THE LEVYS OF MONTICELLO – A Review by Jenn Rohm
As I get older, I realize that the history I was taught was not always the full story. In my elementary school years, my family took a vacation to visit Washington D.C., and surrounding areas. One of the places we visited was Monticello. At that time, I knew it was a home that Thomas Jefferson had built and then lived in. It was owned and maintained by the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation. I didn’t really give any thought to who owned the home once Jefferson passed.
Steven Pressman has written and directed a documentary filling in some of the blanks. The Levys of Monticello provides a brief history of the house being built, Jefferson’s beliefs, and his lifestyle. Upon his passing on July 4, 1826, he was deeply in debt and his heirs had to auction off his possessions, including his slaves and Monticello itself.
Naval Officer Uriah Levy admired Jefferson’s view on religious liberty. He purchased the property and worked to return it to its former glory. Uriah faced persecution during his time in the Navy including trumped up charges. One of his legacies was his removing flogging as a form of allowed punishment in the Navy. Monticello was kept as a vacation home and upon her passing, his mother, Rachel Levy was buried on the grounds.
Uriah passed during the Civil War and his will left the property to the US government, they did not accept the donation, nor did the state of Virginia. His heirs had some things to say about the will. After the war, his nephew, Jefferson Monroe Levy, managed to take back ownership and buy out other heirs. Much like Thomas Jefferson, Jefferson Monroe Levy ended up in financial trouble. In the early 1920’s he sold the property to The Thomas Jefferson Foundation.
This piece also brought to light the not-so-pretty parts of the history of the house and its owners. The use of slaves to build and maintain the property, the antisemitism faced by the Levy’s. And the not-so-long-ago 2017 white supremacist rally that pointed out things many thought had been left in history are sadly still current.
I found the piece well-paced, informative, and worth my time. I have taken away a few tiny history tidbits that may come in handy for trivia nights as well. (Watch for the information on the two-dollar bill.)
Director: Steven Pressman
Written By: Steven Pressman
MPAA Rating: Not rated.
Selig Rating: 3 stars
Runtime: 1h 10m
VOD Release Date: November 24, 2023
Movie Site: The Levys of Monticello website
Trailer: The Levys of Monticello trailer
The Selig Rating Scale:
5 Stars – Excellent movie/show, well worth the time and price.
4 Stars – Good movie/show
3 Stars – OK movie/show
2 Stars – Well there was nothing else…
1 Star – Total waste of time.