James Monroe 5th President, 1817-1825

Birthplace, Colonial Beach, Virginia Born on April 28, 1758, in Westmoreland County, Virginia, James Monroe enjoyed all the advantages that being the son of a prosperous planter brought in colonial America. Not only did he come from a wealthy family, but one that was also rich in legacy. His father, Spence Monroe, traced his ancestry back to King Edward III of England. James's great-grandfather had fought at the side of Charles I in the English Civil Wars before being taken prisoner and exiled to Virginia in 1649. His mother, Elizabeth Jones Monroe, was of Welsh heritage and an educated woman for her times. From the ages of eleven to sixteen, James studied at one of the finest schools in Virginia, Campbelton Academy. He excelled at math and Latin, equaling the achievements of his brilliant school chum, John Marshall, who later became the Chief Justice of the United States. James Monroe's branch of the family immigrated to America from Scotland in the mid-17th century. In 1650, Major Andrew Monroe, son of David Munro of Katewell, patented a large tract of land in Washington Parish, Westmoreland County, Virginia. He later built Monrovia, also known as Monroe Hall, on Monroe Creek, a tributary of the Potomac River near present day Colonial Beach, Virginia. This estate became the plantation that generations of Monroes would cultivate. Major Monroe died in 1668, leaving six heirs, one of whom was William, father of Andrew. Andrew Monroe married Christian Tyler and they had seven children, including Spence Monroe, father of James. James Monroe was born to Spence and Elizabeth (Jones) Monroe at Monroe Hall on April 28, 1758. He was the eldest son of five children. His father, a cabinetmaker and farmer, owned approximately 500 acres during Monroe's childhood. The plantation produced cattle, tobacco, and other cash corps such as corn and barley. The family was considered moderately wealthy, enjoying the status of "landed gentry" on the Northern Neck. Monroe's mother, a Jones from King George County, Virginia, was born to Welsh parents. Her father James was an architect and her brother Joseph a judge. Joseph Jones later played an integral part in the lives of Elizabeth's children. Monroe spent his early years roaming the forests and marshes close to his family's farm. Later he attended Campbelltown Academy from 1769 to 1774 and was placed under the careful tutelage of the Reverend Archibald Campbell, a Scotsman who taught a small group of boys each year. These students studied Latin, mathematics, science, literature, and the Romance languages. John Marshall, one of Monroe's childhood friends and classmates, later became the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Monroe's life changed forever when his father died early in 1774, orphaning the five children. According to Spence Monroe's will, James and his brother Andrew shared ownership of the farm after their father's death. Records indicate that they sold the property in October of 1783. Elizabeth's brother, Judge Joseph Jones, took over the care and education of the Monroe children when Spence died. Jones, a well-respected Virginia attorney, immediately encouraged James to enter the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, the second oldest college in the colonies. James Monroe was admitted into the college division in the fall of 1774, residing in the Wren Building with other young men from around the colony. For two years Monroe studied law under the watchful eye of George Wythe, one of the most acclaimed lawyers in the colonies. Monroe would have finished his studies as scheduled, but they were interrupted by political events in and around the city. A great revolution was approaching and the winds of war were upon the brash young men at "The College." The participation of Monroe's father and grandfather ten years earlier in the "Westmoreland Resolves," also known as "the Stamp Act Resolution," made the young man mistrust the rule of the Crown, and schooled him in the ways of civil disobedience. Young Monroe's suspicion of the royal government, plus the fervor of his fellow students, helped sway his course of action in the summer of 1776--when the military, rather than the law, became his immediate career choice. There is a marker located by the road. The birthsite is located on a 70 acre piece of land currently owned by Westmoreland county. The birthplace of James Monroe was dismantled before 1850, but an outline of the house site is marked. Ash Lawn-Highland, Charlottesville, Virginia Ash Lawn-Highland was the home of James Monroe and his wife Elizabeth Kortright Monroe. In 1793, James and Elizabeth purchased 1000 acres adjoining Jefferson's Monticello. Called Highland, the plantation, eventually totaling 3500 acres, was their principal residence from 1799 to 1823. Known in foreign affairs for the Monroe Doctrine, James Monroe also served as Governor of Virginia; U.S. Minister to England, France and Spain; U.S. Senator; and Secretary of War. Enlarged and renamed by subsequent owners, Ash Lawn-Highland is now owned by Monroe's alma mater, the College of William and Mary. James Monroe, U.S. Senator; Governor of Virginia; Minister to France, England, and Spain, and fifth President of the United States, purchased this farm, originally named Highland, in 1793. Monroe's friend and mentor Thomas Jefferson selected the house site within view of Jefferson's Monticello. Monroe had hoped to move immediately from his farm at the present site of the University of Virginia so that he could be closer to Jefferson. But when Monroe's appointment in 1794 as minister to France indicated a long stay abroad and a delay in house construction, he sent instructions from Paris giving Jefferson full authority to locate the house at Highland and to plant its orchards. Monroe completed the simple farmhouse, the western portion of the present building, in 1799. Calling the house his "castle cabin" he added to it over the next 20 years. The Monroe family considered Highland its home for a quarter century. Monroe intended Highland to be a working farm. To increase its productivity, he experimented with diverse crops and planting methods, becoming, like Jefferson, an early advocate of scientific agriculture. In addition to his principal crops of timber, tobacco, and grain, he, also