After more than two centuries of willful collective ignorance about Jefferson and Hemings, it might sound far-fetched to suggest that she ought to be designated a first lady. But our country was populated through precisely this sort of racial mixing — sexual relationships that, it bears repeating, enslaved people such as Hemings did not choose for themselves.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2019-01-05 01:57Z by Steven

After more than two centuries of willful collective ignorance about Jefferson and Hemings, it might sound far-fetched to suggest that she ought to be designated a first lady. But our country was populated through precisely this sort of racial mixing — sexual relationships that, it bears repeating, enslaved people such as Hemings did not choose for themselves.

Evelia Jones, “It’s time to recognize Sally Hemings as a first lady of the United States,” The Los Angeles Times, January 4, 2019. https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-jones-sally-hemings-first-lady-20190104-story.html.

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It’s time to recognize Sally Hemings as a first lady of the United States

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Virginia, Women on 2019-01-05 01:31Z by Steven

It’s time to recognize Sally Hemings as a first lady of the United States

The Los Angeles Times
2019-01-04

Evelia Jones

It’s time to recognize Sally Hemings as a first lady of the United States
A man reads a plaque about Sally Hemings at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s estate in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday, June 16, 2018. (Steve Ruark / Associated Press)

It is now widely understood that my ancestor Sally Hemings, an enslaved black woman, was the intimate companion of Thomas Jefferson for nearly four decades.

Monticello, the Virginia plantation operated as a museum by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, acknowledged as much with a new exhibit last year: Hemings’ living quarters. The exhibit presents as fact that Hemings gave birth to at least six of Jefferson’s children.

Much about their relationship remains lost to history. We know that Hemings was Jefferson’s property, and that in America she did not have the right to refuse sexual advances from her owner. We also know that Hemings was able to negotiate freedom for her children and “extraordinary privileges” for herself, and that she occupied a central place in Jefferson’s life…

Read the entire article here.

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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.

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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.

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Jefferson’s Daughters: Three Sisters, White and Black, in a Young America

Posted in Biography, Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Passing, Slavery, United States, Virginia, Women on 2018-02-22 05:03Z by Steven

Jefferson’s Daughters: Three Sisters, White and Black, in a Young America

Ballantine Books
2018-01-30
448 pages
6.3 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1101886243
Paperback ISBN: 978-0525524380

Catherine Kerrison, Associate Professor of History
Villanova University, Villanova, Pennsylvania

The remarkable untold story of Thomas Jefferson’s three daughters—two white and free, one black and enslaved—and the divergent paths they forged in a newly independent America

Thomas Jefferson had three daughters: Martha and Maria by his wife, Martha Wayles Jefferson, and Harriet by his slave Sally Hemings. In Jefferson’s Daughters, Catherine Kerrison, a scholar of early American and women’s history, recounts the remarkable journey of these three women—and how their struggle to define themselves reflects both the possibilities and the limitations that resulted from the American Revolution.

Although the three women shared a father, the similarities end there. Martha and Maria received a fine convent school education while they lived with their father during his diplomatic posting in Paris—a hothouse of intellectual ferment whose celebrated salonnières are vividly brought to life in Kerrison’s narrative. Once they returned home, however, the sisters found their options limited by the laws and customs of early America.

Harriet Hemings followed a different path. She escaped slavery—apparently with the assistance of Jefferson himself. Leaving Monticello behind, she boarded a coach and set off for a decidedly uncertain future.

For this groundbreaking triple biography, Kerrison has uncovered never-before-published documents written by the Jefferson sisters when they were in their teens, as well as letters written by members of the Jefferson and Hemings families. She has interviewed Hemings family descendants (and, with their cooperation, initiated DNA testing) and searched for descendants of Harriet Hemings.

The eventful lives of Thomas Jefferson’s daughters provide a unique vantage point from which to examine the complicated patrimony of the American Revolution itself. The richly interwoven story of these three strong women and their fight to shape their own destinies sheds new light on the ongoing movement toward human rights in America—and on the personal and political legacy of one of our most controversial Founding Fathers.

