Thomas Jefferson Sites, Part 5: Washington, D.C., Third Day

 Fifth day, April 23rd

I map out my route, then make a timely departure from my temporary home this morning: I have lots to do before I meet up with someone very special this evening, and I don’t want to be late.

I’ll be traveling today by car, since I have so many places to go throughout the day that aren’t close to one another, but that’s okay, none of my destinations are downtown.

I start with Kalorama, site of an opulent home belonging to Thomas Jefferson’s friend and fellow statesman Joel Barlow, who purchased the property on Jefferson’s advice in 1807. Barlow made extensive additions and improvements to the house originally on the site, and Jefferson, always the enthusiastic gardener and improver of homes, offered his advice for the gardens and orchards too, and visited the estate many times. Kalorama, by the way, is Greek for ‘fine view’.

The mansion and its associated buildings are long gone, the main house finally torn down in the late 1800’s to make way for city expansion in that area. The intersection of Massachusetts and Florida Avenues where I was directed to by one source, and where I park, turns out to be closer to where the gatehouse stood at the entrance to the grounds. The main house actually stood closer to 23rd and S Streets. I explore the streets and alleys about a block radius to the north and west of where my car is, and an alley I photograph seems to be oriented in the same direction as the gatehouse used to be, but south about a block.

In my poking around, I find this great little antique call box, painted by Peter Waddell, who specializes in images of 18th and 19th century Washington’, according to the little plaque on the back. It portrays George Washington, who never lived in D.C.; his nephew, however, is the man Barlow bought Kalorama from.

My next destination is Georgetown, formerly known as George Town before it became a district of D.C.. It’s now known for the university of the same name, its history as a commercial and industrial center for the area, its canal, and its elegant shops and restaurants.

I’m headed first for the site of Suter’s tavern, where Jefferson stayed on his travels back and forth from Philadelphia, and wrote of the delicious glasses of wine he enjoyed there (Jefferson loved wine). There’s nothing apparently left of that building, either, except many stories, since it was a very popular inn at the time and many famous people stayed there. There are also many claims that it’s actually still standing (including one made by a business that’s in the building in question. Marketing tool?). There’s an old photo, supposedly of Suter’s tavern in the Library of Congress, but it seems that neither the photo nor the rest of these claims can be substantiated. John Suter, the proprietor, didn’t actually own the building, so there are no property records to back any of these claims up. From what I can find, it seems there’s a consensus that it was probably on or near what’s now Wisconsin Ave just north of the canal.

As I head west on M Street to make my way to my next destination just a few blocks away, I’m scanning the scene as I’ve been doing the whole trip, looking for markers indicating historical sites and buildings that appear to date to the right time period.Here, it pays off. To my left, I spot a sign with a stylized old-fashioned image of a Native American on it, with the dates 1796 and 1962. I look up and, yes, the building looks promising. I quickly locate the plaques that identify it as The City Tavern and date its original construction to 1796. Great! It’s the right place, the right time …even the right name: as you may remember, Jefferson frequented the City Tavern in Philadelphia too. Okay, okay, the name doesn’t matter, it’s so generic that any city Jefferson visited is fairly likely to have a tavern of that name. Seriously, though, I think it likely that he’d be associated with it for the same reasons I came up with that Jefferson version of the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game: he seemed to know just about everyone, or have professional or social connections with everyone.Sure enough, it turns out Jefferson is associated with this City Tavern too: he probably came here to at least to dine and attend events, since around this time he lived close to the White House while he was Vice President (the White House was still called the President’s House at the time) and then in the White House. He may even have had occasion to stay the night now again, even if it was not far from home: he was a busy, social man with lots of friends, and even short distances to us seemed a lot farther in Jefferson’s time of travel by horse and carriage

I continue on my way to my next stop: Uriah Forrest’s house, AKA the Forrest-Marbury House, AKA the Ukranian Embassy. Jefferson dined at Forrest’s house and apparently stayed the night, along with Madison and others (though my primary source for this indicates that Jefferson spent the night in Georgetown, it’s not clear whether it was elsewhere, such as nearby Suter’s, or this house). They were on that same trip that took them to nearby Notley Young’s house visiting local landowners in preparation for building the new capital city there. Jefferson and company took the time for a little pleasure trip, to take a tour of the area and visit some small waterfalls about four miles away, according to a letter of a contemporary describing the day’s outings.

While the house is named for Uriah Forrest, who was one of the party when Jefferson was there in 1790, he actually didn’t live in that house yet; he moved in in 1792. Another member of the group did, the original owner who had it built in 1788, Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert. Like so many of the other Federal style buildings featured in this series, it’s a tall, somewhat plain but still handsome house of red brick. It’s one of the few buildings that date before the turn of the 19th century still standing in Georgetown.

