He told of the joy he felt when his wife presented him with six children, and then with a tear in his eye, he related the depth of the sadness he felt when they lost four of their beloved children to the rampant diseases of the 18th century.
For hours, he spoke of the love he had found and known for so short a time as eleven years.
When Mr. Jefferson came to a pause and sipped his drink, I asked him, “Do you think you will ever marry again?”
He twirled the drink in his glass and then ever so slowly he lifted his head and looked up as if to see into heaven. He spoke so softly that I almost did not hear his reply.
“When a man has been blessed by God with a gift as precious and loving as my sweet Martha, what right has this man to ask for another gift as precious?”
He then lowered his eyes to look at me and he began to quote “If in the house of Hades, men forget their dead. Yet will I even there remember my dear companion.”
I remembered from my history book that Jefferson had these two lines from the “Iliad” inscribed on Martha’s tombstone.
I saw a tear fall as he turned to pour himself another drink. I had to wipe away my own tears at that moment. I was truly grateful when Mrs. Dobbs knocked at the door and informed us that it was almost dinnertime and that his guests were arriving.
I did not recognize any of the four gentlemen, but I knew they were very influential men, by the mere fact of their being guests of Thomas Jefferson.
Soon everyone was sitting at a long table, in an extremely elegant dining room. I was seated to the left of Mr. Jefferson.
Mr. Jefferson tried to make small talk at first, as we ate our dinner, but one man, who was introduced as Mr. Cooper, had other plans for the conversation.
Mr. Cooper was the most outspoken one of the group. He made a remark to Mr. Jefferson in reference to one of the black grooms.
He said, “Slaves should be put in their place, and made to stay in it.”
Mr. Jefferson became livid. His already high thin voice came to an even higher and thinner (if possible) pitch. “I invited you to my home for dinner and intelligent conversation. The dinner is presently, still offered to you, but my good fellow your choice of conversation disturbs me greatly. I do not hold with those who believe that any man, no matter what his color, should be a slave to any man. You will desist in this manner of speech, or you my friend, are welcome to leave.”
Well, it was quite clear that Mr. Cooper felt that he was well within his rights, as a man of the 18th century, to discuss blacks as if they were mere animals or property. He rose from the table and said “Then I, sir, shall take my leave.”
As he left the room, Thomas Jefferson exclaimed, “I call no man a true friend, who cannot see that God has created all men equal, and no man by wealth or color has the right to own another man.”
Dinner was over.
When the last dinner guest had left, Mr. Jefferson asked me to join him in his study, for an after dinner drink.
When we walked through the main hall, Mrs. Dobbs, (smiling like the “Cheshire cat,”) had obviously overheard the heated exchanges between Mr. Cooper and Mr. Jefferson, stopped us to inform him that she had prepared the guest room, in the event that I would be staying the night.
“Thank you Mrs. Dobbs” he said, “You must be exhausted, and you may retire for the night.”
Turning to me he said, “That is unless you, my dear lady, have need for her help in preparing for bed?”
“There’s no need to trouble Mrs. Dobbs anymore tonight. I am sure that I can manage on my own,” I replied.
“Good night Mrs. Dobbs and thank you for everything,” I told her.
“Twern’t nuthin sweet chile,” she smiled. “Your visit has done this old heart good,” She said as she left the room.
“Mr. Jefferson,” I remarked, “What you said about slavery?”
“Yes,” He asked.
“If you feel that way, why haven’t you tried to do something about it? Do you consider Mrs. Dobbs and the others here, slaves,” I asked him.
“No, they were ‘gifts’ to my wife, and were freed the very day they came to Monticello. They are like family to me. They are free to go, but where would they go?”
“They know that if they left, they would most likely be grabbed by slavers and their papers, that prove they are free, would only be destroyed. They are safe here with me and they also know that they are my closest friends. No, they are my family.”
After a few moments, he said, “You may or may not have heard about the U.S. Constitution.
