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Historians In Awe Over Discovery At Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello Property

In 2017, archeologists made a discovery at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello property in Charlottesville, Virginia while working on The Mountaintop Project in hopes of restoring Monticello to its original glory. What they found has flabberghasted even the most experienced social scientists.

Construction Of Monticello Began in 1768

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Thomas Jefferson was an American Founding Father, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, and the third President of the United States. In 1768, he began construction on his residence, Monticello, meaning “Little Mountain” in Italian. The residence was built on a hilltop overlooking his 5,000-acre inheritance, constructed mostly by trained workers as well as Jefferson’s slaves. However, there are some secrets about Monticello that have recently come to light.
What started out as an excavation project to learn about the construction of the original Monticello, reopened a highly debated discussion in the academic community.

The Controversy Surrounding Monticello

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Monticello was the primary residence of Thomas Jefferson who began designing and building it at the young age of 26. He originally inherited this sizeable chunk of land from his father and turned it into what is now a historical landmark. Located just outside of Charlottesville, Virginia, Jefferson utilized the massive plantation for the cultivation of tobacco and wheat. The plantation was also home to hundreds of slaves that worked on the property, putting Jefferson’s integrity into question for many people today.

Understanding The Original Monticello

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In 2017, while working on The Mountaintop Project at the mansion, discoveries were made in the South Pavilion and South Wing of the mansion. These archeologists were excavating in an attempt to better understand the changes of design and use of spaces of the original Monticello. The South Pavilion was completed in 1770 with Jefferson’s original living quarters on the top floor and the original kitchen on the bottom. A wing, known as the South Wing that connected the Pavilion to the mansion was built and completed in 1809. By this time, Jefferson had moved to the main mansion, and after its completion, the original kitchen was then filled with dirt in order for the floor to match the level of the newly added wing.

Discoveries Made In The South Pavilion

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The ground floor of the South Pavilion then became a wash house, which led to numerous renovations from the original kitchen. So, despite the transformations from the kitchen to the washroom as well as two visitor restroom constructions in the 20th century, the archaeologists excavated in hopes of finding any evidence of the original construction kitchen. Although they had Jefferson’s blueprints of the original Pavilion kitchen, they couldn’t be considered totally factual. Yet, after some excavating, they found artifacts from the 18th and 19th Centuries such as Chinese porcelain, ironstone, shell, wine bottle glass and more. They then continued digging and soon discovered fireplaces and eventually, they reached the brick flooring of the original kitchen.

Further Discoveries

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Their archeological work eventually led them further down the South Wing where they continued to excavate an area. Here they found a space that had two heated rooms which were the quarters of enslaved domestic servants. As noted by Jefferson’s grandson Thomas Jefferson Randall, one of those rooms belonged to a woman named Sally Hemings. Although they were originally attempting to discover the original construction and layout of the South Pavilion and Wing, they also ended up discovering the room of a female slave that has brought much controversy and debate in the historical and academic communities.

So who was she?

Who Was Sally Heming?

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This is a picture of a descendant of Sarah “Sally” Hemings to give an idea of what she may have looked like. Sally was born in 1773 and was a slave owned by Thomas Jefferson. Hemings was the youngest of six siblings by the widowed planter John Wayles and a mixed-race woman by the same of Betty whom Wayles kept as a slave. Betty Hemings, Sally, and her siblings were three-quarters European and half-siblings of Jefferson’s wife Martha Wayles Skelton. In those days, it was rare for slaves to be freed, and there was a good chance that Sally would spend most, if not all of her life living in slavery. This was before Jefferson became the third president of the U.S., in 1801.

Sally and Jefferson

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As an infant, Sally came to Monticello as part of Martha’s inheritance of her father’s slave holdings. In 1787, Hemings, who was 14-years-old at the time, accompanied Jefferson’s youngest daughter Mary to Paris. There, Jefferson was serving as the United States minister to France for two years. It is believed that it was either in France or soon after that the two began to partake in a sexual relationship. Hemings, still a slave, also began having children not long after. In total, she would give birth to a total of six children.

They couldn’t such a relationship for long…

The Relationship Was Revealed In The News

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Rumors about such a relationship began to circulate around Virginia society for years. Their relationship came to light so quickly because Hemings’ children looked to be fathered by a white man, and some of them even had Jefferson’s features. In 1802, a less-than-reputable journalist named James Callendar published an accusation of the affair in the Richmond Recorder.

He did this in order to get back at Jefferson after Jefferson failed to return a favor. When he published the accusation, he intended his writings to cause a scandal and hurt Jefferson’s chances of the presidency. Jefferson denied such accusations and the rumors didn’t hurt his standing much in the public eye.

Jefferson Frees All Of Sally’s Children

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Even though he still firmly denied being in a romantic relationship with Hemings, it has been established that Thomas Jefferson eventually freed all of her children. The girls, Beverly and Harriet, were allowed to leave Monticello in 1822; Madison and Eston were released at Jefferson’s word in 1826. However, Jefferson did not grant freedom to any other nuclear slave family. This information further promotes the belief that Jefferson was indeed the father of Hemings’ children. Her children were also known to have light skin, and three of them lived in white society as adults. Sally was permitted to leave after Jefferson’s death and was released by his daughter Martha.

Jefferson-Hemings Controversy

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The historical question of whether Jefferson is the father of Heming’s children is referred to as the Jefferson-Hemings controversy. Following renewed historic analysis in the late 20th century, as well as a 1990 DNA study, there was a match found between the Jefferson male line and a descendant of Hemings’ last son named Eston Hemings. Now, there is a near-consensus among historians that Jefferson fathered her son Eston Hemings, and most likely all of her children. Only a few stubborn historians disagree.

So What Does The Discovery Of Her Room Mean?

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The discovery of her living quarters, and how they were essentially connected Jefferson’s says a lot about their relationship, as well as the treatment of the slaves living at Monticello during that time. “Surely some of her children have been born in this room” notes Gardiner Hallock, Director of Restoration for Jefferson’s plantation. It also gives us insight into who Sally was as a mother, daughter, and sister even though little is known about her. One of the only descriptions we have of Sally is from an enslaved blacksmith named Isaac Granger Jefferson who recalled her as being, “mighty near white…very handsome, long straight hair down her back”.

Connecting the Arch

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Although originally the South Pavilion, the room in this image is intended to be restored as the residence of Sally Hemings as a tourist attraction. Mia Magruder Dammann, a spokesperson for Monticello notes, “For the first time at Monticello, we have a physical space dedicated to Sally and her life. It is significant because it connects the entire African American arch at Monticello.” Essentially, this discovery answers many questions as well as clarifies some speculations about what occurred at Monticello, Jefferson’s relationships with his slaves, as well as the mystery behind the relationship between Jefferson and Hemings.

Sally’s Experience at Monticello

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It has been reported that the physical evidence discovered in Sally’s quarters shows that Sally probably lived a higher-level lifestyle than most slaves, having her own quarters in the house, as well receiving special treatment from Jefferson. However, this did not mean that she lived a life of luxury by any means. Her room had no windows and would have been dark and damp. While it was still considered slave quarters, she was not forced to live in the same conditions as the rest of the slaves on the plantation. The fact that her living space was not preserved, and that the wing was eventually turned into a bathroom of all things was seen by some historians as a sign of disrespect.

It has been reported that the physical evidence discovered in Sally’s quarters shows that Sally probably lived a higher-level lifestyle than most slaves, having her own quarters in the house, as well receiving special treatment from Jefferson. However, this did not mean that she lived a life of luxury by any means. Her room had no windows and would have been dark and damp. While it was still considered slave quarters, she was not forced to live in the same conditions as the rest of the slaves on the plantation. The fact that her living space was not preserved, and that the wing was eventually turned into a bathroom of all things was seen by some historians as a sign of disrespect.

Source : abandoned-things.com

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