Flight from Monticello: Thomas Jefferson at War.

Author:Wheelan, Joseph
Position:Brief article

Flight from Monticello: Thomas Jefferson at War. By Michael Kranish. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. 388 pp.

In Flight from Monticello: Thornas Jefferson at War, Michael Kranish, a Washington-based Boston Globe reporter, recounts the worst period of Jefferson's public life. After writing the Declaration of Independence, but before becoming minister to France, Jefferson was Virginia's second revolutionary governor. His tenure unhappily coincided with the British invasion of his state in 1780-81.

The redcoats burned Richmond, forcing the state government into exile, and then chased Jefferson and his family from home to home, most famously, from Monticello. Kranish takes this slender story and places it within the larger, richer one of the Revolutionary War in Virginia.

The Battle of Yorktown excepted, standard Revolutionary War accounts concentrate on events outside Virginia, which was the largest, most populous American colony. Kranish makes Virginia the focus of his narrative.

Flight vividly depicts prewar Williamsburg with its Royalist aristocrats, William & Mary students, rowdy taverns, and political ferment. One of its rare spirits was the inspiring orator Patrick Henry, at the time a close friend of Jeffersons. Kranish relates the parallel rise to prominence of these talented men. Henry became Virginia's first revolutionary governor after the rebels expelled Royal Governor John Murray, Fourth Earl of Dunmore.

When the fighting began, the lower James River cities and the Chesapeake Bay ports were the principal battlegrounds. The Battle of Great Bridge in December 1775 became known as the "Bunker Hill of the South;" Patriots burned Norfolk to the ground; the British fleet destroyed the Gosport shipyard; and Williamsburg became a military target.

Kranish's well-written account abounds in anecdotes, ironies, and subplots, such as traitor Benedict Arnold's transformation from Patriot general to British general, to occupier of Richmond in early 1781. Less known is the story of the war prison outside Charlotte, where British captives from all over America were sent. Jefferson befriended one of the prisoners, Brigadier General William Phillips, and found him comfortable quarters in Charlottesville; Phillips repaid the favor by leading the second British invasion of Virginia in 1781.

In an attempt to undermine the Virginia rebels, the British extended freedom to slaves who escaped their masters. Slave owners were predictably outraged...

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