I decide to take the long way back to my car, via Francis Scott Key Park and the canal walk (I’ll add a photobook with more images of Georgetown soon). It’s a lovely stroll, via simple gravel paths along either side of the grass-lined canal, crossed by steel bridges painted that same rusty-red color of the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, and hemmed by old red brick warehouses, industrial buildings, and stone walls. Georgetown, originally a port town and trading center along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, became a bustling industrial center in the 19th century. Over time, the railroads and then flooding rendered the canal useless as a shipping route.

After my happy stroll, I continue on to my final destination of the afternoon before the person I’m going to meet arrives. I’m heading for Analostan Island, which I had stood over, but not on, when I attempted to reach it by the Interstate 66 bridge footpath a few days before. This time I’m successful, but reach it very circuitously, as I miss the turn at the other end of the Francis Scott Key Memorial Bridge that would put me on George Washington Parkway, and end up going around and through Arlington National Cemetery. But I’m okay with that: I like getting lost sometimes, I find out interesting things that way.

 As I mentioned earlier in this series, Jefferson visited Analostan Island many times. His friend John Mason, son of George Mason (who was a member of the Constitutional Convention and contributed to the writing of the Constitution, but in the end, refused to sign it), built a mansion on Analostan in the 1790’s. The island, now named Theodore Roosevelt Island, retains no apparent traces of its history as the site of a plantation, luxury home, and getaway spot. It’s mostly grown wild, except for the hiking paths that crisscross its perimeter, length, and breadth, and the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial perhaps half a mile from the island end of the footpath that reaches it.

The memorial appears just a little neglected: there are weeds growing through the spaces between the flagstones, and the fountain is waterless and scattered with debris, mostly just dead plant stuff. Theodore Roosevelt’s likeness, large and a little menacing-looking (calls to mind the phrase ‘bully pulpit’, though more in today’s sense of the term than his), is portrayed in the act of delivering some impassioned speech, one arm upraised. If there were a crowd here, the statue’s demeanor would be fitting; the island being nearly empty this afternoon, it looks oddly out of place with its peaceful surroundings, with no sound but birds chirping and the wind blowing through the trees (it’s another blustery day).

There are large stones carved with phrases praising bold, courageous ‘manliness’ which I find a bit annoying; my feminist side protests that I and many of my fellow women are more bold and courageous than many men, and that these are human traits, not ‘manly’ ones. I’m also aware of the warmongering, reckless side of his personality, which I don’t find admirable. I prefer Jefferson’s philosophy, which places a far higher value on courtesy, reason, and compromise, with war a measure of absolute last resort (though not so for spontaneous revolution of the people when they find their natural rights are being trampled upon, that’s another matter; he considered this a desirable thing sometimes). I remember, however, that Roosevelt often used his power to promote the rights of the poor and to protect our natural resources. Parks like this, for example, as are many of the places I’ve visited this trip, are an extension of his legacy, publicly funded preservations of natural beauty and historical places that market forces nearly caused the destruction of. I forgive him and move on.

My main goal for this island hike is to find some remnant of the Mason house, since it’s the artifact directly associated with Jefferson here, and then skedaddle and swing by Alexandria, home of Gadsby’s tavern where Jefferson stayed once, on my way to the place I’m meeting someone later. But once I start tramping round the island, my inner hiker, having been starved of her exercise and natural scenery for over a week now, demands a longer stay. So I forego the Alexandria stop (which I never end up making, oh well) and hike vigorously for a couple of hours.

It’s mostly forest, with large area of marshland along its south and eastern end; I start my hike on the trail that goes through it from end to end, counterclockwise around the island. Much of this path consists of a wooden boardwalk to keep the hiker out of the water. There are birds galore, many of which I’ve never seen before and whose unusual calls I try to memorize so I can find out more about them later.

At the end of the marsh walk, I return to the woods, and I crisscross the entire island time and again. I think I walked every single official trail on the island, some more than once, and some unofficial little narrow ones as well. A herd of deer and I spooked one another when I was on one of these little narrow ones. Most bounded away to my left toward the marsh, but one bounded across my path and ended up very close to me on my right. We stared at one another for awhile, then she moved on.

Finally I come across what I’m looking for, sort of. I find a National Park Service Sign indicating the little rise where the mansion stood. I ascend the rise, and among the trees, find the only sign that indicates there was once a structure here: a few broken remnants of old brick. Perhaps there’s some remains below ground; how fun it would be to dig it up, if so! However, since I never did fulfill that childhood dream of becoming an archaeologist, I suppose I better not.

