|Uriah Levy was born in Philadelphia in 1792, a fifth generation American. His great-great grandfather, Dr. Samuel Nunez, arrived on these shores in 1733, and was a founder of the city of Savannah, Georgia. Uriah Levy joined the Navy in 1812, served with distinction in the War of 1812, and rose to the rank of Commodore-becoming the first Jewish American to reach that rank. He is remembered in naval history as the prime mover in the repeal of flogging in the United States Navy. A World War II destroyer was named for him, as is the Jewish chapel at the Norfolk Naval Base and the soon-to-be built Jewish chapel at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.
Aside from his notable and sometimes controversial 50-year naval careerhe was court martialed six times and killed a man in a duelLevy made his mark in American history with his 1834 purchase of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello at a time when the house was nearly in ruins. Levy, who made a fortune in real estate in New York City in the 1820s, repaired and restored the house and opened it for visitors who flocked there to pay homage to Thomas Jefferson.
Uriah Levy may well have been the first American to act upon the idea of preserving a historic dwelling, predating by two decades the first efforts to preserve George Washington's Mount Vernon. Today, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which owns Monticello, acknowledges Uriah Levy's "preservation efforts and stewardship" which "successfully maintained the property for future generations."
The fascinating, and largely unknown, story of Uriah Levy's ownership of Monticello is at the heart of Marc Leepson's new book: Saving Monticello: The Levy Family's Epic Quest to Rescue the House that Jefferson Built.