Man on the Run
FLIGHT FROM MONTICELLO: Thomas Jefferson at War. By Michael Kranish. Oxford Univ. Press. 388 pp. $ 27.95
For many of Thomas Jefferson’s contemporaries, the greatest scandal of his life had nothing to do with Sally Hemings. It was his sudden and hasty—his enemies said cowardly—flight on horseback from Monticello on the morning of June 4, 1781, just as a squadron of invading British cavalrymen began to gallop up the little mountain toward his house.
The invading soldiers were led by Colonel Banastre Tarleton, a ladies’ man with a notoriously brutal streak. He and his men belonged to a much larger British army, commanded by Lord Cornwallis, that had been burning and pillaging Virginia for nearly six months. The capital, Richmond, lay in ashes. The state militia, almost without weapons and ammunition, had melted away, and the Virginia Assembly had retreated to Charlottesville. Jefferson, 38 years old, had just ended his second and final one-year term as governor, but his replacement had not yet been elected. To capture the governor—not to mention the author of the Declaration of Independence—would have been an enormous coup for the British, and by all accounts Tarleton’s men arrived at Jefferson’s doorstep with a great clatter of horses and sabers.
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Max Byrd, a contributing editor of The Wilson Quarterly, is president of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers and the author of Jefferson: A Novel (1993).more from this author >>