I find the site just in time, since the time has come to leave the island for the meeting I spoke of. But you’ll have to wait ’til the next installment of my Jefferson adventure to find out who with!

Stay tuned….

*Listen to the podcast version here or on iTunes. 

Sources and Inspiration:

‘Analostan Island’, George Mason’s Gunstan Hall website.

‘City Tavern Club: History’, City Tavern Club website.

DeFerrari, John. Lost Washington, Part 3. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2011

Hansen, Stephen A. ‘General John Mason House, Analostan Island’
and ‘The Kalorama Estate: A Brief History’

‘History of the Forrest-Marbury House’, Embassy of Ukraine website.

Jacoby, Susan. Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism. New York: Owl Books, 2004.

Jefferson, Thomas. Writings. Compiled by The Library of America, New York: Penguin Books.

Jenkinson, Clay. The Thomas Jefferson Hour. Podcast.

Meacham, Jon. Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power. New York: Random House, 2012.

Shippen, Thomas Lee. ‘Letter to William Shippen, Sep. 15. 1790’. Founders Online, website

‘Timeline of Jefferson’s Life’. Website of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.

‘Washington, D.C.’ Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia, website.

Thomas Jefferson Sites, Part 1: Washington, D.C., First Day

First day, Sunday April 19th:

I get a late start on my first day. But that’s okay: I’ve long since made it my policy to get my rest at the beginning of a trip because three things happen when I’m sleep-deprived: 1) I’m cranky and don’t enjoy myself fully 2) It’s much harder to take in everything and remember it, and 3) I lose my sense of direction and ability to read maps. Since I need to have my good spirits and my thinking, remembering, and map-reading capabilities intact for the purposes of this trip, I sleep in. I get a late start on my first day. But that’s okay: I’ve long since made it my policy to get my rest at the beginning of a trip because three things happen when I’m sleep-deprived: 1) I’m cranky and don’t enjoy myself fully 2) It’s much harder to take in everything and remember it, and 3) I lose my sense of direction and ability to read maps. Since I need to have my good spirits and my thinking, remembering, and map-reading capabilities intact for the purposes of this trip, I sleep in.

When I finally get a move on, I head over to the Mall, and start with:

– The Jefferson Memorial 
It’s neoclassical in design, inspired by the ancient Greek and Roman architecture that Jefferson loved. It’s also tall, well-appointed, classy, and full of memorable quotes… like the man himself. He would also appreciate its open-air design, its setting among trees and on the water: he was quite the outdoorsman, as studious and writerly as he was. And he would love to see the crowds that visit the site continuously, people from all walks of life, admiring the building and the grounds, resting on the steps, discussing the thoughts expressed on the walls.

Jefferson would probably have protested the idea of setting up such a grand monument to himself, something so close to a shrine or a temple; he described himself as a modest man. But it’s also clear, despite his protestations to the contrary, that he enjoyed being admired, that he sought love and approval from others. I think he’d look on this monument with secret pride and gratification, and would praise its hospitable openness to the public, as available to them as he made himself and the White House during the years of his presidency, and its edification to the people’s sense of beauty and the intellect.

I visit the museum beneath the memorial, which gives an overview of his life, times, and ideas. Jefferson was born at Shadwell in Albemarle County, Virginia in 1743, his father a successful planter, his mother from a well-connected, wealthy family. Jefferson was educated at home by tutors and at boarding schools as a youth, and studied law at William and Mary College. He entered public life early, elected to Virginia’s House of Burgesses at age 25. His tenure as a public servant lasted over 40 years, from congressman to minister to France to Secretary of State to President. All the while, he was a farmer, amateur scientist, inventor, architect, writer, philosopher, and whatever else captured his imagination, more details of which will come up in later posts.

As I leave Jefferson’s memorial, I waver in deciding where to go next: do I abandon the Mall and go immediately in search of other sites associated with Jefferson’s life, or do I continue on my way? It’s really a beautiful day, a bit windy, perhaps, but it’s fairly warm and there’s still some cherry blossoms left on the trees and wildflowers scattered all around the Mall’s park grounds.

