Flight from Monticello: Thomas Jefferson at War

After the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson returned to Monticello and remained there for the greater part of the Revolutionary War. He was elected governor in 1779 and served for two years. He faced great difficulties in exercising control over the Virginia state militias and merging them into the national army. 

 The burning of Norfolk and other military movements within Virginia are well documented in this excellent treatment by Michael Kranish. He also suggests that Jefferson’s flight to Poplar Forest may have contributed to the death of Martha Jefferson following the birth of her sixth child. Most accounts of this period do not go beyond the incident where Banastre Tarleton attempted to trap him and the General Assembly in Charlottesville. 

Criticism by his fellow Virginians of his efforts to avoid capture brought Jefferson much pain. When his second term expired, he immediately returned to Monticello, leaving Virginia without a governor. His wartime experience led to a lasting disdain for Patrick Henry. It probably contributed to his quick acceptance of an appointment to the peace commission in Paris, which was offered shortly after the death of his wife.

by Michael Kranish

Oxford University Press (2010)