Thomas Jefferson’s Ghost Haunts Monticello
Thomas Jefferson spent 1770 to his death in 1826 living in Monticello, his plantation. The name Monticello is Italian for “little mountain.” There is a rich and sometimes sad history to this presidential home. Some believe that Thomas Jefferson’s ghost continues to roam the buildings and land of Monticello.
Rather than stay at his father’s plantation, Shadwell, Jefferson had a dream of his own that he wanted to fulfill. He did remain in ownership of his father’s property after Peter Jefferson died, but the son would prefer to live high above those rolling acres of his childhood home.
If Monticello was the fulfillment of a dream of Jefferson’s, perhaps he didn’t want to walk away from it. Maybe this is why his presence continues to be felt in some of his favorite areas of both the larger home he built later and in the original small place he originally built and lived in with his wife.
The History of Monticello
Thomas Jefferson, not only the third president of the US, was also a master architect – Monticello was his masterpiece. He created the home and revised it throughout his life. And, while against slavery himself, Jefferson owned 600 slaves over his lifetime. The Declaration of Independence he penned read, “all men are created equal,” and he did fight for the freedom of slaves but chose to keep his while slavery was still legal.
Possibly, this man’s complexities could be what kept him around long after death. Jefferson died July 4, 1826, at his Monticello home. To add to his creative abilities, he designed the obelisk that marks his grave and wrote the epitaph himself, which mentions his authoring of the Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and that he is the Father of the University of Virginia. He chose not to mention his time as president or anything else aside from birth and death dates.
Jefferson’s dreams of living atop a mountain started to come to fruition in 1768 when he had 250 square feet of land cleared at the topmost point of a mountain above Shadwell. This land and mountain were Monticello, but his home would become referred to by the same name as his mountain over time.
Jefferson later constructed a little brick home of one room with a basement kitchen and workroom – the South Pavilion is what he called it. This small building was where he lived by himself, then shared with his wife Martha beginning in 1772. Martha wouldn’t see the completion of Monticello, as she died ten years after they married and 19 years before he would become president. Of course, it’s possible that Monticello was never really “completed” even before Jefferson’s death.
Jefferson never remarried after Martha’s death. He did move on, in a way. However, after he died, a lock of Martha’s hair was found in a locket he wore for the previous 40 years.
Jefferson died in his own bed. He suffered from intestinal issues and rheumatoid arthritis, which left him bedridden about a month before he passed away. He passed away, ready to move on when he told the doctor he wanted no more help, on the 4th of July. He was 83.
Slavery at Monticello
Slavery is also a huge part of Monticello’s history. Jefferson inherited land from his father, along with his father’s slaves. Then he inherited slaves from his father-in-law, John Wayles. As was common at the time, he also bought and sold slaves.
The Hemings’ family, one of the most well-known names in the history of slavery, changed ownership at this time. One slave, Elizabeth Hemings, bore children with Wayles. One of the most notable in the Hemings’ family, Sally, one of Elizabeth’s daughters with Wayles, would later bear six children with Jefferson after his wife’s death. There’s still a lot of controversy revolving around the relationship between Sally and Jefferson and the paternity of some of her children.
Sally is a big part of Monticello’s history as well – her family being the only slaves freed from the plantation during Jefferson’s lifetime. Monticello stands as a significant piece of history in the story of Jefferson and slavery. It is open for tours – walking through it is like stepping into the past.
The Discovery of Sally Heming’s Living Quarters
In 2017, archaeologists made an interesting discovery at Monticello – they found the meager living quarters that belonged to Sally Hemings. The room, discovered adjacent to Jefferson’s own bedroom, hadn’t been noticed for decades, as it had apparently been turned into a men’s bathroom sometime in 1941. It’s only about 15 feet wide and 13 feet long.
It was due to some old information about the home that made archaeologists decide to dig deeper into this public bathroom space located in Monticello, which had been expanded in the 1960s to accommodate more and more guests visiting the plantation for tours. In the small structure, they found a brick hearth with a fireplace, the original floors to the room, and a brick structure that was likely a stove.
The discovery turned out to be an amazing thing, as it opens up more information about how Sally and other slaves may have lived back then. Sally’s quarters are now on display at Monticello as well. And, while the only ghostly reports at Monticello have been about Jefferson himself, who’s to say that Sally’s ghost hasn’t been hanging around waiting for more of her story to be told.
As with many plantations, ghosts of slaves are common – they lived and died, even if of natural causes, on the property. They were often worked to the bone and didn’t always live under the best of conditions. The trauma of a life of slavery would be enough for some slaves to want to hang around after death for various reasons.
Thomas Jefferson’s Ghost
Paranormal aficionado Hans Holzer investigated some tales of Tomas Jefferson’s ghost in his book “Ghosts: True Encounters From the World Beyond.” After researching ghostly phenomena at Michie Tavern, he was invited to visit Monticello – a regular haunting ground for the living Jefferson, where he would often stop when returning by train from his travels. It’s even possible that his ghost still visits Michie Tavern when not haunting Monticello or the White House.
You read that correctly – Thomas Jefferson is reportedly a familiar White House ghost. According to some reports, Jefferson enjoys playing his violin and can be heard in the Yellow Oval Room. It seems his visits to different places find him doing other things – as sightings of him at Monticello don’t have him playing a musical instrument, aside from the melodic sounds he could make with his mouth.
According to Holzer’s book, the psychic medium he brought with him to Monticello felt Jefferson’s presence in the room that served as his bedroom. She felt that he did a lot of late-night work in his room, which served as a working space away from the other people in the home.
The medium felt Jefferson’s energy in the dining room, as well as that of many others. She had a sense of elaborate parties, by candlelight, in this room. When they moved to the South Pavilion, Jefferson’s original small home, his presence was also noticeable to the medium. She felt a very personal vibe in this area of the property.
While not everyone believes in the abilities of psychics, Holzer always tested the people he worked with – having them give information and feelings about different areas in buildings that the mediums had no prior knowledge of. When they got things right, it was proof that their abilities worked. The psychic at Monticello was spot-on with her observances, from what those on the tour with her knew about the location and Jefferson’s personal history.
Mediums aren’t the only people who have reported “feeling” the presence of Jefferson at his beloved plantation. It seems that Jefferson enjoyed whistling while he walked and worked around his home, and some visitors to Monticello have heard his disembodied whistling. It may only be the wind blowing through the trees on the property, or it’s the man of the house letting people know he’s still around.
Why wasn’t Thomas Jefferson able to find peace and walk away from his home? Perhaps it’s because he didn’t feel like his work on the house was finished yet. He did continue to upgrade the home for much of his life.