 5, 1765, Thomas Jefferson, then a law student at William & Mary, purchased George Sale’s venerable translation of the Qur’an.  While no direct notes from Jefferson’s reading of the Qur’an survive, Spellberg draws inferences about Jefferson’s understanding (and misimpressions) of Islam from scattered writings and his own policy views and choices made amid his encounters with Muslims.

Thomas Jeffersons Quran Islam and the Founders by Denise Spellberg

Even as Spellberg details Jefferson’s criticisms of Islam as a religion, she demonstrates that Jefferson, like James Madison and George Washington, advocated religious freedom and civic rights for Muslims, as they did for Catholics and Jews.   Going beyond Locke, Jefferson’s critical innovation was not just to “tolerate” religious dissent, but to assert the full inclusion of citizens and public servants from all faiths – or none at all. Yet just how and why Jefferson and his concurring founders arrived at this stance deserves further exploration.

Amid the decade long political fight for passage of his Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, Jefferson famously wrote that, “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket, nor breaks my leg.” Spellberg notes that despite Jefferson’s profession to be a Christian, his political foes, including John Quincy Adams, abused Jefferson’s own words to slur him as an “infidel,” a Muslim. He has certainly not been the last American president to face this charge.

During his presidency, Jefferson clashed with North African Muslim powers as Barbary corsairs attacked American merchant ships and demanded ransoms. Although Spellberg dubs Jefferson the first President of the United States to “wage war against an Islamic power,” he was also the first to make peace with them.  She assesses that Jefferson “never perceived a predominantly religious dimension to the conflict” and may have even used faith as a bridge to resolve the disputes.

Spellberg’s remarkable inquiry demonstrates that even as early America inherited Europe’s deep fears of Muslims, it also established original principles for their equal inclusion in public life.  Both timely and enlightening, Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders deserves wide consideration.

harroplowresWm. Scott Harrop is a Lecturer in the University of Virginia’s Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian and Languages and Cultures.  Since early 2011, he’s been teaching courses on “Recent Revolutions in the Islamic World” — through a Jeffersonian prism.  He’s also a past Jefferson Fellow at the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies.

Behind the Scenes: Monticello Hosts House Beautiful

“…it may be said that Mr. Jefferson is the first American who has consulted the Fine Arts to know how he should shelter himself from the weather.”

-The Marquis de Chasteluux, 1782 on his first visit to Monticello

House Beautiful November coverHouse Beautiful magazine, the leading authority on American home design and decoration, recently announced the launch of a “pop up” guest editor series and named renowned interior designer, Charlotte Moss, as guest editor for the November 2013 issue themed “The Arts of Living.” A trustee of Monticello, Moss saw the November issue as a natural opportunity to highlight Jefferson’s legacy at his mountaintop home.  She reached out to Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Executive Editor at Random House, and fellow Monticello trustee, Jon Meacham to collaborate.

As a result of this extraordinary collaboration, the November issue will include special sections on home fragrance, books, music, and wine, as well as images from a photo shoot at Monticello with displays curated by Moss, and an exclusive essay by Meacham titled “The Jeffersonian Ideal: Life at Monticello.”

To gather images and inspiration for the November Issue, Charlotte Moss and House Beautiful arrived at Monticello for a two day photo shoot with a full crew of photographers, editors, and assistants this July.

Then, Monticello staff, including Senior Curator and Vice President of Museum Programs, Susan Stein (below, center, to the right of HB‘s Orli Ben-Dor) and Director of Garden and Grounds, Gabriele Rausse, guided the House Beautiful crew around Monticello, answering questions and providing information for the magazine and web features.

The tour included a full walkthrough of the house and gardens (below, left) as well as a trip to the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants at Tufton Farm.



gabrieleAfter the tour, lunch was set up in the Orchard (above).

The House Beautiful crew tasted products from The Shop including Monticello Root Beer, Monticello Fig Preserves, and Monticello Peach Salsa.

Fresh picked tomatoes and basil from the Vegetable Garden were also served while Gabriele Rausse (left) gave a talk on Jefferson, wine, and gardening.

Next, Monticello staff and House Beautiful’s crew prepped for the photo shoot in The Greenhouse. Moss arranged the centerpiece in the staging area. Then everyone helped move the featured pieces into the Southeast Piazza .

Moss added the finishing touches to the table (below) and the photographer captured the scene.


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IMG_1923The following morning, House Beautiful and Moss (left) returned to capture a few last shots of Monticello.

Once the final photograph was taken, the crew got a chance to relax, enjoy the scenery, and swap favorite quotes from The Words of Thomas Jefferson on the steps of Monticello (above).

We loved hosting House Beautiful and we couldn’t be more excited about their magazine and web features of Monticello!

Visit The Shop for products featured by House Beautiful and inspired by Jefferson’s timeless genius and style.


Madiera Tasting at The Shop!

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madieraJoin us Wednesday October 9th at The Shop at Monticello for an introductory celebration and tasting of the new Thomas Jefferson Special Reserve Madeira.

