Jason Cochran

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Thomas Jefferson's Grave

Thomas Jefferson’s gravestone: Maybe they toss pennies just to spite him

I think Thomas Jefferson’s gravestone is weird.

First of all, the well-wishers throw a lot of pennies on it. You’d think more people would toss nickels on Thomas Jefferson’s grave. After all, Thomas’s head, which is on the face of the nickel, lies just feet below the stone, and the image of his slavemanse Monticello, just down the path, is on the reverse. If a man is going to work so hard in life that he earns the nickel in death, the least people could do is chuck his own head at his headstone.

But the oddest thing about Jefferson’s grave is the way his birthdate is carved: April 2, 1743 O.S.

On my recent visit, tourists pressed their faces to the metal fence around his marker. “What’s that stand for?” one older lady asked.

Another visitor, a younger man with a baseball cap announced what he thought was the answer: “Our savior,” he said, as if the matter was settled.

“Oh,” said the elderly woman, who didn’t seem convinced.

The curators at Monticello, love ‘em, are aware of the confusion. They’ve drawn up a blog post about it. In my mind, such explanations help offset the $22 ticket price.

The story about the O.S. is this: The calendar used to be lopsided. Before 1752, Westerners used the Julian calendar, for which the first day of the year was March 25. But the calendar was imperfect, and its holidays didn’t properly coincide with the seasons year after year. A tidier, more accurate calendar was called for.

So the Gregorian calendar was invented, which started the new year on January 1, as we have it today. To make the switch, though, 11 days had to be chopped out of the year somewhere. Early September, 1752, was selected as the victim.

Jason Cochran and statue of Thomas Jefferson

Me with Tommy, a natural redhead, at Monticello, near Charlottesville, VA

(Something similar happened on November 18, 1883, the so-called “Day of Two Noons,” on which the minute and the hour across America underwent a similar synchronization. Except in that effort, people lost only some time off their lunch hours, and not nearly two weeks of their lives. I wrote about that on my blog last year. Curiously, 1883 was the same year the current Jefferson monument was erected. It’s possible the person who instructed that O.S. was to be carved, and didn’t simply translate the date to N.S. to spare us faulty tourist intellectual bravado, might have had a bee in their bonnet about that Day of Two Noons thing.)

Anyway, people in the American colonies went to bed on September 2, 1752, and they woke up on September 14, 1752. The intervening 11 days never happened.

If you had been born before those omitted 11 days, you were born using the Old Style calendar. Afterward, it was the New Style calendar, or N.S.

Something else from that period challenges historians and genealogists: When dates were written before everyone settled on what the calendar was, sometimes they were written in reference to the first month of the year — then, March. For example, if you were a Quaker, your birthdate might have been recorded as happening on the 19th day of the in the second month of the year, meaning April. So a date of 2/19/1690 would be April 19th, 1690.

Like the Metric system, the switchover happened fitfully and variously, depending on the political whims of the government and the laziness of the scribe in question. That means we’d better not talk even about the year, because you often had to add a year depending on whether the subject was using the Old Style or the New Style calendar. The Ancestry.com entry about all this confusion makes high school algebra look easy.

We could technically still carve N.S. on our gravestones today, and maybe I will, since I don’t have a coin made out of my face and I’ll need to leave something buzzy behind.

That’s what Thomas’s O.S. means. And it also means you have to add 11 days, or April 13, 1743, if you want to translate his birthdate into modern terms. It also means that for 11 days in 1752, when he was nine years old, Thomas Jefferson didn’t exist. No one in the American colonies did.

Flowers at Monticello

They’re pushing up more than daisies at Monticello

Monticello’s masters also have something else to say about where The Big Jeff is interred. The woman who guided me around the lost slave quarters area told me that even though DNA tests proved that a Jefferson — probably Thos., maybe not — had fathered a child (and maybe as many as six) by his slave Sally Hemings, the living descendants of Jefferson won’t allow that non-white wing of the family to share the family burial plot.

It’s still an active plot, and Jefferson fruit is still planted there after it falls from the family tree, but no non-white Jeffersons will be permitted, per family vote, to join them. DNA tests, after all, are never 100% definitive — more like 99 % — but as my guide told it, the family, sneakily, has decided that no one from the Hemings line shall join them in eternal rest until it’s been 100% proven that TJ was the babydaddy.

Monticello’s keepers, operating under a lawyer’s burden of proof rather than under the shield of logical likelihood that historians prefer, politely hedge about the DNA evidence record. Frustratingly, they seem to placate the stance of the Jefferson clan by admitting that we can’t be “entirely” sure.

The family, drenched in an undying sense of honor, appears obsessed with protecting his virtue even though his wife Martha had died a quarter century before the first alleged child was conceived. Two centuries later, they’re still smarting from the drubbing our old redhead took in the press. The way I see it, though, someone lying behind that metal fence at the Jefferson family plot fathered the Hemings line, because that’s where the DNA points.

That 1% of doubt, like that one drop of black blood in miscegenation days, keeps the Hemings-Jefferson line from claiming its full rights, and from the honor of having its progenitor’s head hurled at them daily on the obverse of legal tender.

Maybe the O.S. should stand for “Owes Sally.”

Fence of Thomas Jefferson Burial Plot

“You shall not pass!” (Even if you pass.)

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Published on: Blog by Jason Cochran (@bastable)

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32 comments. Add a Comment:

  1. To me one of the highlights of traveling is getting an idea of life in other places (realizing, of course, that 5 days somewhere can’t fully show me what life is really like anywhere) and hopefully better appreciating what I have and becoming more generous as a result. It would have been hard to continue to enjoy my unlimited buffet while looking at the fence keeping me from anything but a controlled adult theme park environment.

  2. Good post, I think that people on a cruise often want to be wrapped in a fantasy where real doesn’t impinge. There’s a dissociative nature to cruising, you visit places but aren’t really there…

  3. And the places you visit aren’t really there, either.

  4. I was on the same cruise with you. We saw the men behind the fence and I noticed that the native workers on the cruise side were watching me closely as I looked past the wall. I was very aware of the fact that we were not seeing the “real” Haiti.

    We tipped our waiter and room attendant extra by putting cash in the envelopes.

    I have better pictures of the Cubans also if you are interested.

  5. Robbie, thanks for leaving a comment. I’m glad to see you had the same experiences that I had, and that you can affirm that you also had to circumvent Royal Caribbean’s miserly gratuity allowance by using cash. I’ll send you a message off-board and maybe I can put some of your images into my post about the raft of Cuban refugees.

  6. Ana Figueroa says:

    Really enjoyed your post, it touches on some
    important themes underlying the cruise industry
    that are too rarely discussed. I will always remember a press trip a decade ago, where we
    kayaked around Labadee as local children
    jumped into the water and swam to us offering
    shells and pleading for money. It was heartbreaking because of course we had no cash
    on us, having left valuables on shore. I always
    since then take extra cash on any cruise. You’d be shocked to hear some of my stories ! Good job on this Jason.

  7. I don’t think anyone feels for the plight of Haitains who are desperate for food and a better life. But at the end of the day, this is Haiti’s fault. Royal Caribbean sends the people in the area food and supplies in the form of charity, plus the fact they provide jobs to the people, who often run the excursions available such as parasailing.

  8. Ronn Lucas says:

    Ronn Lucas here (your ship’s ventriloquist!) I was at dinner at the Oasis Asian eatery, Izumi’s, when the ship glided to a stop. The captain thought a life raft was in the water but soon clarified that it was the refugees. Eventually, it was announced over the P.A. that the Cuban’s had accepted our offer of food and water but opted to sail away from us. (Thank God the ocean was flat, peaceful and calm that day.) When they crossed our bow and came into my view it hit me, hard, that I’m sitting down in a lux environment eating sushi and they’re paddling right in front of me trying to escape to a better life. Surreal – but powerfully sad. RCCL is overall a good and caring company. I firmly believe that RCCL did everything possible to bring these people aboard. But a Miami native we were sitting next to, said that our govt. in Fla. would just process them and send them back. The Cuban refugees knew that too. So they paddled away from us. I was left feeling helpless to act. I care, and I want to know what happened to them…

  9. I completely agree that Haitian poverty is not Royal Caribbean’s fault but the fault of government corruption (not just by Haiti but also by that of the United States — see http://www.projectcensored.org/top-stories/articles/16-us-repression-of-haiti-continues/). In fact, there is undeniable evidence that the cruise line’s involvement has done very positive things for that particular community. My objection, besides the sobering philosophical juxtaposition of loafing vacationers and struggling locals, is that the cruise line actively denies customers the ability to interact with the “real” Haiti even if they want to. There is certainly some sound security reasoning behind that segregation, and there are surely some economic factors, too. But in light of such pronounced wealth disparity, and considering the cruise line has taken some flak in the press for operating a luxury beach enclave in such a poor nation, it’s worth pointing out not only that this goes on but also that such interactions are forbidden.

