The Beautiful American

“I wrote the book because I wanted to research and preserve an important part of my heritage. My mother’s family was related to President Monroe.”

a beautiful American

Abby Long is thrilled when she offers the winning bid for an antique desk at an auction. With its intricately inlaid woods and elegant style, the desk is perfect for Abby; it is the gift she promised herself to finally celebrate her thriving antique business. She has no idea that the antique desk holds a secret that will lead her on a fascinating, life-changing journey back in time. When Abby discovers a hidden diary stuffed inside a secret compartment in the desk, she can hardly wait to read the spidery, faded script. As she carefully turns the tattered pages, she reads the captivating story of two remarkable women from opposite backgrounds who somehow manage to form an unforgettable bond against the backdrop of a fledgling America struggling to find its place in the world. Elizabeth Kortright Monroe, the wife of James Monroe, and Jasmine, a young slave girl, develop an extraordinary relationship as they are united by pivotal historic events, political intrigues, and personal tragedies. From a bucolic Virginia plantation to the bloodied, starving streets of post-revolutionary Paris, this powerful tale follows the lives of two courageous women from the past as they quietly influence and inspire-a woman of today’s world.

My visit to Ashlawn/Highland, James Monroe’s home in Albemarle County, was an enriching and enlightening one. It not only gave me an opportunity to experience the beauty of the area but also discover some of the historical information I used for The Beautiful American. Located only a short distance from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, the house is well preserved and offers a glimpse into the lifestyle  of the landed gentry of eighteenth century Virginia. With no indoor plumbing and a rustic kitchen below the main living area, it was elegant and functional for its time but gave me a real appreciation of the household hardships of the period. The surrounding outbuildings provided housing for the slaves and the land’s crops supported the family’s basic needs. Farming, weaving and candlestick making were all an integral part of the Monroes’ working plantation. Touring the Monroes’ actual home gave me a feeling of deep connection with my own historical past.

James Monroe is probably the most underrated American President. He fought beside Washington in the war of independence. He was governor of Virginia and represented the United States as envoys to both France and Britain. During Jefferson’s presidency, he negotiated the Louisiana Purchase with Napoleon and as President he initiated the Monroe Doctrine.

Like her husband President Monroe, Elizabeth Kortright Monroe has not received the acclaim she deserves. This is partly because her bouts of epilepsy forced her to avoid the same outgoing social calendar of her predecessor Dolley Madison. She was nevertheless, a stunning success as a representative of the United States in France. In Paris she was instrumental in the release from prison of Madame Lafayette who was facing the guillotine. The Parisians loved her and named her La Belle Americaine.

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