The archaeologists had the sheer motive of restoring the residence of one of the founding fathers of the nation, Thomas Jefferson. But, what they discovered while proceeding through their task of restoring the Monticello property located in Virginia left them jumping out of their skins! The discovery has forced the historians to rewrite some of the pages of the history books describing the third president of the nation, Mr. Thomas Jefferson. It has also become the topic of widespread debate all over the world about the life of some of the most esteemed personalities to lead the nation in the past. I can bet that this gripping episode will give you goosebumps and uncover some of the hidden mysteries associated with the history of the United States. Read on to find out!!
A President’s Plantation
The Monticello plantation located in Charlottesville, Virginia is a place that each and every citizen of the United States is acquainted with. The obvious reason being that it is the same structure that one comes sees almost every day at the back of the U.S. nickel. The significance of this place heightens from the fact that it used to be the residence of the third President of the United States, Mr. Thomas Jefferson before he shifted to the White House in the year 1801. The construction of this property containing the word ‘Monticello'(which mean “Little Mountain” in Italian) was started in the year 1768 by Jefferson himself. The reason this place has caught the attention of media and historians worldwide is a recent discovery made here unraveling a sinister detail which was locked in the gates of this house for more than 100 years.
The Controversy Surrounding Monticello
When the construction of Monticello started, Thomas Jefferson was 26-years-old. He had inherited the extensive 5,000-acre land from his father on which he was now planning to shape his dream home. Construction of a house was something new that the plantation was witnessing as before this it was used only for cultivating wheat and tobacco. Despite, the construction being when he started building Monticello on land that he inherited from his father. The massive 5,000-acre plantation was primarily used to cultivate tobacco and wheat. But like many plantations of the time, Monticello has a controversial legacy linked to one of the dark parts of American history. While Jefferson used free workers along with indentured servants and enslaved laborers to construct the plantation house, he subsequently had hundreds of slaves working as home servants and living in Monticello. Although that difficult fact has been acknowledged, an astonishing discovery in 2017 shed light on a previously unresolved matter.
A Complicated Legacy
It would be enough stating the fact that Thomas Jefferson is one of the nation’s ingenious Founding Fathers in order to give you an idea about his significance in American history. The credit for penning the “immortal declaration” that “All men are created equal, ” completely goes to this great man. Well, the most ironical, and dark fact associated with the life of this principal author of the U.S. Declaration of Independence is that throughout his lifetime he owned 607 slaves. Eventually, his long-lived legacy has come into question after a mind-boggling discovery during an archaeological excavation conducted at the Monticello plantation. It is this discovery and some other sinister aspects that we are going to unravel in this article.
An Enigmatic Figure
The most notable among all the slaves that worked on Thomas Jefferson’s plantation was a woman named Sally Hemings. Her character is extremely shrouded in mystery and her close association with the life of Jefferson only adds to the inquisitiveness of the historians for more than a century now. Though, it is a period of around 200 years after her death that the path-breaking discovery has forced the historians to rethink on the theories they have proposed on the exact identity of this woman and the curious events that occurred while she was staying at Monticello.
Who Was Sally Hemings?
Sally Heming’s son named Madison described his mother stating that she was, the half-sister of Martha whose picture you are seeing right now. Actually, Martha was the wife of Thomas Jefferson, yes, don’t be shocked, this is the truth which has made the revelation all the more twisted. Born in the year 1773, Sally was the daughter of a man named John Wayles who was a planter and slave trader. John was the father of Martha Jefferson too. Betty Hemings was the mother of Sally and was a woman born into slavery and of biracial patrimony. The reason for which Sally along with her siblings and mother was a slave belonging to Martha and had to work on Jefferson’s property was a law at that time which stated that the children born to enslaved mothers will also be considered as slaves.
Before The Recognition
You will be surprised to know that the age gap between Sally and her half-sister Martha Jefferson was of 25 years, Sally being the younger one between the two. Sally was the youngest of her six siblings with all of them spending their childhood at Jefferson’s plantation at Monticello. From a very early age, they were given the required training to become artisans and domestic servants. They were not made to work in the fields as children occupied the top position of the slave hierarchy. At that time Sally was just like any other slave working on the plantation, but, who knew that she would become a topic of national interest and debate all over the world years after her death.
A Trail of Clues
Sally was able to live the last nine years of her life as a free lady because she was enslaved until the death of Thomas Jefferson in the year 1826. As already told before, there is hardly any information about the details of her life while she worked as a slave in the Monticello plantation. She was only mentioned once by a blacksmith named Isaac Granger Jefferson who described her by writing, “mighty near white… very handsome, long straight hair down her back.” Luckily, the string of clues which have surfaced from the ardent efforts of the archeologist since years has helped in giving a better understanding of the role of this woman in history. Ultimately, the closest that historians have reached is after the discovery that was made in the year 2017.
