The Legacy of Monticello’s Black First Family

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Virginia on 2018-07-06 03:13Z by Steven

The Legacy of Monticello’s Black First Family

The New York Times
2018-07-04

Brent Staples
Photographs by Damon Winter


A view of Thomas Jefferson’s home from the main avenue where enslaved people were quartered at Monticello.

A recently opened exhibit at Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia estate gives new recognition to Sally Hemings and the role of slavery in the home — and in his family.

Plantation wives in the slave-era South resorted to willful blindness when their husbands conscripted black women as sexual servants and filled the household with mixed-race children who inevitably resembled the master. Thomas Jefferson’s wife, Martha, was several years dead when he set off on this path, fathering at least six children with Martha’s enslaved black half sister, Sally Hemings. The task of dissembling fell to the remaining white Jeffersons, who aided in a cover-up that held sway for two centuries and feigned ignorance of a relationship between Jefferson and Hemings that lasted nearly four decades.

The foundation that owns Monticello, Jefferson’s mountaintop home near Charlottesville, Va., broke with this long-running deception last month when it unveiled several new exhibits that underscore the centrality of slavery on the founder’s estate. The most important — in the South Wing, where Sally Hemings once lived — explores the legacy of the enslaved woman whom some historians view as the president’s second wife and who skillfully prevailed on him to free from slavery the four Jefferson-Hemings children who lived into adulthood.

The exhibit underscores the fact that the Jefferson estate was an epicenter of racial mixing in early Virginia, making it impossible to draw clear lines between black and white. It reminds contemporary Americans that slave owners like the Jeffersons often held their own black children, aunts, uncles and cousins in bondage. And it illustrates how enslaved near-white relations used proximity to privilege to demystify whiteness while taking critical measure of the relatives who owned them…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Jefferson’s Monticello finally gives Sally Hemings her place in presidential history

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Women on 2018-06-14 17:00Z by Steven

Jefferson’s Monticello finally gives Sally Hemings her place in presidential history

The Washington Post
2018-06-13

Philip Kennicott, Art and architecture critic


A view of Monticello. (Jack Looney)

You cannot see Thomas Jefferson’s mansion, Monticello, from the small room burrowed into the ground along the south wing of his estate. When the door is closed, you can’t see anything at all, because it is a windowless room, with a low ceiling and damp walls. But this was, very likely, the room inhabited by Sally Hemings, the enslaved woman who bore six of Jefferson’s children, a woman about whom little is known, who lived her life as Jefferson’s property, was considered his concubine, was a source of scandal and a political liability, and yet who might be considered the first lady to the third president of the United States if that didn’t presume her relationship to Jefferson was voluntary.

On Saturday, Monticello will open the room to the public, with a small exhibition devoted to the life of Hemings and the Hemings family. Reclaiming this space, which previously had been used as a public restroom, marks the completion of a five-year plan called the Mountaintop Project, which has seen significant changes to the beloved estate of the founding father. Using archaeology and other evidence, Monticello curators have restored Mulberry Row, where enslaved people lived and labored, and made changes (including to the wallpaper, paint and furnishings) inside the mansion, restored the north and south wings, and opened the upstairs rooms to the public on special tours. But symbolically and emotionally, the restoration of the Hemings room is the heart of the new interpretation of Monticello, and it makes tangible a relationship that has been controversial since rumors of “Dusky Sally” became part of American political invective in the early 19th century…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , ,

For Independence Day, a Look at Thomas Jefferson’s Egregious Hypocrisy

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Virginia on 2016-07-02 18:35Z by Steven

For Independence Day, a Look at Thomas Jefferson’s Egregious Hypocrisy

The Scientific American
2016-07-01

John Horgan


“While many of his contemporaries, including George Washington, freed their slaves during and after the revolution—inspired, perhaps, by the words of the Declaration–Jefferson did not,” historian Paul Finkelman writes. “Jefferson also “dodged opportunities to undermine slavery or promote racial equality.” Presidential portrait of Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale, 1800, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

To celebrate the 4th of July, when Americans commemorate their country’s birth, I’d like to offer a few comments on Thomas Jefferson.

No one is more closely associated with Independence Day than Jefferson. He was the principle author of the Declaration of Independence, which the American Congress formally adopted July 4, 1776. Jefferson, judged by his rhetoric, was a true man of the Enlightenment, who embraced reason, science and democracy and rejected superstition, tradition and tyranny.

I once admired Jefferson, seeing him as an essentially good, no, great man with one tragic flaw: The writer of the inspiring words “all men are created equal” owned slaves. Now, I see Jefferson as an egregious hypocrite, who willfully betrayed the ideals he espoused…

*DNA testing and other evidence have convinced most historians that Jefferson fathered six children with a slave, Sally Hemings. Hemings is believed to have been the daughter of Jefferson’s father-in-law, John Wayles, and one of his slaves. That means Hemings was the half-sister of Jefferson’s wife, Martha, who died in 1782.

*Some writers, grotesquely, have romanticized the relationship between Jefferson and Hemings. As our Monticello guide pointed out, a relationship between a master and slave cannot be consensual, let alone romantic. The relationship might have begun as early as 1787, when Jefferson took Hemings to Paris for two years. He was 43, she 14. She gave birth to the first of their six children in 1795. Jefferson never freed Hemings. After his death in 1826, Jefferson’s daughter Martha allowed Hemings to leave Monticello and live out her days in nearby Charlottesville.

*The Monticello website notes that “in the few scattered references to Sally Hemings in Thomas Jefferson’s records and correspondence, there is nothing to distinguish her from other members of her family.” Perhaps Jefferson viewed Sally Hemings merely as valuable livestock, or “capital.” He wrote this about female slaves in 1820: “I consider a woman who brings a child every two years as more profitable than the best man of the farm… What she produces is an addition to the capital, while his labors disappear in mere consumption.”…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , ,