Tag Archives: monticello

Uriah P. Levy: American badass and savior of Monticello

Uriah P. Levy was the first Jewish commodore of the Navy. He abolished corporal punishment in the Navy. He was the subject of six court-martial trials, a navy record. He bought Monticello after Thomas Jefferson’s death; he and his nephew preserved it for us today. When I ran across his story, I couldn’t believe I’d never heard of this remarkable man.

Levy ran away from home at age ten to sail, but returned home at 12 for his bar mitzvah. He fought in the War of 1812, and was imprisoned by the British. He chose the navy over more profitable merchant work; he knew the discrimination he would face, but felt an obligation to serve, for his country and for his fellow Jews.

In 1816, an anti-Semitic crewmate named Potter challenged Levy to a duel with pistols. They walked twenty paces, then Potter fired and missed. Levy had tried to talk Potter out of the duel; he fired into the air. Potter would not be placated. Four more times, they reloaded, Potter missed and Levy fired into the air. On the sixth round, Levy killed Potter. He was eventually found not guilty on charges of dueling and exonerated in his court-martial hearing. He had five more court-martial hearings in his career, each for incidents fueled by anti-Semitism.

Levy bought a decrepit Monticello in 1836, ten years after Jefferson’s death. In that day, Jefferson’s defense of religious freedom wasn’t held in high esteem; in 1840 a visiting Episcopal clergyman called Monticello a “fitting monument” to Jefferson. Levy’s family had fled the Spanish Inquisition in Portugal. He repaired the house and purchased land that had been sold to satisfy Jefferson’s debts to rebuild the estate.

Levy’s first commission in the navy was the first ship in the navy without floggings for discipline. Levy played a role in the passage 1850 anti-flogging bill in Congress.

Upon his death in 1862, Levy willed Monticello to the American people. His will was broken, and the property was divided amongst relatives. Monticello fell into disrepair. Animals were stabled in the house.

In 1879, Levy’s nephew Jefferson Levy bought the house. He restored it, and sold it to a memorial foundation in 1923. The 1943, the navy commissioned the U.S.S Levy.

I had never heard of Uriah Levy before I found his name in an essay, even after living in Monticello’s shadow for six years and attending Jefferson’s university. He bravely served the country even when his country didn’t serve him. His is a remarkable and American story, and we should tell it more often.

Style: University of Virginia Lawn

There are three manmade UNESCO world heritage sites in the United States: The Liberty Bell, The Statue of Liberty, and The University of Virginia Lawn with Monticello. The UNESCO designation basically means there is something noteworthy of distinctive about the site. I happen to live near to the University of Virginia, so I get to take a lot of photos. (As of this post, I just discovered that all the modern photos on the lawn Wikipedia page are mine. I love to see where the creative commons take my works. Side note: check out my very large Flickr collection of mostly creative commons images.)

Many years ago, Benoit Mandelbrot, the creator of fractal geometry, visited the university to give a talk. He said it was like walking into the lion’s den of Euclidean geometry. I always liked this description; everything about the university is columns and arches and perspective points. Monticello and the University were laid out by Thomas Jefferson, who one gets the feeling never actually died living around here. He was the ambassador to France for a while, and greatly admired the architecture. He came back to the states with those architectural inspirations.

The UVA lawn, shown below, has the rotunda at one end (the second one… the first one burned down and blew up when a professor tried to save it with TNT) and is lined by ten pavilions. Between the pavilions are dorm rooms that distinguished fourth year students still live in. Each of the ten pavilions is architecturally different, and behind each is a garden in a different style which no doubt will be the topic of a future post. Pavilion 2 is pictured below. Professors still live in the pavilions. The pavilions were built in a strange order, to ensure that diminished funds would not diminish the scope of the project.

It’s very easy to find plenty of reading material on Jefferson and the University if you are interested, so I won’t try to write a tome here. However I’ll include a few of my pictures that may hopefully spark your interest.


Monticello, i.e. the back of a nickel