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Jefferson’s Three Daughters — Two Free, One Enslaved

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Passing, Slavery, United States, Virginia on 2018-01-29 20:24Z by Steven

Jefferson’s Three Daughters — Two Free, One Enslaved

Book Review
The New York Times
2018-01-26

Mary Beth Norton, Mary Donlon Alger Professor of American History History
Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

JEFFERSON’S DAUGHTERS
Three Sisters, White and Black, in a Young America
By Catherine Kerrison
Illustrated. 425 pp. Ballantine Books. $28.


Martha Jefferson Randolph
Credit Thomas Jefferson Foundation

Fawn Brodie would be astonished — and gratified. In 1974, her biography “Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History” contended that the third president had fathered children with his slave Sally Hemings. For this, Catherine Kerrison, a professor of American history at Villanova University, accurately notes, Brodie was “excoriated by a cadre of Jefferson experts.” A lot has changed, and largely because of the work of Annette Gordon-Reed, who took seriously Hemings family stories and, bolstered by a DNA study, convinced nearly all scholars, including Kerrison, that Brodie was correct. “Jefferson’s Daughters,” Kerrison’s beautifully written book, takes the relationship’s existence as a given.

And so, to a nuanced study of Jefferson’s two white daughters, Martha (born 1772) and Maria (born 1778), she innovatively adds a discussion of his only enslaved daughter, Harriet Hemings (born 1801). The result is a stunning if unavoidably imbalanced book, combining detailed treatments of Martha’s and Maria’s experiences with imaginative attempts to reconstruct Harriet’s life…

Read the entire review here.

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How did we lose a president’s daughter?

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Passing, Slavery, United States, Virginia, Women on 2018-01-29 00:05Z by Steven

How did we lose a president’s daughter?

The Washington Post
2018-01-25

Catherine Kerrison, Associate Professor of History
Villanova University, Villanova, Pennsylvania


Thomas Jefferson is shown in a painting by Rembrandt Peale. Jefferson was the father of several children born to Sally Hemings, an enslaved woman at Monticello, one of whom chose to pass as white rather than claim her relation to the president. (AP/New York Historical Society)

What the disappearance of Thomas Jefferson’s daughter can tell us about racism in America.

Many people know that Thomas Jefferson had a long-standing relationship with his slave, Sally Hemings. But fewer know that they had four children, three boys and a girl, who survived to adulthood. Born into slavery, Sally’s daughter Harriet boarded a stagecoach to freedom at age 21, bound for Washington, D.C. Her father had given her $50 for her travel expenses. She would never see her mother or younger brothers again.

With her departure from Monticello in 1822, Harriet disappeared from the historical record, not to be heard of again for more than 50 years, when her brother told her story. Seven-eighths white, Harriet had “thought it to her interest to go to Washington as a white woman,” he said. She married a “white man in good standing” in that city and “raised a family of children.” In the half-century during which she passed as white, her brother was “not aware that her identity as Harriet Hemings of Monticello has ever been discovered.”

So how did we lose a president’s daughter? Given America’s obsession with the Founding Fathers, with the children of the Revolution and their descendants, why did Jefferson’s child disappear? As it turns out, America has an even greater obsession with race, so that not even Harriet Hemings’s lineage as a president’s daughter was sufficient to convey the benefits of freedom. Instead, her birth into slavery marked her as black and drove her decision to erase her family history…

Catherine Kerrison is an associate professor of history at Villanova University, and the author of the forthcoming book “Jefferson’s Daughters: Three Sisters, White and Black in a Young America.”

Read the entire article here.

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White or Black? The children of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings wrestle with racial identity

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Passing on 2017-11-05 04:29Z by Steven

White or Black? The children of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings wrestle with racial identity

Nehemiah Center For Urban Leadership Development
Madison, Wisconsin
2017-10-13

Phil Haslanger, Associate Pastor
Memorial United Church of Christ, Madison, Wisconsin


Annette Gordon-Reed

Annette Gordon-Reed, the historian and law professor at Harvard and Radcliff, explored that dilemma in the third annual James Madison Lecture at the Wisconsin State Historical Society on Oct. 11. She brought into focus the choices African-Americans have had to make in deciding whether to “pass” – to be viewed as white even though they are bi-racial.

Hemings’ children were all freed from slavery after [Thomas] Jefferson’s death, the result of promise she extracted from him when they were in Paris in the late 1780s and she could have walked to her own freedom there.

