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Wed Jun 13, 2018, 03:50 PM

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

Source: The Washington Post




By Philip Kennicott
June 13 at 12:00 PM

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.

“Our goal has been to get the stories back and get the landscape back, so people understand the proximity of Jefferson’s house to this community,” says Leslie Greene Bowman, president of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which owns and operates the historical site. “People used to think, ‘Oh, the slaves were down on the plantation.’ No, they were right here in the middle of it.”

It has been a quarter-century since Monticello began offering tours that focused on Jefferson and slavery, and over the course of that time, the public has largely come to accept what was once routinely discounted by historians: that Jefferson was the father of Hemings’s children. In 2000, Monticello released a research report detailing the evidence, including DNA tests that established a direct genetic connection between descendants of Hemings and Jefferson. The work of historian Annette Gordon-Reed, including her Pulitzer Prize-winning 2008 book, “The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family,” has helped move the larger public to consensus on the issue, although the Monticello website’s comments page still attracts doubters and trolls.

Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/museums/jeffersons-monticello-finally-gives-sally-hemings-her-place-in-presidential-history/2018/06/12/55145ac0-6504-11e8-a69c-b944de66d9e7_story.html

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Response to DonViejo (Original post)

Wed Jun 13, 2018, 04:03 PM

1. What an amazing article! Thank you for posting it, my dear DonViejo.

History fascinates me, and this story, as it has unfolded over the years, is especially one of those.

I am truly glad that Sally Hemings' life is being uncovered. It benefits us all.

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Response to CaliforniaPeggy (Reply #1)

Wed Jun 13, 2018, 04:29 PM

2. Its past about time. They didn't even try to white wash the facts, they just ignored them.

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Response to CaliforniaPeggy (Reply #1)

Wed Jun 13, 2018, 04:34 PM

3. You're very welcome CaliforniaPeggy. Did you by chance catch this reader comment below the...

article at the WaPo?

A bit of historical context--Sally Hemings was the youngest of 6 siblings by the widowed planter John Wayles and a mixed-race woman he kept as a slave, Betty Hemings. Worthy of note was that Sally Hemings and her siblings were 3/4 European (white), very fair skinned, and half-siblings of Jefferson's wife, Martha Wayles Skelton. As an infant Sally Hemings came to Monticello as part of Martha's inheritance of her father's slave holdings. Hemings' children—Beverly, Harriet, Madison, and Eston--lived in Jefferson's house as slaves and were trained as skilled artisans and domestic servants, at the top of the slave hierarchy. They were 7/8 European (white) in ancestry, and 3 of the 4 entered white society as adults.

While the Woodson family had the strongest oral history about paternity, the DNA tests ruled them out. Five male line descendants of 2 sons of Thomas Woodson in November 1998 came up negative, as did a newer DNA test on a 6th line in March 2000. The Woodson DNA tests are important, because if Tom Woodson is Sally Heming's Paris-conceived son and could be shown to have Jefferson DNA, it would then be almost certain that Thomas Jefferson was his father, since Thomas was the only Jefferson in Paris at the time who could have impregnated Sally Hemings. But from a scientific perspective, this simply did not happen. And thus no secret agreement between Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson was hatched in Paris, either.

While we may never know who fathered Eston Hemings, or any of Sally Hemings’ other children, we do this great man in American history a big disservice by prematurely concluding that this centuries-old paternity case has been adequately and responsibly resolved.

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Response to DonViejo (Reply #3)

Wed Jun 13, 2018, 05:27 PM

5. I did not see that, and I am grateful that you showed it to me!

I've heard some of this history before, but it's been awhile. The details were foggy, to say the least!

Fascinating!

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Response to DonViejo (Reply #3)

Wed Jun 13, 2018, 10:48 PM

10. i read about her in a library book. american historical scandal. i blame his 1st wife.

and his 1st wife's likely step sister.

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Response to DonViejo (Original post)

Wed Jun 13, 2018, 04:37 PM

4. Thomas Jefferson's wife died years before he became president.

The Jeffersons had six children, but only two daughters survived to adulthood, and only one past the age of 25. Weakened by childbirth, Martha Jefferson died several months after the birth of her last child, two decades before her husband became the third President of the United States. Her husband adhered to her request not to remarry, though it is widely held that he had children by a slave, Sally Hemings.

. . . .

Mrs. Jefferson's health worsened and she died on September 6, 1782, four months after the birth of her last child. Jefferson was inconsolable and "was led from the room almost in a state of insensibility by his sister Mrs. Carr, who, with great difficulty, got him into his library where he fainted, and remained so long insensible that they feared he would never revive."[3]

After the funeral, he withdrew to his room for three weeks. Afterward, he spent hours riding horseback alone around Monticello. His daughter Martha Jefferson Randolph wrote, "In those melancholy rambles I was his constant companion, a solitary witness to many a violent burst of grief."[3] Not until mid-October did Jefferson begin to resume a normal life when he wrote, "emerging from that stupor of mind which had rendered me as dead to the world as was she whose loss occasioned it."[3]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martha_Jefferson

Wikipedia says she died weakened by childbirth, but I have also read that she died perhaps of breast cancer.

