Finishing our tour of Ash Lawn-Highland, home of President James Monroe, you can’t miss this 250-year-old tree known as the Monroe Oak. Seriously, it’s a really cool tree. You may need to see it in person to appreciate its size, with a 20-foot circumference! This tree even had its own blog on the Ash Lawn website.
As for President Monroe himself, some people probably think of him as stately, like an oak, more a diplomat than an adventurer. I even have a book that describes him as “bland” in comparison to others of the same era.
However, Monroe dropped out of college to join the Revolutionary War. Did you know he served under General George Washington, crossing the Delaware to surprise “the Hessians in their lair?” (A Schoolhouse Rock reference for those of you of a certain age).
In the famous painting of the event (the 1851 original hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art), artist Emanuel Leutze painted Monroe behind Washington, holding the flag. The painting is apparently full of historical inaccuracies.
From what I’ve read, it’s not clear whether the teenage Monroe was in Washington’s actual boat. And, he is not the only future heavy hitter on that voyage. Other notables on the trip included future Chief Justice John Marshall, Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton! Think about the historical implications if something had happened to those boats.
After the war, Monroe returned to William & Mary to study law and served as an aide to then-governor Thomas Jefferson, who later encouraged his friend Monroe to buy the Ash Lawn property (known then as Highland) near Monticello.
While Jefferson founded the nearby University of Virginia, Monroe’s home is actually owned and operated by their alma mater (and mine), the College of William & Mary.
President Monroe died in New York City on July 4, 1831. He was the third president to die on July 4, both Jefferson and John Adams famously passing away on the same day five years earlier (July 4, 1826 – 50 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence).
We learned a lot on our trip to President Monroe’s home, and the grounds and gardens were beautiful (plus there’s a good gift shop and decent bathrooms).
We visited on the first afternoon of the “Ultimate Nerd Trip,” after we had driven down from Maryland and stopped for lunch, so you don’t need to devote a whole day here unless you want to.
As with all Nerd Trips, each person gets something different out of the tour. Go see for yourself!
Next post: We’re heading down the road to Jefferson’s famous Monticello.