Protected: Highland


Highland was the Albemarle County plantation home of James Monroe, the fifth president of the United States. Monroe maintained Highland as a plantation using enslaved labor until 1828. He lived at Highland sporadically from 1799 to 1826, making it his most consistent home during his adult life. In dire financial circumstances, Monroe sold the core of the Highland property, including the residence, in 1826, and the remaining farmlands in 1828. The main house at Highland burned shortly after, and by the late 1800s its existence had been forgotten and the standing house on the property misidentified as a remnant wing of Monroe’s house. The property passed through a series of private owners in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It was opened to the public as a museum starting with its last private owner, Jay Winston Johns, who purchased the property in 1930 and willed it to the College of William and Mary upon his death in 1974. Highland initiated archaeological and architectural research in 2014 that discovered the buried remains of Monroe’s main house and correctly identified the standing house as an evolved structure built from an 1818 presidential guesthouse.



This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:


John Carter receives a 9,350-acre land grant, which includes the future site of Highland, James Monroe’s plantation.


James Monroe purchases the original 1,000 acres of Highland from Champe and Maria Carter, dividing it from their Blenheim plantation.


James Monroe serves as minister to France, leaving Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Joseph Jones in charge of Highland.


James Monroe returns from France and construction of Highland begins.


Construction of the main house at Highland is completed; James Monroe and his family move to Highland.


James Monroe lives at Highland sporadically, making it his most consistent home during his adult life.


In an insurance policy declaration, James Monroe describes Highland as a “Wooden Dwelling house, the Walls filled with Brick, one story high 40 feet long by 30 feet wide” with a one-story kitchen wing “34 by 18 ft.”


In U.S. Census records forty-nine men and women over the age of sixteen enslaved at Highland.

March 4, 1817

James Monroe is inaugurated as president.


James Monroe orders the construction of a two-room guesthouse with a lobby entrance just below the main house, presumably to accommodate increased numbers of visitors, and gave the property the name of Highland.

By the late 1810s

James Monroe is increasingly spending time at his Loudoun County residence, Oak Hill, which was grander in style than Highland and closer to Washington, D.C.


James Monroe lists Highland for sale to pay off the debts he accumulated in his years of public service.

January 1, 1826

Facing financial difficulty, James Monroe sells the core of Highland to Edward Goodwyn.


Highland’s remaining farmland is sold through the Bank of the United States to pay James Monroe’s remaining debt to the bank. James Monroe sells seventeen members of Highland’s enslaved community to Colonel Joseph White, who operates a cotton plantation called Casa Bianca in Jefferson County, Florida.

Late 1829 or early 1830

The main house at Highland burns to the ground.


Edward Goodwyn sells Highland to Bernard H. Buckner.


Bernard H. Buckner sells Highland to Alexander Garrett, who changes its name to Ash Lawn.


A porch is added to, or replaced on, the south front of Monroe’s modest guesthouse.


A one-story addition with a basement is added to the east side of Monroe’s modest guesthouse.


John E. Massey purchases Ash Lawn.


John E. Massey constructs a new main house at Ash Lawn, attached to the east side of the 1850s addition, turning the extant buildings into the rear wing of his home.

September 1885

The magazine The Campaign states in an article about Massey and Ash Lawn, “The main building is new, the old Monroe house having been nearly destroyed by fire. There remains yet in use a wing of the President’s home.”


Jay W. Johns purchases Ash Lawn, which he opens to the public as a historic site.


Jay W. Johns dies and leaves Ash Lawn to the College of William and Mary.


The College of William and Mary commissions architectural and archaeological studies of Ash Lawn that affirm the longstanding but incorrect interpretation of the main building as a remnant wing of the Monroe house; research results are not universally accepted.


The College of William and Mary adds Highland to the name of the property, making it Ash Lawn-Highland.


A slave quarters that had been demolished in the 1920s is reconstructed at Ash Lawn-Highland.


A new research campaign is initiated by Highland, spurred by discrepancies between the extant architecture and the documentary record.


An archaeological survey identifies buried remains later to be identified as foundations of James Monroe’s main house.


Highland announces research results that correctly identify the original Monroe home site and the 1818 guesthouse. The College of William and Mary resumes calling the property Highland.


Collaboration with decedents of those enslaved at Highland begins.


Highland’s Council of Descendant Advisors is established.

  • Ammon, Harry. James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1971.
  • Owens, Christopher. “Mapping Highland: A Geo-Temporal Jigsaw Puzzle.” Magazine of Albemarle County History 68 (2010): 53–77.
APA Citation:
Bon-Harper, Sara. Protected: Highland. (2021, September 09). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/highland.
MLA Citation:
Bon-Harper, Sara. "Protected: Highland" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (09 Sep. 2021). Web. 27 Sep. 2021
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Sponsors  |  View all