It wasn't necessary to squint to believe that really was Thomas Jefferson sitting on the low podium, voicing recollections of his early life in Albemarle County, his studies at the College of William and Mary in Virginia's colonial capital of Williamsburg and his disputes with Alexander Hamilton when both were members of George Washington's Cabinet.
The speaker here on Friday evening, wearing knee breeches and a grape-colored jacket, bore an uncanny resemblance to Jefferson in his younger years: red-haired, six feet tall, courtly of manner. And perhaps no wonder: He was Roberts (Rob) Cole, a great-great-great-great-great grandson of Jefferson who has made something of a career in traveling about doing a one-man recitation in something close to his ancestor's own words.
Cole's appearance was the centerpiece of the latest of the monthly suppers held at Meredyth Vineyards, south of this Hunt Country town, to publicize and help market its line of increasingly good quality Virginia wines. About 130 people ate shish kebab and, looking out on the planted rows, sipped the local product. In the dusk, but for some cornfields, one could have sworn he was in Napa Valley.
Back to Rob Cole. He's 30, just three years younger than was Jefferson when he was a principal author of the Declaration of Independence. He got the idea of doing his act because, alone among Jefferson's living descendants, he looks like his forebear. A picture of Jefferson displayed during the performance bore out the resemblance. Unfortunately, Cole's voice lacks a persuasive Virginia accent, despite his lifelong residency in the state.
Cole, who has performed in 33 states and abroad, lives on a farm in Albemarle County not far from where Jefferson was born. He admits that ancestor worship was a problem for a time, but thinks he's gotten over that. "It happens when you take off your makeup and you're just one of the guys," he said.