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June 30, 1978 - Image 56

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1978-06-30

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56 Friday, June 30, 1978


The Eccentric Levys Who Saved Jefferson's Monticello

the great champion of re-
take to accept a present ter model of one of the capi- ligious freedom).
soon shipped out again.
(Editor's note: The fol-
from a lieutenant "of no par- tals that Jefferson had de-
He became a sailing mas-
Congress, beset by Civil
lowing article is excerp-
ticular distinction," and signed for the Capitol — War problems and finding
ter in the merchant
ted from "The Levys of
that Congress should com- with tobacco leaves where the will entirely too compli-
marine, and then joined
Monticello," written by
mission its own statues, but the Greeks used acatithus. cated, turned down the gift.
the Navy in that capacity
Mary Cable and An-
in the ena•he House voted He saw the David d'Angers The executors of the will
during the War of 1812,
nabelle Prager, which
to accept, and the bronze bust and a model of Levy's brought suit for their own
serving on a raider in the
appeared in the
now stands in the Rotunda ship, the Vandalia.
Irish Sea. Captured, he
The French mirrors were protection as adminis-
February/March 1978
of the Capitol.
spent 14 months in the
trators of the estate, and the
edition of American
Levy presented a copy of in place in the drawing case dragged on for years,
notorious British prison
room, and, in the entrance
even becoming a textbook
Monticello was saved
may be seen today at City hall, Jefferson's specially example for study in law
In spite of the considera-
from ignominious ruin be-
Hall; and to Monticello he designed two-faced clock
ble prejudice he had en-
schools. In the end the will
cause it had the good for-
later brought a bust, copied
countered, Levy stayed in
It told — and still tells — was set aside. One of
tune to fall into the hands of
from the statue.
the Navy. "What will be the
Uriah's nephews, Jefferson
men who believed that its
As soon as he had bought
future of our Navy if others
Monroe Levy, who had been
builder, Thomas Jefferson,
Monticello, Levy hired a the days of the week.
such as I refuse to serve be-
a child when his uncle died
Levy had restored the
was the greatest of all hundred acres (of the origi-
local man, Joel Wheeler, to
cause of the prejudices of a
but who by this time was a
Amerirans. To these owners nal 5,682 acres) for $7,000,
act as overseer and
few?" he asked. "There will
lawyer in New York
— first, Uriah Phillips with the intention of turn-
caretaker, and began to 18 stars, as well as the par-
be other Hebrews, in times
City, bought out the other
Levy, and later his nephew, ing the place into a silk
make badly needed repairs, quet floors, marred by
to come, of whom America
Levy heirs. In 1879 he be-
Jefferson Monroe Levy — farm. It could hardly have will have need. By serving
renovations, and replant- mounted British troops dur-
came the owner of Mon-
ing the War of 1812. And he
Monticello was a shrine. fallen into worse hands.
myself, I will help give them
"All my wishes end where Barclay destroyed Jeffer-
At the age of 61, Uriah
a chance to serve."
Like his uncle, the
I hope my days will end— at son's lawns and most of his
Levy, ever oblivious of two-wheeled gig in which
In 1817 Levy received a
younger Levy was passion-
Monticello," Jefferson had poplars in order to plant
what people might think,
commission as lieutenant.
devoted to the memory
the Continental Congress at
said. And there his days did mulberry orchards, which
But his joy was soon de- married a pretty and viv-
of Thomas Jefferson. His
end, on the Fourth of July, did not thrive.
acious 18-year-old, Vir- Philadelphia in 1775. (All 'first act was to fire the
stroyed by three courts-
these things are still there.)
1826, at the venerable age
Charlottesville records
martial, in quick succes- ginia Lopez, who was his
caretaker, Joel Wheeler,
Throughout the 1850's,
of 83, as the nation celeb- show that on May 20, 1836,
sion, all arising out of petty sister's daughter. Al- Levy tried but failed to ob-
who had allowed the place
rated the 50th anniversary for the sum of $2,500, the
arguments and misun- though both Talmudic tain another command. But
to become a shambles. Not
of the Declaration of Inde- house, outbuildings, and
derstandings, compounded law and the laws of most in the last few years before
only were the house and
pendence. He died believing 218 acres of the plantation
by anti-Semitism and states permitted such a
grounds on the way to ruin,
the Civil War, he enjoyed
that his most fervent wish of Monticello became the
malice. Levy, it must be ad- union, most of Uriah's re- the command of a sloop of but Wheeler had been pick-
for Monticello was assured property of Uriah Phillips
ded, had a short-fused latives were disapprov-
ing up a little extra income
of coming true: that his Levy, Lieutenant, U.S.N.
temper that did not help ing, as were his Charlot-
by allowing groups to use
rare privilege of taking his
many debts would be paid
If a remarkable, some-
matters. The third court- tesville neighbors.
the place fo picnics and par-
and that his daughter, what eccentric house de-
Through the 1850's, the
martial, in 1819, ended in
Mediterranean duty. In
Martha Jefferson Ran-
served a master of the
his dismissal from the May-December couple
Under a new caretaker,
1860 he was made a com-
dolph, would live in the same description, Mon-
Navy; but two years later he spent the summers at Mon-
Thomas Rhodes, restoration
ticello had found him in
was reinstated by order of ticello. Years later, Vir-
initiated — a process
When the Civil War
Unfortunately, while it Uriah Levy, who was one
ginia wroter her reminis-
President James Monroe.
that was seemingly endless.
broke out, the Confederate
was true that well-wishers of the few naval officers
By 1836, the year he cences, in which she told of
