VISITORS TO JAMES MONROE’S HOME “HIGHLAND” always ask, “How old is that huge tree?” The guides reply, “That is a White Oak and it’s over 250 years old. It was here when Monroe purchased this property in 1793″ This Spring we’ve had visitors from Toronto, Canada, the U.K., Mexico and from practically every state in the U.S. I think James Monroe would be pleased that people from other countries and states are visiting his “cabin castle” in the 21st century, because he traveled from Virginia to Montreal, Canada, Niagara Falls, New York City and Paris, France during the 18th century and to France, Spain and England in the 19th century.
WHEN MONROE WAS PRESIDENT he set out on June 1, 1817 to tour the northern states. ”Monroe’s primary purpose for undertaking this journey was to examine the sites of existing and projected military installations along the northeast coast and the northern border.” states Dan Preston, Editor of The Papers of James Monroe: A Documentary History of the Presidential Tours of James Monroe, 1817, 1818, 1819 in his introduction. (This is a fascinating collection and is available in our gift shop at Ash Lawn – Highland.) It includes speeches delivered by the dignitaries in towns he visited and Monroe’s responses as well as nationwide newspaper accounts of and commentary on his progress. He toured MD, DE, PA, NJ, NY, CT, MA, RI, NH, the district of Maine, VT and the Michigan Territory. In Buffalo he boarded an early steamboat, crossed Lake Erie and disembarked in Detroit. Monroe stopped in many towns in OH and western PA before he returned to Washington, DC 15 weeks later, in September.
IN THE SPRING AND SUMMER OF 1819 President Monroe traveled south along the coasts of VA, NC, SC and GA, then proceeded to TN, Alabama Territory, KY, IN and VA stopping at Highland August 2 before returning to the “executive mansion” in Washington. Fort Sumter was built in Charleston, SC as a result of this trip.
THEN newspapers in every town along his route wrote articles about the nation’s ”Chief Magistrate.”
NOW this old oak tree with new green leaves is going to reminisce about the Monroe family and keep you up-to-date on activities that surround me today.
POST SCRIPT: I learned about THEN & NOW from elementary students on field trips, who gather around my large trunk, gaze up into my sweeping branches and learn how, “THEN one way for people to keep cool was to sit under a shade tree. NOW houses have air conditioning.” “THEN you had to wait for a breeze. NOW porches have electric ceiling fans.” “THEN people chopped down trees to burn as logs in fireplaces, to heat their homes.” NOW I hope they don’t get any ideas!!!!!
About the Author: “SOME of my famous contemporary trees around Charlottesville are now gone — You recall the “McGuffey Ash” which shaded Pavilion IX, home to the creator of the McGuffey Reader, on the Grounds of the University of Virginia and “Tarleton’s Oak” which witnessed Col. Banastre Tarleton’s attempt to capture members of the Virginia legislature at Albemarle Courthouse on June 4, 1781! But I’m still here.”