As a young law student, Thomas Jefferson was introduced by his mentor’s wife, Mrs. Wythe, to a blend of one tenth “superfine” Malmsey to nine‐tenths dry Madeira. He never lost his taste for this elegant blend.

Thomas Jefferson Special Reserve celebrates this Jeffersonian ideal by blending a small amount of very old and rare Malvasia into a fine dry Madeira. Even more so than today, Malmsey was, in Jefferson’s time, extremely rare and expensive, often shipped in barrels one‐quarter the size of other Madeiras. So, this type of blend was not just a matter of taste, it was also a matter of economics.

Learn about the history of Jefferson and Madeira, and its important role in early America.  Enjoy tastings of the newly created Thomas Jefferson Special Reserve.

The Shop at Monticello (map)
  • Wednesday, October 9, 2013, 4:00 pm – 6:00 pm
  • Reservations: Not required


  • Jefferson and Madeira – Gabriele Rausse, Director of Gardens and Grounds at Monticello.
  • The history of Madeira – Mannie Berk, The Rare Wine Co.
  • The making of Jefferson Madeira – Ricardo Freitas, Vinhos Barbeito in Câmara de Lobos, Portugal.

Artisan Kirk McCauley


From bowls to butterfly houses and from bird houses to letter openers, Artisan Kirk McCauley makes an assortment of handcrafted products out of wood from Monticello. McCauley highlights the inherent qualities of the wood in each item he makes and frequently experiments with a variety of different forms.

His experience working with wood from the Monticello Tulip Poplar trees, long thought to be “originals” from Jefferson’s time that were recently taken down due to their increasing structural instability, has been a remarkably positive one. According to McCauley if the “history alone” isn’t enough to impact you, the beautiful colors of the tulip poplars should do the trick.

“The colors are not normal for Tulip Poplar,” McCauley remarks, “but the wood is so old and there was so much metal added from trying to stabilize the trees that purples and blacks were added to the wood.” This sentiment, that both age and preservation efforts have colored the Monticello Tulip Poplar wood unique, is shared by all who have worked with it, including bowl turner Fred Williamson. “There’s a real sense of connection with the tree,” Williamson says, “The wood was remarkable to work with, much harder than any poplar I’d experienced before, and with an immediate sense of age to it.”

McCauley uses a number of different processes, mixtures of carving and turning, when working with the Monticello Tulip Poplar.

Handcarved Monticello Tulip Poplar Chess Set“One of the most interesting pieces I’ve worked on is the chess set,” McCauley notes. The sets are painstaking crafted with hand tools making each piece one of a kind. “The process takes a really long time, but the end results make it worth it” he adds. His craftsmanship and experimentation have landed one of the sets on display in the World Chess Hall of Fame.

Thomas Jefferson, an avid chess player, would probably have appreciated McCauley’s efforts. Jefferson’s granddaughter, Ellen Wayles Coolidge described Jefferson’s chess abilities as follows, “he was, in his youth, a very good chess-player. There were not among his associates, many who could get the better of him. I have heard him speak of ‘four hour games’ with Mr. Madison.” On several occasions Jefferson sent chess sets to friends he held in high esteem and in 1771 he wrote, “we shoud talk over the lessons of the day, or lose them in Musick, Chess, or the merriments of our family companions. The heart thus lightened, our pillows would be soft, and health and long life would attend the happy scene.”

For more information on the history of the Monticello Tulip Poplars and gifts crafted from Monticello wood, visit the Shop’s Handcrafted Gifts section. For more history and quotations about Jefferson and chess check out the Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia.

Meet Bob Self

Bob Self, Robert H. Smith Director of Restoration, has worked on furniture authentication and column restorations, roof renovations and room paintings during his time at Monticello. He has helped specify details for the Monticello Collection’s line of furniture reproductions and will be instrumental in the restoration of the second and third floors of Monticello and the reconstruction of Mulberry Row.

Monticello Tulip Poplar Bowls by Frederick Williamson










The two enormous Tulip Poplars towering on either side of the lawn portico of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello transfixed visitors for decades. In 2008 the southwest tree succumbed to old age and had to be removed for safety reasons, having not leafed out that year.

In June of 2011 the northwest Tulip Poplar was also removed, as its enormous shaped leaned towards the house and it was feared to suffer from the same root disease that had killed the southwest tree.

A cross-section of the N. W. Tulip Poplar’s lower trunk was sent to Dr. Daniel Drukenbrod of Rider University definitively dated the tree to 1808. This dovetailed nicely with Jefferson’s April 16, 1807 entry in his Garden Book: “planted 1. Laurodendron in margin of S. W. shrub circle from the nursery.” The two tulip poplars appear to have been sister trees, and they are greatly missed for the sheltering presence they provided the house all those years. The bowls from the N. W. Tulip Poplar show extraordinary density and character due to the tree’s age, the soil it grew in, and remnants of lightning rods and cabling throughout.

