Thomas Jefferson, The Third US President And The Secret Behind The Monticello Plantation

Published on 07/02/2021
ADVERTISEMENT

Most people who are familiar with American history know that Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia plantation used to be Monticello. Locals and tourists alike travel to see it today. Unfortunately, a lot of research has already been done, but we suspect you may not be aware of the recently-discovered secrets on the property. It’s due to the hard work of the historians who have invested a lot of time into this. The recent findings provide an increased level of understanding of the life of the 3rd U.S. President. Would you like to learn more about this Founding Father?

Thomas Jefferson, The Third US President And The Secret Behind The Monticello Plantation

Thomas Jefferson, The Third US President And The Secret Behind The Monticello Plantation

A Presidential Property

President Thomas Jefferson served as the country’s third vice president after taking office as the third President of the United States. He lived on the Monticello plantation in Virginia before moving to the White House. The Virginia State Capitol in Charlottesville was constructed in 1768. It has been a landmark for decades. It is also known in Italian as “Little Mountain.” The main house of the historical estate is even depicted on the reverse of the nickel! It was only recently discovered that Monticello had been hiding a secret all this time. 

The Monticello Mystery

The Monticello Mystery

The Monticello Mystery

Let us delve deeper into the land’s history. The plot of land belonged to Thomas Jefferson’s father, who left it to him. Wheat and tobacco were grown on the plantation back then. Monticello, like other plantations in the country at the time, was a part of one of America’s darkest chapters: slavery. Jefferson used indentured labor to build the house, according to a lot of evidence. Hundreds of slaves lived on the property and worked the land. While acknowledging that a powerful figure owned slaves is difficult, one must accept it and learn from their mistakes.

The Mystery Of Monticello

The Monticello Mystery

A Woman Called Sally Hemings

Sally Hemings was a slave on Thomas Jefferson’s plantation, and she was one of many. Although she was a slave, her life seemed to have been inextricably linked to Jefferson’s. For more than a century, historians have been fascinated by the figure known as Sally Hemings. There wasn’t much evidence that Sally Hemings was anything more than a slave. However, almost 200 years after her death, a discovery has revealed new details about her life and the events that led to the Monticello estate’s mystery.

A Woman Called Sally Hemings

A Woman Called Sally Hemings

They Learned More About Her

Sally Hemings was one of the many slaves who worked on the plantation. She may have been a slave, but her life was unusually intertwined with Thomas Jefferson’s. This is why she has piqued the interest of so many historians. They didn’t have much evidence in the past to show that she was more than just another slave victim. Experts discovered new information about her life nearly two hundred years after she died. The Monticello estate is riddled with mysteries, and this find shed light on one of them.

They Learned More About Her

They Learned More About Her

The Truth About Her Family

Her daughter was named Madison. He claimed, however, that his mother was the half-sister of Thomas Jefferson’s wife, Martha. In 1773, Sally Hemings was born to John Wayles, a planter and slave trader, and Betty Hemings, a woman. The father of Martha Jefferson’s wife was born into slavery. The law stated that once enslaved children reached a certain age, they would be enslaved and forced to work on plantations. The family relocated to the Monticello estate when she was only a baby. According to the records, Martha Jefferson inherited them from her father.

The Truth About Her Family

The Truth About Her Family

What She Looked Like

It’s a misconception that Sally Hemings has been enslaved her entire life. She was born a slave until Jefferson’s death in 1826. She had decades to spend freely. It is believed she spent only a short time at Monticello. This recent discovery gives us important new information about this woman. There is no picture of her or anything else showing what she looks like. Isaac Granger Jefferson was one of the few people who wrote about her. He said that Sally Hemings was “mighty near white… very handsome, long straight hair down her back.”

What She Looked Like

What She Looked Like

She Was A Lovely Woman

Despite having no portraits of her, there are many descriptions of her appearance. Thomas Jefferson Randolph, President Jefferson’s grandson, described her as “light colored and decidedly good looking.” According to reliable historians, she worked at the estate as a seamstress and chambermaid. Jefferson kept meticulous records and notes on the previous property’s finances and births. However, it did not appear that he wrote about this woman.

She Was A Lovely Woman

She Was A Lovely Woman

The Paris Trip Changed Her Life

Paris fundamentally changed her life. She was only 14 at the time! Sally Hemings was tasked to accompany Mary, Thomas Jefferson’s youngest daughter. They went to London and Paris because the future president had been the U.S. envoy to France back then. Hemings was not the only family member who went on this trip. This photo shows her brother James, who was the President’s chef! In France, slavery was illegal. Sally Hemings, for whatever reason, chose to return to the United States. To go back to being a slave in Monticello is fascinating, isn’t it?

The Paris Trip Changed Her Life

The Paris Trip Changed Her Life

During That Important Trip

Regardless, the trip to Paris affected her life profoundly. While on the trip, Thomas Jefferson began an intimate relationship with the young girl. He was a widower in his mid-40s at the time, and she was only 16 years old. She became pregnant as a result of this turn of events. In 1789, she emigrated to the US from Europe. She had six children after that. They were reportedly mistaken for the owner’s children because of their striking resemblance. While it was clear that Hemings and Jefferson had a romantic relationship, no writings about it could be found.