  10. I suppose it’s great that RC goes to this island, though I always felt really guilty going there, especially on the last cruise as I was staring down at Labadee from the 17th floor on my Crown Loft Suite balcony looking down on Haiti. Like you, I wanted to do more than buy some local merchandise from the vendors. Don’t forget that you can always donate money to aid Haiti after your cruise. I donate to http://newmissions.org/

  11. my family and i also went around the gratuity “recommendations” and slipped cash in our gratuity envelopes – our waiter went above and beyond to accommodate our large group of 14 and catered to the kids in our group (as well as the adults) and deserved more than a measly $4/day

  12. Only a socialist workers revolution can really save hunger and extreme poverty in the nation of Haiti, as well as many other countries of this world. Hunger and poverty cannot be cured with foundations, with charities. Hunger and extreme poverty can only be cured with a class revolution. With the oppressed class of Haiti overthrowing their oppressor cleptocrats. But according to my reading of marxist philosophy. Capitalism will be overthrown first in the developed richest 20 nations of this world (The Big 20) and then spread to poorer nations.

  13. At last, the name of “Hispagnola” is longer used. CR never informed its passengers that “Labadee” was part of Haiti. They went to revive a word that was dead over 200 years ago. CR always says: we reach Labadee of “Hispagnola”. That means: we can make money of Haiti, but we cannot call its name. Christopher Columbus, after discovered the island (Haiti + Dominican Republic), called it “Hispagnola” which means “Little Spain”. Spain ceded the west part of the island (Haiti) to France and kept the east side (Dominican Republic) after it was defeated by the french army. The name of the colony became “Saint Domingue”. On Sunday January 1st, 1804 after humiliating the french army not far from Labadee, at “Vertières” , the black slaves proclaim their Independance. The first in the world, the second in the new world (America). Haiti has regained its old name. Because there is so much to see or visit tourists are kept away from that Haiti of great misery and great history. “Citadelle La Ferrière” built around 1810 by king Henry Christophe, a former slave who fought in Savannah for the United States Independance, stood still and is about 20 miles from Labadee.

  14. Terri says:

    I’m so disappointed to think that cruise ship passengers are not allowed out of the fenced area into Haiti??? I always try to do some kind of humanitarian efforts on a trip and planned to collect clothing, school supplies etc and bring them into Haiti. In addition I had hoped to visit the Citadel. This will not be allowed?!?!?!

  15. Robsterling says:

    Great post. I just got back from that cruise and wanted to relieve my post-cruise guilt by doing something for the people of Haiti.
    @ScottTaylorRealtor – thanks for the link.

  16. toni says:

    My family did a 7-day cruise to Western Caribbean last Summer, which left me quite saddened. We did get off in Falmouth, Jamaica and looked things over ourselves. The cruise and the surrounding locals are indeed worlds apart. It was tough for me for the remainder of our trip to continue to truly enjoy the cruise and the endless buffet, knowing that just outside the vessel are many impoverished folks dying to be thrown my left-overs. The imageries left me numb for days. I am not sure how soon I would be psychologically able to cruise again. I encourage every tourist to do whatever you can to help folks you meet/run into, no matter how small. In hope that someday, the liners would fall on some better creative ways of allowing passengers more freedom to help as they see fit.

  17. Haitian says:


  18. I am very glad to hear from someone from Haiti on this issue. Thanks for your comment!

  19. William says:

    Hello Everyone

    I am from Haiti and I will be the first to say that Haiti does not need anyone’s pity. I have been reading posts about Haiti for over two decades and the perception about Haiti hasn’t changed at all. Haiti is not for everyone but where is? What country is immune from poverty? In the case of Haiti, poverty has been the only focused but there’s a reason behind. Could it be that poverty has become a commodity that many sought after? Who really benefits from it and why? It doesn’t matter how we look it, the conclusion will always be the same, Poverty is sadly a lucrative business for those who invested in it.
    Traveling is a very subjective matter in my opinion, there’s no real instrument that exists today to determine what’s makes a destination worth visiting. Regardless of the what the expert say about any place, each individual will see and experience it differently. Since this is case, Haiti is the best place in the world for those that would cherish it, those that appreciate what it has to offer. One of the downside of traveling to Haiti in the past was the lack of qualified Tour ambassadors to welcome and guide the visitors to places that they will appreciate. If you are a corporate journalists or missionary, your interest is to report on poverty or helping the poor, that’s exactly what you are going to do. On the other hand, if you an intellectual traveler, your interest is to learn and explore a new culture, that is exactly what you are going to find and plenty of it. The only question is, are you an intellectual traveler or an ignorant by-stander, a missionary worker or corporate journalist? Whatever you chose to be, I encourage you all to visit this http://www.destinationnorthhaiti.com and Facebook.com/dnhtour and support something that would make the situation better not the other way around. Thank you for sharing your opinions. Thank you Mr Jason Cochran