I decide do something a little different this time: I usually stick to writing about the sites more or less directly related to the people I’m writing about, be it sites they visited themselves or sites created by others in their memory. But it occurs to me that I’m surrounded by memorials to people who, in addition to carrying out their own vision, carried out something of Jefferson’s vision as well. Nearly all American civic and moral leaders since Jefferson’s time reference his ideas when promoting their own, and cite his authority in carrying out their political missions. That’s to be expected: none of the members of our nation’s founding generation addressed so many matters of public concern, wrote or helped to write so many of its founding documents, explained the philosophy behind our form of government and our bill of rights so throughly, helped formulate the political structure of our government, and personally lived out our promises, our strengths, our contradictions, and our weaknesses as a nation as Thomas Jefferson, with the possible exception of James Madison and John Adams.

And no others were as widely influential, and who, while a de facto aristocrat, was more of a man of the people than Jefferson, with the possible exception of… (and who, by the way, laid the cornerstone of the Jefferson Memorial…)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial

…FDR!A year or so ago, I first listened to an utterly fascinating episode of the Thomas Jefferson Hour discussing how Jeffersonian ideals may only be realizable by non-Jeffersonian means. It’s a radio show and podcast by Jefferson scholar and historian Clay Jenkinson (one of my all-time favorite podcasts, I’ve listened to every one that I could get ahold of at least once, often two or three times, except the ones about gardening, since I have no yard and hence, no garden). I recently went back and listened to again. It’s a discussion on Jefferson’s letters to Madison, and one in particular, after he had spent some years in Paris before the French Revolution. Jefferson discussed the dangerous political situation in France that resulted from a long history of a powerful and wealthy few systematically gobbling up most of the nation’s wealth and political power for themselves, leaving the majority of the population destitute. It was only a matter of time, Jefferson pointed out, before the people could take no more, and would inevitably rise up violently against their oppressors.

It’s always been the case that there will be some portion of a nation’s population that lack sufficient humanity, that are greedy and rapacious, and their thirst for power and hunger for wealth will drive them to spend their lives getting as much as they can, regardless of how many others they must harm to get it. Others might not be so purposeful in their predations, but their shortsighted efforts to increase their own personal gains without a though for the welfare of others, or a blind faith that the market will alwasy correct itself, often lead to the same harmful results. Because of this, Jefferson explains, it might very well be necessary for society to engage in some sort of redistribution of wealth.

Given Jefferson’s background as a passionate promoter of states’ rights and his fear of a too-powerful central government, this might come as a surprise to the modern reader, as it was to me when I first heard Jenkinson’s podcast on the subject, and read the letter for myself. But Jefferson was a believer in John Locke’s theory of natural rights, as Jenkinson explains, and in particular, in his theory of property rights. Our primary property right is the right of subsistence, to have enough to provide for one’s own needs, to preserve the health of one’s body and of mind. Our secondary property rights allows for the accumulation of wealth beyond that needed to maintain a happy and healthy existence, but we may only take advantage of secondary property rights if they do not infringe on the primary property rights of others.

This is the key point of property rights that many overlook today, especially those who select from Jefferson’s writings, especially his early writings before the evidence of the dysfunctional and unraveling French society tempered his views, to support their ideas about small government and absolute rights of property and contract. But Franklin Delano Roosevelt, like his progressive cousin Theodore Roosevelt, realized that the pursuit of personal gain without respect for to the primary property rights of others led to a society that systematically placed Jefferson’s ideals of a self-sufficient, educated, free citizenry out of the reach of too many people. Teddy Roosevelt, initially a more strait-laced conservative, had toured the slums of New York City, and had seen for himself how the ruthless, unrestrained pursuit of profit led to the impoverishment, sickness, and death of so many people, rendered easily exploitable by circumstance. In response, he changed his mind about the extent of rights of contract and made some reforms. Spurred on by the Great Depression, FDR carried forward the progressive vision of his cousin and overhauled the whole system, enlarging the government so it would work better for the ordinary citizen in the way Jefferson had hoped a small government would.

– Martin Luther King Jr Memorial

MLK was quite the wordsmith; besides revealing extraordinary personal bravery in the face of repeated and threatened imprisonment as well as death threats, he had a way, like Jefferson, of putting things.There are many of his memorable quotes engraved on the walls surrounding his memorial. One that’s not engraved on his memorial (but I think should be) is the one that links most directly to Jefferson and that stands out in both succinctness and explanatory power: his analogy of the promissory note from his great ‘I Have a Dream Speech’ of 1963.

At the time they were written and first put into action, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution increased the liberty of very few people. In severing themselves from Great Britain, the leaders of our new country mostly secured more rights for themselves and those like them: landowners, lawyers, merchants, and so on. The ordinary colonist lived more or less the same life just after the Constitution was ratified as before. Most free men could not vote since they were not property owners and/or were not fully literate, and no women or slaves at all could vote. Same for members of some religious minorities; this situation was one of the first political injustices to be reformed. Taxes went to a new set of leaders almost as far removed from the reality of most Americans as before. In other words, ‘taxation without representation’ was still the rule rather than the exception in the newly United States of America.

