An Account of James Monroe's Land Holdings
© Copyright and All Rights Reserved
By Christopher Fennell
II. Monroe Hill at the University of Virginia
The property now called "Monroe Hill" on the University grounds was originally acquired by Monroe as an 800 acre parcel from George Nicholas in 1789, and Monroe had anticipated the purchase in 1788 (Ammon 1971: 74). He likely lived on this property in the period of 1789 to 1799, when he and his family then moved to the Highland. Monroe referred to his property on Carter's Mountain as "Highlands" or as the "upper plantation" and at times referred to the Monroe Hill parcel as the "lower plantation" or "western farm" (Rawlings 1952: 34; O'Neal 1968: 51).
There apparently was no recorded deed for the conveyance of properties from George Nicholas to James Monroe in 1788-89. Nicholas apparently sold a variety of land-holdings in Albemarle County without issuing any instruments of conveyance when he did so. The heirs of those who purchased land from Nicholas did not receive fully free and clear title until 20 years after his death, when James Morrison conveyed clear title as executor of Nicholas' estate (Woods 1901: 280). Nichols sold the Monroe Hill tract to Monroe in exchange for a part of Monroe's Kentucky lands equivalent to the 2,500 pounds purchase price for Monroe Hill. Nicholas moved to Kentucky thereafter (Ammons 1971: 74, citing 1788 and 1789 correspondence of Monroe; Deed Book 10, pages 188-89, noting Nicholas' residence in Kentucky).
Monroe described his purchase of this property with satisfaction in a February, 1789 letter to Thomas Jefferson: "It has always been my wish to acquire property near Monticello. I have recently accomplished it by the purchase of Col. G. Nicholas improvements in Charlottesville, and 800 acres of land within a mile on the R[ock] Fish Gap." (Feb. 15, 1789 Letter from Monroe to Thomas Jefferson). He moved his furniture and family to this new residence in July and August of 1789 (June 15 and August 12, 1789 Letters from Monroe to James Madison).
Insurance records from 1800 include a "declaration" by Monroe, set out in a policy he obtained from the Mutual Assurance Company of Virginia for the farms at Monroe Hill and the Highland. This declaration describes Monroe Hill as follows:
Plantation occupied by myself. Situated between the plantation of Isham Lewis and that of Dr. Wardlaw. . . . Three buildings. Two with identical description: dwelling house, brick, covered with wood, one story high, 26 x 20 feet. Each appraised at $750. Third building a kitchen, the walls of brick, with wood, 20 x 28 ft. Appraised at $350. (Aug. 15, 1800 Declaration for Assurance, No. 388)One of these buildings served as Monroe's law office during his ten-year residence at this farm.
In 1806, Monroe sold this property and its buildings to Kemp Catlett and George Divers for 1,500 pounds (Deed Book 15, page 527-28; Gawalt 1993: 258). Col. James Lewis, Monroe's attorney, later stated that this sale was necessary because "some of your creditors being themselves pressed for money . . . I was obliged to sell the tract about Charlottesville . . . on which the University now stands . . . for 5 or six dollars the acre" (Oct. 26, 1826 Letter from James Lewis to Monroe). Lewis applied the proceeds of this sale to satisfying debts by Monroe to local creditors, before Monroe's return from Europe in 1807 (Gawalt 1993: 258).
George Divers later sold this tract to John Nicholas in 1810. In 1814, the property was subdivided and all parcels sold to John Perry. Arthur Brockenbrough, the "proctor" of the newly founded University of Virginia, purchased the property from Perry in 1820 for the University. A main house had been added to the property, perhaps in the period it was owned by Perry.
In 1848, two arcaded dormitories were added to the property by the University to house students. One of these dormitories connected Monroe's former law office building to the main house, and the other dormitory was located on the southwest side of the property. Jefferson may have intended to create an observatory on the property. However, such plans were abandoned and eventually the dormitories were constructed to house students attending the University on scholarships and grants (Oliver 1981).
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