  20. A really interesting post and discussion!

  21. Naira says:

    Hi everyone, I’m from Italy and I have been two times in Labadee. First time in 2002, last time october 2013. I found Royal Caribbean’s private resort in Haiti deeply changed after 11 years. But one thing did not change at all: people secretly asking for FOOD!
    So… Sorry but it’s not a question of pity, or wanting to be intelectual traveler, or missionary or whatever!
    There are people ASKING FOR FOOD, and that’s a FACT not an opinion, and no one can deny it.
    There are people asking for food while Royal’s cruiseship stuffed of all good things, discharging pharaonic all-you-can-eat buffet all around beach facilities almost every day. And I bet there are tons of leftover food every time…. But not a piece of meat or a banana for starving people. And please no one should try to tell me that RCCL helps and feeds them…if it were so I would’nt find people asking for food.
    An advice for RCCL: you can do more for that people and, if you’re wise, don’t even think to try to hide them beyond the fences. Remember that, through history, fences have always been meant to be broken.
    The most famous RCCL advertising is ” the sea is calling, answer it royally!”
    Now that’s my advertising for RCCL: ” haitian hungry people are calling, answer them royally”…because currently you’ re not acting royally…

  22. Anthony V says:

    Good post , interesting. I been to labadee several times and enjoyed the place for relaxing. I did give food to the people on the other side of the fence. The poverty has nothing to do with the cruise line and if you feel that way don’t go , simple as that . If you don’t know that labadee is Haiti then your an idiot.if you want to venture out into other parts of Haiti then book a flight and stay a while.as a cruiser I know 100% they are looking for us pas angers to spend money on board or on there private island and places like labadee . At the same time I am sure some of this money finds it’s way into the peoples hands outside of labadee .

  23. CableFlame says:

    Thank you for this. I’ve had enough trouble with the idea of even going on a cruise (a specific one) when I know other people don’t have enough here at home(and, granted, I’ve been that person, but will manage to scrimp and save for this), but when I found out Labadee was on the itinerary, I had to find out more. When I found out it’s one of these private paradise areas and we can’t go to the real Haiti… we party while people are suffering and dying… it made me sick. I knew there had to be SOME way I could help, because I can’t, in good conscience, have fun at the expense of the long suffering Haitian people.

    Do you have any other tips on helping while at Labadee or on helping Haiti in general? I know there’s a lot of corruption when it comes to charities and I want to make sure any money or goods I give really does help people out.

  24. Martin Solomon says:

    Thank you for post. I have had thousands of Haitian clients living in FL, NY and other states. I had assumed I could (carefully by relying on a US client from the nearby Cap-Haitien) rent a taxi (really a tap-tap AKA jitney) and visit Citadel. You indicate that even a trip to the close town of Labadee is prohibited. So if I choose RCCL , it will not be for this port-of-call.

    I am not criticizing RCCL. People who know Haiti recognize severe health, crime and safety risks. So RCCL has some good reasons to limit travel.

    As another poster said, to see the real Haiti, fly and spend time with knowledgeable Haitians.

    Even the ban of begging makes some sense. If a few people are allowed, it may build to the point where it would damage the “ambience” for the cruisers. RCCL can not allow this. Compare this to the free-for-all that used to face arrivals at the airport in Port-au-Prince. I understand it was terrible, with many people grabbing bags and screaming for travelers to use their transport. Now I hear the airport has imposed order, and the traveler has a smoother arrival.

    I do not mean to seem insensitive to the needs of poor Haitians. I am not. I have donated to build a church in Latortue, and have wired food and money to Haiti via CAM, as well as making donations to Haitian families in the U.S. But allowing begging does not seem appropriate in this context.

  25. my name is Berlange says:

    You know why all those comments because of all those stupid government we always have’d selfishness. I think one day we will own Labadee back peace me born lagonave in the middle of sea Caribbean has alway be Haitian….?

  26. Fermi says:

    “Two years ago, I took a cruise that spent one day at Labadee. For me, IT WAS TERRIBLE. Of course the tourists have a great time and enjoy the sea, the cruise food, and the controlled sellers.

    Well, my family and I, looked up further away from this comfort zone (behind all of the tourists eating and/or throwing a lot of non-finished food away) and saw behind a fence, haitian people jumping and waving their arms. At first I thought they were waving at us as a way of saying hello with excitement, but then I thought about the fence and I looked at their hands and they had empty plates on them and almost no clothes on. They were kind of hiding, and we saw they were asking for food.