Painting A Picture
The absence of any portrait from the walls of the house in Monticello which usually had a stock of photo portraits, coupled with the minimal records of her description in the history has made Sally Hemings one of the most mysterious personalities to ever live. Thomas Jefferson Randolph who was the grandson of Thomas Jefferson described her by saying,“light colored and decidedly good looking.” Though, the historians confidently say that she used to work as a seamstress and chambermaid in Jefferson’s house, the absence of her description in the extremely detailed records of the property about his finances and births written by Jefferson arouses nothing but doubt and curiosity in the minds of everyone.
The French Connection
The fact of Sally Hemings accompanying Mary, who was the youngest daughter of Thomas Jefferson, to London and eventually, Paris, a major tourist spot, is well known. Thomas at that time was working as the U.S. envoy to France and was in the contention of becoming the next President of the United States. The two years she spent in France changed the life of Young Sally completely. The picture you see in front of you is of James, brother of Sally Hemings who was also with her sister in France and working as a culinary chef. France was a nation that did not allow slavery at that time which makes the decision of Sally to return to the U.S. all the more questionable as she was going to be considered a slave again.
What Happens In Paris, Doesn’t Stay In Paris
According to a belief held by a majority of historians, widower Thomas Jefferson got sexually involved in a relationship with Sally Hemings while they both were in France. Surprisingly, Thomas aged around mid-40s at that time. Before returning to the United States in the year 1789, Sally had become pregnant. After her return, she went on to become the mother of six children which were believed to be Jefferson’s by the people at that time, the reason being their strikingly similar features to him. Still, it took about twenty years for this highly controversial relationship of one of the most esteemed President’s to be written publicly.
It was in the year 1802 that the “Jefferson-Hemings controversy” surfaced into the public domain after an opponent of Thomas Jefferson published a report centered around Thomas’s relationship with Sally. On the contrary, Jefferson’s family rubbished the allegations of Jefferson being the father of the kids completely. Jefferson had not written a word about the father of Hemings’ children in his “Farm Book.” On top of that, the fact of Thomas releasing the four children from the chains of slavery just cemented the belief of the people that he was their father. Strangely, all these facts were not capable enough to dislodge Jefferson’s family from denying the fact of being the father for over 150 years. But, until the discovery that changed everything was made.
After 150 Years Of Uncertainty…
The dilemma surrounding the paternity of Sally Heming’s children was cleared to an extent when the scientists through a DNA test in the year 1998 found a shocking link which made the belief of historians stronger. Actually, a match was found between the male line of Thomas Jefferson and a descendant of Eston Hemings who was the youngest son of Sally and the one you are seeing in the picture. The wait is over, as, the discovery which was the next event in the chain of disclosure about the whole mysterious event after the DNA test has been described in the next slide.
A Monumental Discovery
It was in an excavation conducted by the archaeologists in the year 2017 with the prime motive of restoring the historical Monticello plantation that they discovered something totally amazing. Everyone including the restoration technician was taken aback on witnessing the thing which had become the cause of a headache for the social scientists trying to solve the mystery since years. I am sure you will be left shocked too after knowing the fact that it was the hidden quarter of Sally Hemings that the archaeologists had found out. They witnessed it while they were trying to figure out the original layout of the South Wing of the Monticello plantation house. Nobody had the slightest of the idea about a room hidden in the house, the prime reason is its location!
Hidden In Time
The portion of the house which had undergone massive change since the time Jefferson stayed here was the South Pavilion of Monticello. The notable changes were it becoming a museum just before the dawn of 20th century and getting a modern bathroom installed in its premises in the year 1941. Surprisingly, Sally’s room was able to maintain its hidden status even after these events taking place so close to it. Bathroom remodeling contractors were called upon and subsequently, the modern bathroom was once again renovated and enlarged during the 1960s after the number of visitors at Monticello considerably increased. Obviously, the source which gave the archaeologists a hint about the room is a very astonishing one.
A Historic Hint
The thing which had tipped the archaeologists was a document written by a grandson of Thomas Jefferson which the historians were analyzing extensively. In the document, it was clearly stated that the South Wing of the former plantation house was the place where Sally Hemings’ room was located. Though initially, the experts were in a dilemma on whether to believe in the information or not, the thought of the addition of a bathroom in the same area made tempted them to start digging. Yes, they too were left shocked on witnessing the artifacts that they found after excavating the area.