Jefferson and [Sally] Hemings’ son, Eston Hemings Jefferson, brings that dilemma home to Madison. This is where he and his wife and their three children moved in 1852, using Jefferson as his last name and becoming part of the white community in this emerging city.

“Passing for white is a complicated thing,” Gordon-Reed told the standing-room only crowd in the Historical Society Auditorium. “Do you choose for your parents or for your children? Passing is always a poignant story.”

Gordon-Reed is the historian whose worked changed the national consensus around the relationship between Jefferson and Hemings. Her 1997 book, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, shattered decades of wide acceptance of denials from Jefferson’s white descendants that he had fathered children with Hemings…

Read the entire article here.

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Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson and the Ways We Talk About Our Past

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, United States, Virginia on 2017-08-26 22:38Z by Steven

Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson and the Ways We Talk About Our Past

The New York Times
2017-08-24

Annette Gordon-Reed, Charles Warren Professor of American Legal History; Professor of History, Faculty of Arts & Sciences
Harvard University


A photograph of Monticello from the late 1800s. Credit University of Virginia Library

It has been 20 years since the historian Annette Gordon-Reed published “Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy,” a book that successfully challenged the prevailing perceptions of both figures. In a piece for The New York Times Book Review, submitted just before the tragic events in Charlottesville, Va., Gordon-Reed reflects on the complexities that endure in our understanding of Hemings and the language we use to characterize her.

Sally Hemings has been described as “an enigma,” the enslaved woman who first came to public notice at the turn of the 19th century when James Callender, an enemy of the newly elected President Thomas Jefferson, wrote with racist virulence of “SALLY,” who lived at Monticello and had borne children by Jefferson. Hemings came back into the news earlier this year, after the Thomas Jefferson Foundation announced plans to restore a space where Hemings likely resided, for a time, at Monticello. A number of news reports as well as comments on social media discussing the plans drew the ire of many readers because they referred to Hemings as Jefferson’s “mistress” and used the word “relationship” to describe the connection between the pair, as if those words inevitably denote positive things. They do not, of course — especially when the word “mistress” is modified by the crucial word “enslaved.”

When I published my first book, “Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy,” in 1997, most people knew of Hemings from two works: Fawn Brodie’s biography “Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History” (1974) and Barbara Chase-Riboud’s novel “Sally Hemings” (1979), both of which sought to rescue Hemings’s personhood. More typically, the scholarship written to disprove her connection to Jefferson routinely diminished Hemings’s humanity. The arguments that the story couldn’t be true because Jefferson would never be involved with “a slave girl” and that such a person was too low to have influenced Jefferson recurred in various formulations in historical writings over many years, as if the designation “slave girl” told readers all they needed to know. My first book was designed to expose the inanity of those, and other, arguments. I wrote a second book, “The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family,” to flesh out Hemings’s personal history…

Read the entire article here.

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Thomas and Sally

Posted in Arts, History, Live Events, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2017-08-12 22:09Z by Steven

Thomas and Sally

Marin Theater Company
Mill Valley, California
September 28-October 22 (2017) | World Premiere

By Thomas Bradshaw

An explosive world premiere by a 2017 PEN Award winner, Thomas and Sally gets up close and personal with founding father Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, the enslaved woman who mothered six of his children. Playwright Thomas Bradshaw takes us behind the scenes—and into the beds—of American history with the Hemings-Jeffersons and the rock stars of the Revolution: Ben Franklin, John & Abigail Adams & the Marquis de Lafayette!

Mr. Bradshaw’s writing has been influenced by the research of many historical experts on the Jefferson and Hemings families, but the world of this play is completely his own:

“Thomas and Sally is a work of historical fiction. You may recognize many of the names in this play, but others are pure invention. History is highly malleable and subject to interpretation. This is my attempt to explore the essence of these characters and the world they lived in. This is a play, and I am playing with history. I hope you enjoy.”

Thomas Bradshaw’s plays have been produced at regional theaters in NYC as well as in Europe. He is currently working on commissions from the Goodman Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club, and the Foundry Theatre, as well as developing a TV series for HARPO and HBO. He is the recipient of a 2009 Guggenheim Fellowship, the 2010 Prince Charitable Trust Prize, the 2012 Award from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, and this year’s PEN award for an Emerging American playwright.

For more information, click here.

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