[JEFFERSON, Thomas MONTICELLO]. LEVY, Uriah P. (1792-1862), American naval commander. Autograph letter signed ("U.P. Levy of Monticello"), to David Caddington, Esq. of New York; Monticello, 1 December 1842. 2/3 pages, folio, integral address leaf in Levy's hand, marked "private & confidential."
"THE MAN WHO SAVED MONTICELLO": COMMODORE URIAH P. LEVY
Levy, a career naval officer who purchased Monticello in 1836, is largely credited with the preservation of Jefferson's architectural masterpiece. Here, he writes to a New York friend in charming jocular tone: "I was hard at work in the field...so buried in arrangements for my winter campaign that I have let slip several posts without returning you thanks for the greatest mark of attention that any one can receive in the country, a letter from a friend in the city." He obersves that "one sees so little of friendship and that of so short a duration in mankind (women your only true friend)." Referring to an unnamed woman, he adds "as to the Lady of Broadway, God Bless Her, why I have been her silent admirer for years gone by, mais depuis que j'ai le plaisir de faire la connaissance my admiration has augmented a thousandfold; her air and manner are elegant...I have not met a family whom I would so gladly pass my life with..." He asks Caddington to "make my acknowledgement in one of your best rounded speeches," and "when you make them a visit, which I order you to do forthwith,...use your utmost effort to see what would be my prospect in making an impression favorable to my views." But he insists the matter be kept a secret: "Mum, Mum the word to all the world & when you have read this put it directly in the fire. If Monticello is to have the particular pleasure of yo ur company you must come soon or else you will find your darling fled to Richmond. The weather has been fine, dry & bracing...when I walked out to my favorite spot a little elevated above the Lawn, then I cast my eye on fields, my woods, my hills, my silver river, my hounds, my servants, my friends and peaceful home, then & there my heart swells with joy & & only sighs for her alone." Finally, Levy alludes cryptically to a certain Captain and a lady who "scandalously endeavored to filch from me my good name." He is an imposter, Levy asserts, for "no such captain exists in the Navy," and is a "very fit companion for those who give credence [to] and circulate scandal which robs another of his reputation." Still, he concludes, "one ought to have a certain charity for the criminal weakness & depravity of mankind," but he has already "dwelt much too long on the beautiful clique" and their manipulations.
Levy, born in Philadelphia, went to sea at an early age and joined the U.S. Navy at the outset of the War of 1812. In the peace-time Navy, "his quarrelsome pride, his shipmates' contempt for his having risen from the ranks, and a prejudice against his Jewish ancestry involved him in a series of broils, most of them petty, but one culminating in a duel, fatal to his opponent" (DAB). Levy was court-martialed six times and dismissed from the service twice, but in both cases was reinstated (at the order of President Monroe, and later, President Tyler). Finally named Captain in 1844 (two years after this letter), he was belatedly assigned a command in 1860 and made Commodore of the Mediterranean Squadron. Throughout his life Levy was a devoted admirer of Jefferson, which led to his purchase of the dilapidated and overgrown Monticello estate in 1836. He attempted to bequeath it to the nation in his will, but this failed due to the Civil War. Letters of Levy are quite rare. See D. Fitzpatrick and S. Sapphire, Navy Maverick: Uriah Phillips Levy (1963); H.N. Ferguson, "The Man Who Saved Monticello," in American History Illustrated (February 1980), 14:20-27; M.H. Stern, The Levy Family and Monticello, Monticello, 1985.