Fred Williamson has done various turnings for Monticello since 1997, both architectural pieces and bowls from other significant trees on the property. Known for his one-of-a-kind bowls, he has turned bowls and been a full time woodworker since 1972. Fred works at his studio in White Hall, Virginia, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Each N. W. Tulip Poplar piece is signed “Monticello Tulip Poplar II,” numbered, documented by an archival photograph, and accompanied by a card of certification from Monticello.

For more information on products made from Monticello wood, visit the Shop’s Handcrafted Gifts section.


Our blog’s name is inspired by Thomas Jefferson’s Memorandum Book, the accounts he kept for years detailing his day-to-day life. Jefferson recorded personal purchases, daily observations, and information about his travels in these records, which span nearly six decades. His notes about architecture, publications, furniture, clothing, weather, food and drink, horticulture, household articles, and music reveal Jefferson’s diverse interests and classic taste.

Just as Jefferson chronicled the finer details of life at Monticello, Memorandum seeks to do the same for the modern shopper. The blog will draw upon all of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation’s resources, from the Center for Historic Plants to the Jefferson Library, to promote Shop products and deepen readers’ appreciation for Jefferson’s brilliant legacy. By focusing on recipes, planting guides, decorating tips, and book recommendations, the blog posts will showcase both history and innovation, pairing the elegance of Monticello with contemporary design.

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These images of pages of Jefferson’s Memorandum book were taken from the original manuscript from the Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Top Left: Monticello: work memo, 24 September 1804, by Thomas Jefferson. N147n; K149n [electronic edition]. Thomas Jefferson Papers: An Electronic Archive. Boston, Mass. : Massachusetts Historical Society, 2003.

Top Right: Monticello: arches, [circa 1803], by Thomas Jefferson. N147e; K149e [electronic edition]. Thomas Jefferson Papers: An Electronic Archive. Boston, Mass. : Massachusetts Historical Society, 2003.


The Revolving Bookstand: Jefferson and Wine

Thomas Jefferson claimed, in 1818, that “in nothing have the habits of the palate more decisive influence than in our relish of wines.” His own habits had been formed over thirty years before—at the tables of Parisian philosophes and in the vineyards of Burgundy and Bordeaux.

Gabriele Rausse, Monticello’s Director of Gardens and Grounds and a Virginia vintner worked to restore Jefferson’s vineyard at Monticello. Here are his recommendations for Jefferson and wine books:

9781604733709[1]Thomas Jefferson on Wine by John Hailman
This is probably the best researched book on Jefferson and wine. Hailman told me it took him 30 years to research and write this book. I love how detailed he is in every issue and situation on the topic. Nothing is left out—he puts together all of the little details and makes them into an attractive story. This book is not only for the person who wants basic information about Jefferson and wine, but also for experts who already know the subject.


passions[1]The Wines and Travels of Thomas Jefferson by James Gabler
This detailed book tells the story of Jefferson’s travels throughout the vineyards of France, Italy, and Germany as well as his introduction of European wines. I remember when Gabler showed up at Colle (near Monticello) in 1989 looking to see the land that Mazzei had used to grow European grapes (Vitis vinifera). This book is not a difficult read, and is especially good when enjoyed with a glass wine.

Gabriele Rausse, Monticello Director of Gardens and Grounds

Gabriele Rausse, Monticello Director of Gardens and Grounds


Gabriele Rausse, Monticello’s Director of Gardens and Grounds and local vitner, joined Monticello as assistant director of gardens and grounds in 1995. During his time at Monticello, he has worked to restore Thomas Jefferson’s vineyard, located just below the vegetable garden. The Northeast vineyard was replanted using several Jefferson-related European varieties, grated on hardy, pest-resistant native rootstock. The Southwest Vineyard was replanted entirely with the Sangiovese grape, a variety documented by Jefferson in 1807 and the principal ingredient of Chianti. Rausse oversees the production of wine as well as the care of the restored vineyards, which continue to serve as experimental gardens of unusual varieties of vinifera. Throughout Virginia, Rausse is known for his mark on Virginia wine and has often been called the “Father of the Virginia Wine Industry.” In October 2010, Edible Blue Ridge magazine called Rausse, “God of Wine.”

As an Italian immigrant, Rausse shares his Mediterranean knowledge of grapes and wine-making to the thriving market in Virginia. He first came to Virginia to establish Barboursville Vineyards in April 1976. Barboursville Vineyards was the first commercial vinifera winery in Virginia. By initiating the growth and development of this native Mediterranean grape, Rausse created a name for himself in the local wine community. He was drawn to other vineyards, such as Simeon (now Jefferson), Afton Mountain, and Blenheim, to help jump-start their place in the Virginia wine market.

Rausse has become one of the vital overseers in wine production and the restoration of vineyards in Virginia. He began the wine competition at the State Fair of Virginia and received Virginia Wine Person of the Year in 1996. Most recently, Rausse was awarded the 2011 Virginia Distinguished Service Award. This honor is presented to an individual for meritorious service to the council and state’s agribusiness industry.