A storytelling podcast drawn from the worlds of Thomas Jefferson, the larger Monticello community, and the life of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.
The Murder of George Wythe
In late May 1806, three of Richmond’s best doctors rushed to the home of George Wythe—a prominent judge, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Thomas Jefferson’s long-time mentor and dear friend. The physicians discovered Wythe bedridden, in agonizing pain. The cause? Poison. The likely culprit? Wythe’s own nephew. In this latest episode of our “In the Course of Human Events” podcast, Monticello Guide David Thorson—with help from colleagues Melanie Bowyer and Carrie Soubra—shares this harrowing tale of debt, greed, racism, and death.
Freedom, 8 Cents at a Time – the Story of Moses Williams
Before photography, when portrait painting remained expensive but technology was changing how people saw the world, silhouettes – the shadow-like images created from projections and paper – were having a moment. A craze, in fact. Affordable, reproducible, and surprisingly faithful, silhouettes served as valued reminders of friends, family, and loved ones, and Jefferson displayed several at Monticello. Hoping to take advantage of a growing market, renowned portraitist, Charles Willson Peale, used a newly-invented device to simplify their production. Peale hoped his silhouette-making service would attract visitors to his private museum in Philadelphia, PA, driving revenue from both sales and admission. But it was perhaps his young enslaved servant Moses Williams, who learned to operate the new machine and took a cut (so to speak) from each sale, that profited most, using his income to buy his freedom and build a livelihood and a home.
Restoring Monticello's Flower Gardens
In 1924 Monticello’s new owners began the process of restoring the gardens Jefferson had designed for his mountaintop home. But after a century of differing uses—and sometimes outright neglect—by various owners and caretakers, very little evidence remained of Jefferson’s original plans and plantings. It was a daunting task, and it could have ended quite differently were it not for the perseverance, personalities, and ingenuity of several individuals committed to restoring Jefferson’s vision. In this episode of our “In the Course of Human Events” podcast, Monticello’s Curator of Plants, Peggy Cornett—with help from colleagues Monticello Senior Historian Ann Lucas and guide Elizabeth Lukas—tells the story of how two relatively young organizations, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation and the Garden Club of Virginia, worked together to restore Jefferson’s unique vision for his flower gardens and laid the groundwork for future historic landscape restoration projects at Monticello and elsewhere across the United States.
William Monroe Trotter Battles "Birth of a Nation"
Trailblazer. Newspaper publisher. Civil rights titan.Meet William Monroe Trotter, one of the most influential descendants of Monticello’s enslaved community—and someone who too many people have never heard of. In this episode we discuss Trotter’s life, legacy, and determined (but ultimately unsuccessful) effort to stop the release of the notoriously racist 1915 film “Birth of a Nation.”
Theft at Monticello
Enslaved people did not simply accept the confines of their bondage, and resistance took many forms. An example is found in the story of York, a young man enslaved at Monticello who attempted to escape in 1798. It was only after York fled that Thomas Jefferson learned from his son-in-law, Thomas Mann Randolph, that the teenager successfully accessed Jefferson’s bedchamber and took several personal items including books, clothing, and a firearm. If written documents—in this instance, letters between Jefferson and Randolph—are the only sources considered, a narrow picture of this event emerges: enslaved person steals from their master. But there is far more to this story. Learn more in the latest episode of our new podcast series, “In the Course of Human Events,” featuring Monticello’s own Steve Light, Brandon Dillard, and Holly Halliniewski.
A Difficult Visit: Anna Maria Thornton
What was a visit to Jefferson's home back in day? In her diary from 1802, prominent Washington, D.C., socialite and diarist, Anna Maria Thornton, described a difficult trek up Monticello mountain and her disappointment in the conditions she found there. Monticello guide Danna Kelley tells the story with help from two colleagues.
“In the Course of Human Events” presents a concise, yet thoroughly detailed account of scenarios from Jefferson’s time with insight to their significance both then and now. In doing so, the podcast makes the immeasurable value of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello accessible to a broader audience. Keep up the good work!
The Murder of George Wythe
Fascinating new (to me) detail of history, and well-researched. What detracted from my rating is the sophomoric approach of the two female hosts, who giggle over and make light of the topic. It’s not a good look for the institutions they represent. They didn’t quite ruin the episode, but I couldn’t wait for them to stop talking.
History the way it ought to be—engaging!
This podcast is superbly done for the simple facts that it is 1) centered around people, not dates and names, 2) each episode is narrowly focused so you can learn about particular instances of history instead of a broad sweep, 3) the hosts and guests are engaging because you can tell they enjoy the subject matter, which makes it enjoyable for the listeners, and 4) it’s short, which makes it very doable. Excellent podcast!