like Jefferson, tried to cultivate Bordeaux grapes for wine, a frustrating endeavor for all farmers until modern agricultural methods were developed. Throughout his two terms as President, 1817-1825, Monroe often spoke of retiring to Highland. Unfortunately, pressing debts, largely as the result of government service, combined with Mrs. Monroe's poor health, forced Monroe to sell the estate in 1826, and retire to Oak Hill. He described Highland at that time as 3,500 acres with a "commodious dwelling house, buildings for servants and other domestic purposes, good stables, two barns with threshing machine, a grist and sawmill with houses for managers and laborers, all in good repair." About 1840, by which time subsequent owners had changed the name of the house to Ash Lawn, one wing of the Monroe house was damaged by fire and partially removed. In the 1880s, Parson John Massey, a retired Baptist minister and later Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, built the two-story Victorian section of the house partially over the foundation of the damaged Monroe wing, expanding the house to its present size. Jay Winston Johns of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, purchased the plantation in 1930 for his residence and formally opened it to the public, and after his death willed the property to the College of William and Mary, which Monroe had attended prior to his service in the American Revolution. The College began systematic research and restoration of Ash Lawn and reopened the property for public visitation in 1975. Oak Hill, Aldie, Virginia James Monroe (1758-1831), the fifth President of the United States, began the construction of Oak Hill, his Loudoun County mansion, between 1820 and 1823 and lived here following his presidency until 1830, the year before he died. For the design of Oak Hill, Monroe sought ideas from both Thomas Jefferson and James Hoban, architect of the White House. The house was constructed by local builder William Benton. Its dominant architectural feature is the unusual pentastyle portico. Oak Hill was visited by Lafayette in 1825 during his tour of America, and it was here that Monroe worked on the drafting of the Monroe Doctrine, a policy aimed to limit European expansion into the Western Hemisphere and assign the United States the role of protector of independent Western nations. The estate passed out of the family after Monroe's death. The house was increased in size in 1922 by the enlargement of its wings and the addition of terminal porticoes during the ownership of Mr. and Mrs. Frank C. Littleton. Still a private residence, this historic seat is a fitting monument to the last of the "Virginia Dynasty" of presidents. Gravesite, Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia According to a handout from the Library of Virginia, "Hollywood Cemetery was formally dedicated June 25, 1849. Designed by architect and landscape designer John Notman, Hollywood was modeled after the rural cemeteries popular during the mid 19th century. In addition to providing a place for burials, these cemeteries were designed for the living to enjoy a natural, park-like setting. When James Monroe was reinterred there on July 5, 1858, the prestige of Hollywood was established. More than 18,000 Civil War soldiers and officers were buried there, solidifying Hollywood's place of importance in the hearts of Virginians. Hollywood continues as an active cemetery, visited frequently by tourists and locals who come to visit ancestral and notable gravesites, to admire the extensive examples of mortuary art and decorative cast iron, and to enjoy the lovely grounds and picturesque views." Original Gravesite, Marble Cemetery, New York, New York In the early spring of 1831, Monroe developed a persistent cough, possibly a sign of tuberculosis. He steadily weakened and died peacefully from heart failure on July 4, 1831, in New York City. Interestingly, Monroe was the third of the first five presidents to die on the Fourth of July (John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had died five years before). Thousands of mourners followed his hearse up Broadway Street in Manhattan to the Gouverneur family vault in Marble Cemetery, while church bells tolled and guns fired from the New York Battery once for every year of the president's life. His will divided his estate between his two daughters equally. Museum, Fredericksburg, Virginia Through our extensive collection of Monroe's papers, possessions, and other artifacts the Museum endeavors to acknowledge Monroe's role in the development of the United States and to make his life and his times come alive. The Memorial Library contains ten thousand books, and the Ingrid Westesson Hoes Archives over 27,000 historical documents, manuscripts, images, journals, and drawings. The Museum's archives can be used by researchers, students, and scholars by appointment. Prominent among the many items on display in the Museum is this late Louis XVI secretary which, for seventy-five years hid over two hundred letters, written by Monroe's contemporaries, in its secret compartments. On this desk, President Monroe is believed to have penned his seventh Annual Message to Congress, a portion of which has become known as the "Monroe Doctrine." Today the doctrine is considered one of the cornerstones of American foreign policy. This furniture, and many other pieces of European and American decorative arts, jewels, fine arts, weaponry, and personal objects are on view at the James Monroe Museum. Many of these items were used in the Monroe White House from 1817 to 1825. Over the years, visitors to the Museum have chosen many different favorites from the items exhibited. Some admire most the exquisite gowns and gems once worn by Elizabeth Kortright Monroe, while others prefer the suit worn by Minister Monroe while at the court of Napoleon I. Still others enjoy the furnishings, the artwork, and the large collection of personal possessions belonging to the Monroe family: things that define a period of grace, elegance, and taste. The Memorial Garden features a bronze bust of James Monroe by Margaret French Cresson, daughter of Daniel Chester French, sculptor of the famous statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. The garden is maintained throughout the year by volunteers and paid staff.