“Not that you would remember it now, but a group of men along with myself got together and in 1776 and came up with a document called the ”Thirteen United States of America.” This document states among many other rights that, “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
I believed that, when I wrote and signed it, and I still believe it today. Though it is truly a shame, even though I meant all men, including those of other races, most men take it to mean only the white landowners. Tis a sad time we live in, it truly is.”
My mouth opened up to tell him that although slavery will be abolished, that even after 200 years some men still think they are better than others. For once, I thought before I spoke (thank God.) Instead I said, “Please sir, if you do not mind, won’t you tell me of how the Declaration of Independence came about.”
Mr. Jefferson swirled his drink in his hands, he spoke as if he was a hundred miles away or maybe back in time himself.
He told me of England’s claim to America, and of how the many great men, who felt we should be free, fought for that freedom.
He spoke of the British taxation of American made goods and how that if England had its way, Americans would have been slaves to Great Britain, working only for the good of the English lords and other English élite.
He told me about the bravery of the men, who fought in the revolution, under his orders and died, and the tears fell at the thought of the great loss of life.
His anger rose as he spoke of the traitorous Benedict Arnold, of how President Washington had appointed Arnold, in the summer of 1780, as commander of West Point.
He said that Arnold made plans to turn over West Point, to a British general, by the name of Sir Henry Clinton who was commander -in-chief of his majesties forces in America.
Darkness started to engulf the room, so Jefferson stopped in the middle of his story and got up to light the candles on the fireplace mantelpiece.
He then told me of the time, when he was still the President, how he had sent Robert R. Livingston and James Monroe to Paris, France to buy New Orléans from the French.
He said, “When they were finally granted an audience with France’s Minister of Finance, Francois de Barbe-Marbois, the minister had surprised them by offering to sell not only New Orléans, but the whole Louisiana territory for the paltry sum of fifteen million dollars.”
When he stopped speaking, I wanted him to tell me more.
“Ah my dear, the hour grows quite late. I think we must quit this conversation. I believe that I must have talked more tonight, than I have in years,” He said as he picked up a candle, in its ornate holder, and handed it to me.
“Run along to your chamber now my dear, and if I have not worried you ever so much with my reminiscing, then perhaps I shall tell you more on-the-morrow.”
“Oh my,” I replied, “I have enjoyed the night immensely. I am very interested in all you have told me, I will look forward to continuing our conversation, on-the-morrow.” I slowly climbed the stairs.
My mind was racing through the events of the day. As I walked into the beautifully decorated guest room of Monticello, a strong feeling of sadness over took me. Somehow, I knew, I would not be there the next morning, for it was time to return home.
“Just think, today I have received a remarkable gift, a day in the past.
My mind seemed to feel clouded, almost as if a heavy fog had settled inside my head. I felt myself slowly sink to the floor and then I saw the room begin to swirl before my eyes.
I opened my eyes to the sounds of my husband typing away on the keyboard. In the distance, I heard the sounds of my son laughing and playing in the park.
My eyes popped open, as I remembered my trip to Monticello.
Just as quickly as I had remembered the trip, I also remembered it was only a dream.
I simply hate having a dream, that I want so badly to be a reality.
As my thoughts went back to my dream, I recalled that I had indeed, even if it was only a dream, talked to Thomas Jefferson. I felt as if I had discovered the answers to my three questions.
In the land of dreams, I had received the answers about how Jefferson stood; on the subject of slavery, his feelings as a man still very much in love with his wife, and his love for his country.
Jefferson had also related the events leading up to the Declaration of Independence and much more.
I wiped the tears from my cheeks, as I rose from the couch.
“Oh well,” I said aloud. “I know it is impossible to travel back in time, but at least I was blessed with a wonderful dream.”
I decided to go to the kitchen to get a glass of water, and as I started to leave the living room, I remembered that I had not blown out the candle.
I went back to the coffee table, picked up the ancient, ornate candle holder, and blew out the candle.
As I started to leave the room, again, I stopped dead in my tracks.
“It was a dream, I am sure of it, but… if that is so, then where did that candle come from?”
The last time I saw it …it was at Monticello.” Incredibly confused now, I slowly shook my head.
“It was only a dream, wasn’t it?”