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Monticello to Montpelier: A Walking Stick’s Journey from One Founding Father to Another

The friendship between James Madison and Thomas Jefferson flourished for 50 years. From Madison’s beginnings on the Council of State to the traumatic loss of Jefferson’s wife, Martha, to Jefferson’s presidency and then Madison’s, the bond between these two Founding Fathers shaped America’s beginnings.[1]

When Jefferson died in 1826, he willed his beloved friend a beautiful walking stick, gifted to him from his friend, John F. Oliveira Fernandes. Touched to have received the gift, Madison wrote to Jefferson’s grandson,

“The article bequeathed to me by your grandfather, had been delivered by Dr. Dunglison, and received with all the feelings due to such a token of the place I held in the friendship of one, whom I so much revered & loved when living and whose memory can never cease to be dear to me.”[2]– James Madison, July 11, 1826

Norfolk Physician and merchant John Oliveira Fernandes gifted this walking stick to Thomas Jefferson in 1805. The stick features rhinoceros horn and gold caps with floral garlands and bows. There is a hole near the head of the cane to pass a rope through. In his reply to Jefferson’s thank you letter, Fernandes wrote, “It was my hope that your Love of Natural Philosophy would render so rare a production of the Animal Kingdom acceptable to you.”[3

Madison treasured this gift from his friend until his own death, 10 years later in 1836. He then willed the walking stick back to Jefferson’s family, by the way of Jefferson’s grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph.[4]

“I desire the Gold Mounted walking staff bequeathed to me by my late friend Thomas Jefferson be delivered to Thomas J. Randolph as well in testimony of the esteem I have for him as from the knowledge I have of the place he held in the affections of his Grand father.”[5]–in a letter from Dolley Madison to Randolph, on behalf of the late James Madison.

The walking stick descended through the Coolidge family by way of Jefferson’s granddaughter, Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge, and was generously donated to The Montpelier Foundation in 2011.

Rural Excursions


“While it might be an useful companion in your retired & rural excursions at Monticello.”[6]– John Fernandes to Thomas Jefferson, March 15, 1806

It was Fernandes’ wish that his gift be used in Jefferson’s explorative and meditative walks through the woods of Monticello. We invite you to explore the 8+ miles of wooded trails at Montpelier on your next visit. Walk through horse pastures, wildflower meadows, and the Old-Growth Landmark Forest and experience the beauty of Virginia just as Jefferson and Madison.

[1] Wilson, Gaye; Berkes, Anna. “James Madison.” Oct. 1997. The Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia. Revised Aug. 2014.

[2] James Madison to Thomas Jefferson Randolph, July 14, 1826, Montpelier Foundation, Orange, Orange County, Virginia. MRD- S22464.

[3] John F. Oliveira Fernandes to Thomas Jefferson, March 15, 1806, Library of Congress, Washington, DC. MRD- S41340.

[4] James Madison, Will dated [April 15, 1835], and Codicil [April 19, 1835], Will Book 8: 134-138, Orange County Courthouse, Orange, Orange County, Virginia. MRD- S20960.

[5] Dolley Payne Todd Madison to Thomas Jefferson Randolph, August 1836, MS MF2012.21.3, Montpelier Foundation, Orange, Orange County, Virginia. MRD- S41816.

[6] John F. Fernandes, MRD-S41340