It was after an archaeologist completely cleared the men’s bathroom and removed the dirt that he made the mind-boggling discovery of Sally Hemings’ 14-foot living quarters. The sight of the original brick floors dating back to 1800s can make anyone’s eyes pop out and surely the same happened to the experts. The curiosity in the minds of the people presents there was soared high which led them to move forward in their search. It proved fruitful for them as they went on to find a brick hearth and fireplace. They also found a structure which they believed was used to house a stove at that time. Amidst all these discoveries the thing which caught their attention was the fact that the room was located adjacent to Jefferson’s bedroom. So, what did it indicate?
What It Means
After coming to know about the location of the room close to Jefferson’s, analysts’ confidence on the theory of Jefferson being the father of Sally’s kids solidified. This sighting coupled with the result in DNA testing laboratories has come up to clear the air of doubt surrounding the relationship of Jefferson and Sally by proving that it was something that happened really. “This room is a real connection to the past,” stated Fraser Neiman, the director of archaeology at Monticello. “We are uncovering and discovering and we’re finding many, many artifacts.” The room not only answered the questions lingering around some of the darkest mysteries of the past but also provided an insight into the lifestyle of Sally Hemings.
How Enslaved People Were Living
“This discovery gives us a sense of how enslaved people were living. Some of Sally’s children may have been born in this room,” stated Gardiner Hallock, the director of the restoration for Jefferson’s home. “It’s important because it shows Sally as a human being — a mother, daughter, and sister — and brings out the relationships in her life.” The reason for Sally returning to the United States after her visit to Paris is believed to be a promise made by Thomas to her according to which her children would be set free after a certain age. It seems that Thomas was a man of his words as he did the same. Interestingly, apart from the kids he only set free three other individuals which seems to be quite a selective decision.
A Window into the Past?
The pieces of evidence found out after thoroughly searching the room clearly indicate that Sally used to enjoy a way better quality of living when compared with other slaves present in Monticello at that time. Still, this did not detach the tag of a slave from her and the absence of no windows in the room and the severely dark and distressing condition inside proves it. Some people even believe that the main motive of getting a bathroom constructed over Sally’s room was to cover it up and maintain the legacy that was prevailing for years. Well, if this is true then the people who planned it would surely be unhappy after this discovery.
Revealing the Truth
After this event, the historians associated with Monticello have decided to restore the room of Sally Hemings’ in order to display it to the general public. They have planned to do this in the year 2018. In order to make the display more appealing, they have decided to adorn it with period furniture and artifacts which the experts found during the excavation like the ceramics and bone toothbrushes. The Mountaintop project is estimated to cost around $35-million and will help in providing the citizens a clear understanding of the concept of slavery at that time and how they worked. People have reacted well towards this concept turning up in big numbers to watch the display.
“For the first time at Monticello we have a physical space dedicated to Sally Hemings and her life,” said Mia Magruder Dammann. The spokeswoman for Monticello added that: “It’s significant because it connects the entire African American arch at Monticello.” The findings have surely proved to be something which has cleared all the doubts and speculation about the events that took place at Monticello. Experts are trying to present the story of the life of Jefferson and his relationship with Sally in a completely different way rubbishing all the previously-held notions that she was merely his “concubine.” But, there is much more to its significance.
Outside Of The Mystery
Famous historian while stating the importance of the findings at Monticello said that it will also, “portray her outside of the mystery.” “She was a mother, a sister, an ancestor for her descendants (pictured), and [the room’s presentation] will really just shape her as a person and give her a presence outside of the wonder of their relationship,” Bates stated. There were many false gossips regarding the image of the woman which were now getting cleared.
Remembering Sally’s Name
Lucia “Cinder” Stanton, a historian who got herself associated with the famous site in the year 1968 says that in the tours being conducted previously there used to be no inclusion of the name Sally Hemings and her life. But, now this has changed. Despite all this, it is believed that a fair amount of time still is left to witness descendants (pictured) of slaves coming to the property.
Remembering Mulberry Row
The authorities came up with the idea of launching another project with at Monticello in the year 2015 with the motive of throwing light on the lives of those slaved in the manor. In order to do that they restored Mulberry Row and put the living quarters, supply rooms and kitchens allocated to the slaves on public display. This project was successful in attracting around 100 descendants whose family were enslaved at that time by conducting a tree-planting memorial. But, this was not it as they had planned something more beautiful and commendable.
A More Comprehensive Account
The curators decided to include the room in which Sally used to live into a complete account of the mountaintop grounds unlike previously which only included Thomas Jefferson and his family. Though these projects are able to aware the citizens about the life of Sally Hemings, it is still unable to clear the doubts about the legacy of Thomas Jefferson that have surfaced in the minds of the distant relatives of Sally.
