Author: Emilie Johnson

a PhD candidate in art and architectural history at the University of Virginia's McIntire Department of Art.


On land inherited from his father, Peter Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson established himself as a member of the Virginia planter elite at Monticello, his plantation in Albemarle County. Construction on the house began in 1769 and continued at intervals until 1809. It is a testament to Jefferson’s interest in classical architecture and the importance of education in the Early Republic, and a statement about his position in society. The plantation began as a tobacco farm and shifted to wheat and grain cultivation in the 1790s, a decade that saw many changes to the landscape and the built environment of the approximately 105 enslaved people living there. Monticello ceased activity as a working plantation after Jefferson’s death in 1826, passed through multiple owners, and was purchased by what is now the Thomas Jefferson Foundation in 1923. Open to the public today, Monticello is both a typical example of a piedmont Virginia plantation in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and an idiosyncratic architectural essay by a man deeply influenced by the architecture of ancient Rome, Renaissance Italy, and contemporary France. The home has become an American icon, appearing on the reverse of the Jefferson nickel from 1938 to 2003 and from 2006 to the present, and hosting an annual Independence Day celebration and naturalization ceremony since 1963.