And if you didn’t stop to look at some historic sign or plaque beside the road the first time or two you drove a particular route…well, it’s never going to happen, is it?
That’s particularly true if you live in my part of Virginia, which has an abundance of historic sites. And by “abundance” I mean almost more historical markers than people. In fact, according to one of the coolest websites I never knew about (until yesterday), there are over 200 of these historical markers within a fifteen minute drive of my house.
So imagine my surprise when I was doing some background research on Jefferson, just before starting Dumas Malone’s series on our third president, and I discovered I’ve driven right past his birthplace over three dozen times in the last few years. (Within about thirty feet of this sign, repeatedly…)
But don’t let my photograph above fool you. Aside from what you see in the picture, this is an unremarkable location – across the street from a propane distributor and down the road from a rock quarry. This is barely a spot you would choose to pull over if you needed to change a tire. You certainly wouldn’t expect to find the birthplace of a Founding Father.
Thomas Jefferson was born in 1743 in a small wooden house situated on a tract of land acquired by his father (Peter) just a few years earlier. Today this unpopulated area near Charlottesville is known as Shadwell, Virginia. Peter Jefferson apparently named the area after Shadwell parish in East London where his wife was christened.
Thomas spent much of his childhood here but unfortunately, for his family as well as posterity, the house was destroyed in a fire in 1770. Happily, the future president had already begun construction on Monticello, located about two miles west of this location. (You will not be surprised to hear that’s another historic site I have not yet visited…but it’s on the short list!)
More information about this particular marker can be found here.