A Descendant’s View
Gayle Jessup White, who is Sally Hemings’ great-great-great-great niece said,“As an African American descendant, I have mixed feelings – Thomas Jefferson was a slaveholder.” “But for too long our history has been ignored,” she added. “Some people still don’t want to admit that the Civil War was fought over slavery. We need to face history head-on and face the blemish of slavery and that’s what we’re doing at Monticello.” There are many more people who share the same views.
The local African American community doesn’t always praise Thomas Jefferson, the reason being his association with slavery.“I find that some people are receptive to the message and some are resistant.” “But our message is that we want the underserved communities and communities of color to become partners with us,” an African American said. “Anecdotally, we have seen an uptick in African Americans visiting Monticello so I know we’re making progress,” another added.
You will be surprised to know that there are still many unanswered questions revolving around Monticello. The absence of most of the portraits of the slave families at that time in the log of Jefferson who used to keep it carefully is one such question. This led the descendants of those families along with the authorities to make efforts in order to unravel some of the more interesting facts about the families working on the plantation at that time.
The Hemings’ Family Tree
The association of Sally Hemings’ family tree to that of Thomas Jefferson has made it easy for the researchers to trace the lineage to the present. Historian Annette Gordon-Reed published the book “The Hemingses of Monticello: An American family”, in the year 2008 which brings out the hidden aspects of the generations of the Hemings family using the legal records, diaries, farm logs, correspondences, newspapers, archives and oral history.
Life After Monticello
The deepest insight has been made into the history of Hemings’ children named Madison, Eston, Beverley, and Harriet. It was Madison who unlike his siblings chose to live in the North amidst white people. Madison’s memoir, further revealed that his sisters Beverly and Harriet were married to rich men living in Washington, DC.information was gathered about the other siblings. On the other hand, his brothers got married in Charlottesville and Eston.
An Influential Lineage
The two sons of Sally went on to fight for the Union in the Civil War. Her lineage consisted of many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Surprisingly, most of them did very well in their life with some of them even making it to the history books. Frederick Madison Roberts who was the great-grandson of Jefferson and Sally was elected the first black to take public office on the West Coast.
Some of the significant steps taken in order to interact with the descendants of the enslaved families are the series of interviews conducted in the year 1993 of more than 200 people belonging to the African American families of that time and a summit held in 2016 which was named “Memory, Mourning, Mobilization: Legacies of Slavery and Freedom in America.” Fortunately, the families have actively participated in these events.
Monticello guide Tom Nash who works as a guide in Monticello in a friendly way told the tourists, “This is a spectacular view from this mountaintop. But not for the enslaved people who worked these fields. This was a tough job and some of them — even young boys 10 to 16 years old —felt the whip.”
‘No Such Thing As A Good Slave Owner’
Tom had to face some questions from the visitors like, “Why did some slaves want to pass for white when they were freed,” “Why did Jefferson own slaves and write that all men are created equal?” His answer to them was, “Working in the fields was not a happy time. There were long days on the plantation. Enslaved people worked from sunup to sundown six days a week. There was no such thing as a good slave owner.”
On the eve of its 55th annual Independence Day in July 2017, the property saw around 70 people from thirty countries participating in a spectacular event. It was in the event that they became the citizens of the United States naturally. It helped everyone realize the importance of the people in the American history who worked as a slave.
Jefferson Wasn’t The Only One
These events and steps have not only proved to change the perception of the people towards the Monticello plantation state but also in raising the point of other prominent U.S. President like Jefferson having a history of slave ownership. Researchers have found out that 12 Presidents in the history of the United States were associated with slave ownership.
Early Years Of The Republic
Among the first five presidents, four were slave owners. This also includes George Washington titled as “father of the country.” It was his Mount Vernon plantation where around 300 slaves used to live. In his will, it was clearly stated that the slaves must be freed upon his wife, Martha’s death.
John Adams, the second President of the United States and the first resident of the White House was known to never own any slave. His son, John Quincy Adams who became the sixth U.S. President also followed his father’s footsteps and decided not to own any slaves.
Presidents After Jefferson
After third U.S. President Thomas Jefferson other presidents like James Madison, James Monroe and Andrew Jackson each owned several slaves. Martin Van Buren, eighth president of the United States owned 1 slave during his early career.
John Tyler, James Polk, and Zachary Taylor were all owners of slaves while their time in office. It was the 16th U.S. President, Abraham Lincoln, who ordered the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed some 3 million enslaved people in the year 1863.