Monroe's Humble Home Maybe Not So Humble

What we thought was his home may have been merely a guest house
By Luke Roney,  Newser Staff
Posted May 14, 2016 11:05 AM CDT
Monroe's Humble Home Maybe Not So Humble
Sara Bon-Harper, executive director of James Monroe’s Highland, stands in front what was considered the home of former President James Monroe.   (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

History doesn't change. But our depth of knowledge and understanding of it certainly does. Case in point: the Virginia home of founding father James Monroe. People have long believed that the fifth US president lived in a modest, two-bedroom house at Highland, his homestead from 1799 to 1823 located near Charlottesville. But new evidence suggests the home Monroe referred to as his "cabin castle" was, as the Washington Post puts it, "more castle than cabin." Archaeologists last year discovered the foundation of a much larger dwelling on the 535-acre property, the Williamsburg Yorktown Daily reports. The footprint of the larger house is about 74 by 30 feet, per the New York Times. The still-standing cottage is now believed to have been quarters for the guests of Monroe, who served as president from 1817 to 1825.

The search for the remains of a larger structure at Highland were spurred by test results that showed wood from the cottage was cut between 1815 and 1818, years after Monroe moved to the estate. Those results jibe with a 1818 letter Monroe sent to his son in which he references a newly built guesthouse. Furthermore, 19th-century newspaper accounts mention the destruction of the Monroe house. Archaeologists have discovered rubble and charred wood indicating that the larger house was destroyed by fire. “What else haven’t we realized?” Sara Bon-Harper, who oversees the property for the College of William and Mary, tells the Post. “It’s a much different story than we have been able to see before.” Visitors to Highland, fairly close to Thomas Jefferson's Monticello residence, now receive updated information about the property to reflect the new discovery. (Workers accidentally discovered Jefferson's lost chemistry lab.)

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