You may wonder, amid the great fanfare of Yorktown, why so little seems to be said of Rosewell, a few miles up the road.
I shall say why: nobody, or only the hardiest pioneer, can reach it.
"Go to the end of the dirt road and turn right," they say. Four hours later you have covered the five miles or so, and discover it is a very rare "open house" day at Rosewell, the largest and finest plantation house of the 18th century.
You are there and you alone for two hours. Everybody else is running up and down the earthworks at Yorktown or peering into army tanks and jet planes on display. Few of these, however, figured in the revolution.
In fact, the 3,000 volunteers who play the role of soldiers on the battlefield -- buying their own uniforms, donating their endless hours of research, and paying their own way for the privilege of wearing sweaty clothes, cooking in iron pots and sleeping in open tents -- occasionally complained that helicopters and jets quite drown out the puff-puffs of their ancient guns and the soft rumble of their signal drums.
These volunteers, needless to say, are the chief interest of the festival, marching about on the roads. But other marvels are craftsmen working at their old trades: blacksmiths, makers of apple butter (you work a wooden rake in the copper pot for eight hours without stopping, to make one batch) to say nothing of bee people with bees, farmers with Red Devon cattle and women making complex baskets out of nothing more than honeysuckle vines.
Bagpipes assault the soft Virginia air, and little tots reel about in ethnic dances, though we Scots hardly think of ourselves as ethnic. We are, after all, the core of America, are we not?
And all these demonstrations are pleasant. But there comes a time you may no longer sit idly watching the exertions of actors, but must go yourself to a shrine, no matter how difficult. While others loll about.
So you come, after many sorrows and false starts, to Rosewell.
Jefferson loved to visit his friend, John Page, there.
Page is not well known outside Virginia. He should be. He wrote Jefferson early in 1776 that Jefferson should declare independence from England.
The house is in ruins now. It burned. The walls still stand, more or less. Margaret Bressler of nearby Gloucester said last spring they were photographing it and bricks kept falling off.
The huge doorways, the showiest effort of brickmasons on this continent, have vanished but the walls themselves still show what Americans once could do with brick, and were once willing to pay for. Bressler said it would cost slightly more than $13 million to replace the house now.
The avenue of cedars is gone. The riverfront has grown up in trees. The 10,000 acres, which might not be thought large in Australia, Texas or other deserts, but which are vast holdings in the rich South, have long since been sold off.
Col. Page served in the Yorktown campaign now being celebrated. Earlier he declined when Jefferson tried to resign the governorship of Virginia to him.
But he served later as governor, as congressman, as delegate to the legislature and much else. He extended the original Mason-Dixon line. He had much to do with abolishing the law of entail and he was a great supporter of the Bill of Rights.
This house, built in 1725, was as impressive as the governor's palace at Williamsburg, where Reagan entertained Mitterrand Sunday.
"Well, sir," said a robust man scraping his boat on the banks of the York River, "Rosewell is just over there. I could get you there in five minutes in my boat. You're going to have one hell of a time trying to get there by road. Pity you're not a crow."
This reminds you, not only that you are not a crow, but also that houses were built on the rivers, the highways of the day.
At Rosewell the great income was from tobacco. By the time of the revolution the fertility of this plantation had been sapped by that ravenous crop. Returns were much lower. Then the war closed the great market for the crop, which was England.
Furthermore, Page, who spent years in public life, was not on hand to manage the great farm. He also bought heavily the treasury notes issued by Virginia to pay for the war and never paid off. One way and another he lost a fortune, but without men like him there could not have been an America.
There are bricks and bits of carved stone lying about, but you would no more think of taking one home as a vulgar souvenir than you would steal a ring buried on his finger.
This was once a great house. The roof began 44 feet above the ground. The chimneys were capped with carved Portland stone, and the great cupolas rose higher.
In one of them Page kept astronomical instruments. He predicted eclipses, to the wonder of his neighbors. Jefferson wanted to move near Rosewell to live near him, but wrote that the gods would be apprehensive that he and Page, fiddling about with their telescopes, "should pull down the moon."
The fireplace of Jefferson's bedroom still sticks out from the ruined wall, and the ruined wall still testifies to an American splendor as great before the revolution as anything after it. And not just in masonry.