    We didn´t know what to do, of course none of the cruise people would do anything, I don´t even think anyone else noticed them. We decided to help them on anyway we could so we took a lot of apples, bananas, and oranges and put them inside our backpacks.
    Some of the members of my own family (aunts, cousins) didn´t agree with us, they just wanted to tell the police. (that would totally have worked to scare them away and help in no way at all).
    While my mother, sister and I distracted the police and guards by asking them for information, my dad and brother went all the way up to the fence with the food. They began throwing the food above the fence to the Haitian (that was the only way to achieve it). They saw women, children, men, begging for more food. A woman took my brother´s arm (trough the fence) and told him with tears on her eyes “Thank you little boy!! Thank you!!”
    I believe we made our little action and contributed a little bit ant they were SO grateful.

    I´m against What Labadee has become. I´m against taking away Haitian territory and forcing people move away from their own land.

    I believe our part of the world having the privilege to live in wealth has a great responsibility to those who suffer hunger and whose future is uncertain…?”

  27. Monica Robert says:

    Hi..i am an american…i have visited Haiti in December…never would i “cruise”i fly into port au prince then go to the hatien airport to cap haitien…i love the people..the food..the country…all beautiful..i rode a horse up to the Citidel…magnificent…meet alot of people..i am going back in a few days for two weeks..my boyfriend.is haitian..he is kind and so sweet..they are a very rich people…in heart and soul…something that money cannot buy…i am white..a RN ..i have never been excepted or loved as much as when i am there…Do not think i am ugly…i am far from that…but i am intelligent too…i am happy..i do as i please..i enjoy the finer things in life..and Haiti…is one of them…in 5 days i return…cant wait…

  28. Mike Creedon says:

    Many of these comments are being offered by folks that are seemingly above- average in intelligence and education level. Which leads me to think of this proverb: Give a man a fish and he eats for a day – teach a man to fish and he can eat for a lifetime. The gift of education keeps on giving long after the memory of a handout meal is gone.

  29. Levi Izrael says:

    Hi everyone, WOW(LOL)!! Nuff respects to all the open minded people who don’t believe everything they hear about My wonderful country Haiti.. I’d like to thank and welcome all tourist who wish to visit the island don’t be scared we are people too(even though some people no matter where you travel try to take advantage of others) too start off my name is Levi and I’ve been living in Haiti for a little under 3yrs, I came back home after being in the United states for 32yrs to help my father who travelled back and forth to salvage his A.C Business that he had in the states(Ft.Lauderdale) to be honest I love it here it just that its been very hard for me to work and live like I use too in the united states(eastcoast) I’ve suffered from TB and the Doctors say that I’ve contracted HIV(WOW!!) But in spite of it all I managed to reach out to my distant family who I never know while living in America, some times too be honest treat me like a stranger but most of them are very kind.. After discovering that my father really doesn’t wish to be or around me cause of my “FREE WORLD AMERICAN So Called “RASTA AFRICAN VIEWS” my life has been hell, I came here at 285LBS and now I’m at 141LBS due to always being sick, I. Tried to find work that can help me fight and beat my illness. Need less to say I suffer! I try to look for work as a translator to help ENGLISH speaking tourist feel comfortable while visiting the beautiful island but!! Yeah there’s a but!! Nothing it seems the locals don’t really want to help me due to them thinking cause I came from America I have Money(FUNNY HUH LOL) so if anyone reads this, come to Haiti I’ll be happy to show you around Privately and help you learn the system here… My Number is:001509-738-5961 and I’m on FACEBOOK:LEVIIZRAEL or E-mail me at:Leviizrael@gmail.com LET’S NETWORK(There’s$$$out here).. I Love you all, RESPECT YOURSELF AND OTHERS and GOD will always look out for you”Know matter where you travel”

  30. Lizzy says:

    Hi Jason,
    As unfortunate as it may seem, the cruise line is doing the right thing to keep beggars out and not allow travel from the cruise ship into an area other than the Labadee Beach area. I learned the hard way over many trips to Haiti, not to the beaches of Labadee, that “giving” food away, or a dollar bill is, in general, a mistake. The beggar that is coming to the cruise beach needs to know there isn’t a meal here, and get busy with merchandising a sellable good or skill to his community to make a living and feed himself. I encourage you to fly into Port-au-Prince and visit Haiti. It is an interesting place. You may develop a love with the people and land, as many Americans have for Haiti.

  31. Julia says:

    I will be taking a Royal Caribbean cruise which stops in Labadee this spring. I asked the cruise line if there was any way I could access a nearby village (so that my kids and I could visit an orphanage). They said no. I don’t make it out to that part of the world often. I live in California. I wish there was some way we could do something to help while there.

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