As MLK pointed out, the promissory note promising ‘liberty and justice for all’ remained unpaid: for black people, for other ethnic and racial minorities, for women, for working people. He revealed, in an eloquent and moving way (aided by his experience as a preacher), how the words of the Declaration of Independence rang hollow since ‘all …are created equal’ was not manifested in law, attitudes, and practice in the lives of far too many American people.

While he reviled and wrote and fought against slavery as a young lawyer and politician, giving up the fight after years of unsuccessful opposition to (and I add, hypocritically enjoying the benefits of) of what he called the ‘abominable crime’ of slavery, Jefferson also believed the races could not live together in peace and friendship. MLK dreamed otherwise.

 Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln, unlike Jefferson, was a man brought up in poverty, and had little formal education in his youth. Like Jefferson, he was largely self-motivated and self-taught in his advanced education, and like Jefferson, hated slavery as a young man and spoke passionately and eloquently against it, only to waffle on the issue in his later years somewhat for reasons of personal bias, and even more for political reasons. Fortunately, yet again unlike Jefferson, he came back around, and did what Jefferson had hoped and predicted future generations would do.
The violence of the Civil War was as horrific as were the centuries of slavery that proceeded it; while it’s debatable whether it could have been averted or that it was the inevitable outcome of the discrepancy between the practice of slavery, the political and moral theory informing our founding documents, and the individual human longing for freedom, Lincoln, like MLK, recognized the societal moral debt that remained unpaid, using the rhetoric of blood redemption in the words of his second inaugural address, immortalized on the right wall of his memorial: ‘…shall [the Civil War] continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-men’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn by the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.”

And as Jefferson pointed out in his letters referring to the bloody Revolution in France, it would be unrealistic to expect that the struggle for freedom against such a deeply entrenched, cruel, and oppressive institution would be pleasant or easy. Jefferson famously wrote ‘The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.’ I hope he’s wrong when it comes to the future, though he was not wrong about the revolutions of his own time and about the worsening effects of slavery on society. There’s an excellent book I often refer to, Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature (a phrase borrowed from Lincoln) which, as the book’s subtitle Why Violence Has Declined suggests, indicate that, among other things, the free(ish) market world economy, the scientific and human rights revolutions, and the advances in communications are making the world a much more peaceful place than it ever has been. Perhaps these advances will give many more of us the potential to become as informed, as cosmopolitan, and as courteous as Jefferson himself.

I had come to the end of my tour of the memorials.
Between visiting the MLK and Lincoln Memorials, I had swung around to the left to see if I could stop by what is now know as Theodore Roosevelt Island, known in Jefferson’s time as Analostan. He used to visit his friend John Mason, who had a farm and mansion there. The 66 connects it to the mainland, and there’s a footpath on the bridge.

It was a blustery walk, to say the least, and I discovered that footpath reaches across, but not down to, the island. I’ll return to visit another time. But looking back, I could plainly see TJ’s memorial between the trees.My Uncle Bob, who lives in nearby Fall’s Church, Virginia, picked me up to take me on a little driving tour and then to dinner. I’m fond of my Uncle Bob, tall, handsome (a common trait of the Cools’), courteous, old-fashioned in his sensibilities and speech, seemingly grave and imposing with his deep and slightly thick voice (I was a little scared of him as a child, funny to think of that now!), but with an enthusiasm that would rival any small child’s when it comes to seeing something beautiful or discussing a subject he loves. He has a good sense of humor.
On our way around the Mall, we passed by the corner of C and New Jersey Streets, where Conrad and McMunn’s boarding house was. Jefferson lived there for a while when he was Vice President, but the building no longer stands. I check it off my list. The rest of the evening is devoted to non-Jeffersonian-themed touring and dinner.

To be continued….

*Listen to the podcast edition here or on iTunes


Sources and Inspiration: 

Jacoby, Susan. Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism. New York: Owl Books, 2004.

Jenkinson, Clay. The Thomas Jefferson Hour. Podcast.

King, Martin Luther, Jr. ‘I Have A Dream’ Speech, 1963.

Meacham, Jon. Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power. New York: Random House, 2012.

‘Timeline of Jefferson’s Life’. Website of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.

‘Washington, D.C.: Sites Associated with Thomas Jefferson’. Wiki, Thomas Jefferson Foundation.,_D.C.