Sally Hemmings is believed to have been a half-sister of Martha Jefferson.

Sally Hemings came to Jefferson's home as an infant with her siblings and her mixed-race mother, Betty, as part of his wife Martha's inheritance of slaves from her father, John Wayles. Hemings was the youngest of six children Betty Hemings is thought to have had with Wayles. If true, she was three-quarters European and a half-sister of Martha Jefferson.[4] In 1787, Hemings, aged 14,[1] accompanied Jefferson's youngest daughter Mary ("Polly" to London and then to Paris, where the widowed Jefferson, aged 44 at the time, was serving as the United States Minister to France. Hemings spent two years there. It is believed by most historians[who?] that Jefferson began a sexual relationship with Hemings in France or soon after their return to Monticello.[2] Hemings remained enslaved in Jefferson's house until his death. In 2017, a room identified as her quarters at Monticello, adjacent to Jefferson's bedroom, was discovered in an archeological restoration. It will be restored and refurbished.[5][6]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sally_Hemings

Jefferson did not remarry.

In fact, he promised Martha that he would not remarry.

Shortly before her death, Martha made Jefferson promise never to marry again, telling him that she could not bear to have another mother raise her children.[41] Jefferson was grief-stricken by her death, relentlessly pacing back and forth, nearly to the point of exhaustion. He emerged after three weeks, taking long rambling rides on secluded roads with his daughter Martha, by her description "a solitary witness to many a violent burst of grief".[40][42]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Jefferson#Monticello,_marriage_and_family

Another bit of history that must be judged by the values and customs of its time and not ours. We find the whole story shocking and horrible, but Jefferson's behavior reflected his time.

Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, not all that long before Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862-1863. 36 or 37 years. That is approximately or nearly the amount of time that has passed since the election of Reagan in 1980: 1980-2018 (just a bit longer.)

From Wikipedia:

The Proclamation was issued in two parts. The first part, issued on September 22, 1862, was a preliminary announcement outlining the intent of the second part, which officially went into effect 100 days later on January 1, 1863, during the second year of the Civil War.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emancipation_Proclamation

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Response to DonViejo (Original post)

Wed Jun 13, 2018, 06:24 PM

6. Fascinating. Thanks. I've used that rest room. Had no idea.

My son-in-law is a Jefferson descendant and a member of the Jefferson Society(?).
He was in law school at U. VA in Charlottesville in the mid 90s and we visited a few times.


With him, we were able to see parts of Monticello that are off limits to the general public (mainly the upstairs and inside the graveyard).
Very interesting.
It pays to know people in high places.

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Response to DonViejo (Original post)

Wed Jun 13, 2018, 06:55 PM

7. Thank you.....So interesting!

I think I will see if my library has the book by historian Annette Gordon-Reed.

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Response to lucca18 (Reply #7)

Wed Jun 13, 2018, 07:48 PM

8. I have a copy.

It's a very interesting read.

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Response to DonViejo (Original post)

Wed Jun 13, 2018, 09:25 PM

9. I guess historical records have a lot of degrees of authenticity.

I had heard that several years ago the last of the family of Jefferson had accepted and welcomed their family from Hemings side.

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Response to DonViejo (Original post)

Thu Jun 14, 2018, 08:11 AM

11. I find her brother James Hemmings even more interesting.

Jefferson sent him to France to learn to be a chef, and Sally was brought to France by Jefferson's daughter as a personal servant when she was about 14. James and Jefferson's wife had a common grandfather, and he could read and write. He spent 5 years in France, associated with many freed blacks, and was paid wages by Jefferson, so he basically lived as a free man. Sally was also paid wages while she was there.

The big reason he and Sally chose to return to slavery in America is believed to be family ties to the big Hemmings family. But the valuable skills they'd developed and relationship to Jefferson's wife meant good positions in a slave household. Would Sally have returned to Virginia if her brother had stayed in Paris? She was still very young at the time but was pregnant when returning in 1788. This was pre-revolutionary France, with growing unrest, food shortages among the poor, and talk everywhere of liberty. Her son later wrote that she and James threatened to stay in France and struck a deal with Jefferson that persuaded them to return.

James eventually asked Jefferson to free him, never returned to France, moved north, and lived the very modest, limited life of a freed black man of that era until he killed himself while still very young.

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Response to DonViejo (Original post)

Thu Jun 14, 2018, 11:08 AM

12. If a slave labor camp has to be a historical monument...

..best it be a more informative one.

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