the help of Confeder-
had raised a fund to secure to have risen from the
bought Monticello, Levy her pleasure in being mis- government confiscated
ate bills of sale, Levy was
Monticello for her, there ranks, and was at that
had weathered five tress of "the dear oldhouse." Monticello and sold much of able to reclaim some of the
was too little money availa- time the only Jewish of-
vanished furnishings ...
ble to maintain it. The fol- ficer in the United States
• • •
- lowing year Mrs. Randolph Navy, He had at that time
Jefferson Levy did exten-
sold many of the furnish- survived five courts-
sive restorative work, but in
ings, and soon after put the martial and was to end
the 1900s there was an in-
place on the market.
his career as a commo-
creasing clamor for Mon-
Besides, Monticello as dore.
ticello to be owned by the
a family house was some-
Born in Philadelphia in
thing of a white elephant.
1792, Uriah Phillips Levy
Levy, who was elected
Jefferson had built it to
was the descendant of shop-
to Congress, finally of-
Monticello is shown after the Civil War (left) and after it was restored again by
his own, very personal
keepers who had immig- Jefferson Levy near the end of the century .
fered Monticello to the
taste. Not everyone
rated from Germany before
U.S. for $500,000, which
would share his en-
She wrote that her husband its contents at auction.
the Revolution. From early courts-martial, but had
he estimated was half the
thusiasm for two, nar- childhood he was down at been without an assign-
had "delighted in donning Commodore Levy, now over
price of the restorative
row, cramped staircases
an old hat and coat and
ment for several years. This
work he had done.
instead of a single main the docks watching the
equipping himself with a President Lincoln, who,
The government_ balked
one; or for a meter bed- great ships come and go;
pair of shears and going out perhaps with a quiet smile,
room where the bed was and at the tender age of 10 tion on him, for in those
at the price, World Wail in-
to prune the shrubbery."
Levy's fortunes
rather oddly wedged in he ran away to sea, first in- days there were always
She went on: "We were Court-Martial Board.
reversed a bit and Mon-
an opening between bed_ forming the captain who more officers than assign-
The Commodore had al-
overrun with sightseers at
sold to the
room and study, with
Monticello, and sometimes ways said that he consi-
he had invested shrewdly in
Thomas Jefferson Memorial
tiny clothes closet above that he would have to be
these people would come ac- dered himself "a temporary
it, reached by steep back in two years, in time to New York real estate and
Association in 1923.
ross him in this garb and tenant" of Monticello: "Af-
prepare for his Bar Mitzva.
had become a wealthy man.
The Jefferson family
In later life, Levy de-
He had also traveled say that they had come to ter my death I will give
owned Monticello for 91
in the
The kitchen was the
see the sights and the ser- Monticello to the people of
din- scribed himself as "an abroad. While in France,
years, and the Levys had
basement, far from second American, a sailor and a aware that there was no pentine (one called it 'tur- the United States." He died
owned it for 87. Jefferson
ing room; and on the the bed- Jew." He was all these statue in Washington of pentine') walk and ask for in March, 1862, and left it , Levy died less than a year
floor, the becls in all in al- things with deep dedication. his hero, Thomas Jeffer-
as he had promised — but
Captain Levy.
after the sale. •
rooms were recessed
He would reply that the with a few typically eccen-
son, he had commis-
In 1954, Monticello un-
arrange- Most citizens of the early
coves — a pretty
in sum- Republic were intensely
sioned David d'Angers to walk was there but that the tric strings. It was to be an
derwent a complete restora-
ment, but very hot stairs patriotic, but Uriah felt an make a heroic bronze, Captain had gone to town, agricultural school "for the
tion and the dormer win-
m Because the
added emotion: a heartfelt
which he would then pre- but he would be pleased to purpode of educating as
dows and other Levy altera-
were so narrow, all sizable devotion to that part of the
show them through. H4 took practical farmers children
sent to the nation. When
tions were removed. But for
objects such as baggage, Constitution that ordains the statue arrived in pleasure in regaling them of the warrant officers of the
nearly a century this U.S.
had to be
, hoisted to the sec- freedom of religion, and to America the following with the supposed history of United States Navy whose
national shrine was saved
ond floor by way of the dal- the man who had cham-
year, Levy went himself
by the devotion of the Levys.
cony that overlooked the en- pioned that cause, Thomas to the docks at Norfolk to
"The painting of a dark
If Congress should re-
trance hall, or through the
beauty in court costume fuse this gift, then he left
escort it to Washington.
with a number of feathers it to the people of the
Congress seems to have
Although the boy's
The following year
in her hair (an aunt of state of Virginia; and fail-
been bewildered by such a
(1831), one James Barclay, family and friends urged largesse. Some members
Uriah's) he told the vis- ing that, to the Por-
of Charlottesville, bought him to give up the sea and
itors was the great tuguese Hebrew Congre-
argued that it was a mis-
the house and a few
gations of New York,
"When I remonstrated Philadelphia,
with the Captain for deceiv- Richmond — as an ag-
ing these people, he said rieultural school for their
they had come a long dis- children whose fathers
tance to hear and see some- were dead "and also Hirai-
thing and that he sent them lar children of any other
home happy." denomination of Hebrew
A visitor in 1853 wrote of or Christian" (for clearly
being shown about by Levy. there could be no sec-
He mentioned seeing a pies- tarianism in the home of

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