I love visiting presidential and first lady historical sites, so I had to check out the James Monroe Museum in nearby Fredericksburg. This museum may be under the radar, but it contains rare artifacts from President Monroe and his wife that are must-sees while visiting this quaint town.
James Monroe, the fifth president of the United States and the last Founding Father to serve as president, practiced law in the Virginia town of Fredericksburg from 1786-1789. He was born in the nearby Northern Neck region, and after serving in the Continental Army, he brought his new bride, Elizabeth Kortright of New York City, to the small Virginia town as they started their life together. Fredericksburg is where they had their first child, Eliza, and where Monroe was reelected to the Virginia House of Delegates. They moved to Charlottesville in 1789 with his election to the US Senate and kept a home in that area even as he became a diplomat, cabinet member, and eventual president. His presidency (1817-1825) was the “Era of Good Feelings” and his accomplishments over his decades-long career are many. His wife was also an accomplished woman who helped free the wife of the Marquis de Lafayette in Paris during the French Revolution.
The site where his Fredericksburg law office was located is now the James Monroe Museum, founded by Monroe’s great-granddaughter. The various buildings date to the early 19th century (after Monroe’s time there), and contain many priceless artifacts from his time in the public arena.
The James Monroe Museum is located in downtown Historic Fredericksburg, a great lunch stop on a drive along I-95 to Washington, DC. The childhood home of George Washington and his mother’s home are not far from the Monroe Museum. Before visiting, walk the quaint streets that are home to colonial buildings which still bear the scars of the 1862 Civil War battle.
The museum is packed with great artifacts and memorabilia from Monroe’s childhood through his presidency. Enter the lovely courtyard and don’t miss the bust of President Monroe.
After buying your ticket, you’ll enter the museum which is made up of several different rooms. Begin in the largest room where your tour guide will give you a brief introduction to the Monroes. This room contains lots of information about the Monroe family and their life in American politics. Don’t miss the information about how Elizabeth saved the life of Adrienne Lafayette during the French Revolution.
Some of the most interesting artifacts include an original key to the President’s House, some of the Monroes’ personal china, and a chess set given to Monroe by his friend and mentor, Thomas Jefferson.
My favorite display was the exhibit about Elizabeth Monroe, including her dress worn for the Napoleonic court. The museum also displays Monroe’s court outfit (watch this short video the museum put together on his attendance at Napoleon’s coronation).
Your kids will like the children’s section of this room and also the QR codes throughout the museum linking to a kid-friendly quiz/tour of the museum.
Head to the next room all about Monroe’s time in the Continental Army. He was with Washington at pivotal points of the war, including the crossing of the Delaware and Valley Forge, and nearly died during the Battle of Trenton.
The next rooms are about his time as Secretaries of State and War during the Madison administration – the first and only time one cabinet member has served in two positions at the same time! And this was during the War of 1812 so he was a busy man! The last room is about Monroe’s time in Britain and France as a diplomat, and I loved seeing Elizabeth’s jewelry in this room!
Don’t miss the fun gift shop before you leave!
The James Monroe Museum is a perfect stop for any presidential history buff. Add it to your list to visit while in the historic town of Fredericksburg.
- Cost: $6/adults; $2/kids 6-17
- Recommended: 10 and up
- Tour time: 30 minutes
- Gift shop onsite and online
- Dining options: Downtown Fredericksburg is a great place to eat with lots of local restaurants in colonial buildings. We enjoyed our huge slices of pizza at Benny Vitali’s.
- Nearby hotels: Fredericksburg has many chain options – check out the listings on the visitor information site. The nearest one is a Courtyard by Marriott in the downtown district.
- Nearby attractions: Kenmore, Mary Ball Washington House and other Washington heritage museums, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Battlefields (includes Chancellorsville, The Wilderness, Chatham Manor, and Stonewall Jackson’s death site), James Monroe Museum, carriage tours, Rappahannock Railroad Museum, Wilderness Adventure Park, and Fun Land
- Other Monroe sites include: Highland, Birthplace, Hollywood Cemetery, and his Washington, DC home (now the Arts Club)
Books to Read:
Be sure to check out my Presidential book list on Bookshop.org, an Amazon alternative that supports independent bookstores.
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