Sunday, July 31, 2011

Jefferson's Grave

Since Monticello was Thomas Jefferson's favorite place on Earth, he arranged to be buried there. Today, his grave -- marked by a larger obelisk erected by the United States government than the original one designed by Jefferson himself -- sits in the Jefferson family's private cemetery. Fenced in and not accessible to Monticello visitors, linear descendants of Jefferson are buried here and the family oversees the management of the cemetery. Jefferson's descendents resulting from his relationship with his slave, Sally Hemings, are not allowed burial in this family cemetery.

While the obelisk that serves as Jefferson's headstone is a common symbol of Freemasonry, Jefferson was not a member. According to his letters and personal documents, Jefferson did not approve of fraternal organizations, although many of his contemporaries, such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Marquis de Lafayette, were Freemasons.

The only element that remains of Jefferson's original design for his grave is the inscription on his grave marker. He only wanted to be remembered for three things, and as such, his epitaph reads:
Here was buried Thomas Jefferson
Author of the Declaration of American Independence
of the Statue of Virginia for Religious Freedom
and Father of the University of Virginia.
His epitaph does not mention his presidency or even Jefferson's tenure as governor of Virginia or U.S. Secretary of State. Interestingly, Jefferson thought of these roles as civic duties, not life achievements. Instead, he focused his epitaph on his considerable accomplishments, which one would have been heralded as a great legacy.

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