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James Monroe’s Ash Lawn-Highland

A 535-acre estate, Ash Lawn-Highland was the Monroes’ primary residence from 1799 until 1823. The original Monroe house features tours and exhibits on early nineteenth-century culture. Plantation life is explored through the original smokehouse and overseer’s house, at the reconstructed slave quarters, and in the fields, where cattle and sheep graze and peacocks roam.

(Ash Lawn-Highland Marker)

Ash Lawn-Highland became the home of James Monroe about fifteen years after the end of the Revolutionary War. He moved here to be closer to his friend and mentor, Thomas Jefferson. The home, which originally faced Monticello, was remodeled by a later owner. Monroe’s original home now faces a courtyard behind a two-story addition.

Today, the home is owned and operated by the College of William and Mary (an upcoming site on this road trip). Both Jefferson and Monroe studied at the college prior to the Revolutionary War.

Tours of the home are led by college staff members. The tour starts with a discussion of the famous painting of Washington crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze. Like most artists, Leutze took liberties in the painting. He painted Washington and Monroe standing in the boat with Monroe clutching a “Betsy Ross” flag that still had several months before coming into existence. Also missing from the painting is the driving snowstorm that took place that evening.

After the Delaware crossing, Monroe led a charge against the Hessian troops stationed in Trenton. Besides surviving wounds received during the charge, Monroe also wintered at Valley Forge. After the war, Monroe served Virginia and the United States in several capacities, including US Senator, foreign minister, Secretary of State during the War of 1812 under President James Madison and fifth President of the United States from 1817-1825.

The house is filled with objects that James Monroe collected during his public service, including many while he was a Minister of France, England and Spain. Also among the collection are many gifts he received during his service.

Three Friends, Three Presidents

Three of the first five Presidents of the United States made their homes in central Virginia. Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and James Monroe’s Ash Lawn-Highland are just outside Charlottesville. James Madison’s Montpelier stands in neighboring Orange County. During Jefferson’s Presidency, Madison served as Secretary of State while Monroe negotiated the Louisiana Purchase as Minister to France. Under Madison, Monroe served as Secretary of State and Secretary of War. Like their political lives, these men’s social and personal lives were intertwined. Jefferson hoped to surround himself with his friends in central Virginia. Madison and Monroe were the core of Jefferson’s “society to our taste.”

(Ash Lawn-Highland Marker)

Onto Scottsville

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