During That Important Trip

During That Important Trip

A Lot Of Rumors

The affair was first revealed in 1802. One of his opponents released a report that became known as the Jefferson-Hemings controversy. Jefferson denied being the father of her children. Despite this, Jefferson did not list the children’s father’s name in the “Farm Book.” Of the six children she bore, only four of them reached adulthood. He eventually freed them all, which only fanned the rumors that he was the father. However, the family repeatedly denied the allegations while he was doing this. After 150 years, the issue once again divides historians. However, it gives us a different perspective.

A Lot Of Rumors

A Lot Of Rumors

It Was A Match

For many years, the paternity of the children was a mystery. Finally, the truth has been found. Scientists managed to prove that Thomas Jefferson was truly the father of her children! DNA testing proved that he was the biological father of one of her children. Thus, all six of his children are said to be his. The genetic test showed a match between Sally Hemings’ youngest son Eston and the Jefferson male line. After 20 years, they learned even more about Sally Hemings’ life. Let’s find out what they discovered about this fascinating woman.

It Was A Match

It Was A Match

An Incredible Discovery

The Monticello Plantation will be renovated in 2017. Archaeologists excavated around the estate during the project and discovered the missing piece of the plantation puzzle. No one knew the truth for years. Historians have finally discovered Sally Hemings’ living quarters. Archaeologists examined every nook and cranny of the South Pavilion of the main house to determine the original layout. This is how they came across the historically significant find. It turned out that there had been a hidden room for centuries that no one had ever seen. No one knew it was even there for a long time.

An Incredible Discovery

An Incredible Discovery

Her Hidden Room

The house’s south wing had undergone numerous renovations in the past. They happened both during and after Thomas Jefferson’s time there. During the twentieth century, the property underwent a few changes, including being turned into a museum. Because the hidden room was beneath a modern bathroom installed in 1941, no one noticed it. After that, in the 1960s, the bathroom in question was renovated to accommodate more visitors. Although Monticello was undergoing extensive renovations, the room went unnoticed for the longest time. But when the cat was finally let out of the bag, what did they discover?

Her Hidden Room

Her Hidden Room

Where They Found The Clue

Historians discovered a document written by one of Thomas Jefferson’s grandsons after researching the house’s history. According to the document, the room was on the main house’s south wing. Experts had no way of knowing if the information was accurate. Despite this, they realized there might be something hidden beneath the newly renovated bathroom. We’re sure it was a thrilling discovery for them. They were, however, taken aback by what they discovered inside the chamber!

Where They Found The Clue

Where They Found The Clue

All These Interesting Discoveries

Time passed before they started searching. The team had to destroy the modern men’s bathroom and go through a lot of dirt. Finally, the 14-foot living space was revealed. Surprisingly, the original brick floor, which dated back to the early 1800s, remained. They found even more secrets this time around. The original brick fireplace and hearth were found! Aside from the room’s contents, its location was a complete mystery. It was surprising to note that Thomas Jefferson’s bedroom was nearby. Is that by chance?

All These Interesting Discoveries

All These Interesting Discoveries

What It Meant

The new findings confirmed that Thomas Jefferson was the father of Sally Hemings’ children. When you are close proximity, it is much easier to spot. Genetic evidence was also present in the DNA test in the ‘90s. They eventually agreed that they had the children together. Fraser Neiman, the estate’s director of archaeology, explained, “This room is a real connection to the past. We are uncovering and discovering, and we’re finding many, many artifacts.” We are glad they found the hidden room. It unveiled new details about Sally Hemings, who arrived at Monticello as a slave.

What It Meant

What It Meant

The Life Of Enslaved People

“This discovery gives us a sense of how enslaved people were living. Some of Sally’s children may have been born in this room,” Monticello’s restoration director added. Gardiner Hallock continued, “It’s important because it shows Sally as a human being — a mother, daughter, and sister — and brings out the relationships in her life.” After all the discoveries were made, historians finally discovered why Sally Hemings called to return to the US. Jefferson must have promised to free the children once they were adults. He freed only the Hemings family in his lifetime. He freed individuals, not families. 

The Life Of Enslaved People

The Life Of Enslaved People

Compared To Others

This discovery proved he was the father of those children, but it also shed light on her lifestyle. Sally Hemings lived better than the other slaves at Monticello. She remained a slave and worked alongside her fellow slaves despite her privileges. In fact, her room was right next to Thomas Jefferson’s private quarters. It was not a lavish residence. They came to the conclusion that it was likely dark and uncomfortable inside. To conceal the room, the bathroom was built on top of it. They believe it’s a betrayal of her legacy.

Compared To Others

Compared To Others

The Restoration Of The Room

The historians at Monticello then went to work on her room’s restoration. They finally opened it to the public in 2018. They decided to put it on display, complete with period artifacts and furniture. Bone toothbrushes and ceramics were among the items on display. The Mountaintop Project, which cost them $35 million, was the name of the project. It was created to bring more transparency to the estate’s history. The goal of the project was to tell the story of the people who lived and worked on the plantation. It also focused on the extraordinary Hemings family’s story.

The Restoration Of The Room

The Restoration Of The Room

The First Proof In History

Mia Magruder Dammann said, “For the first time at Monticello, we have a physical space dedicated to Sally Hemings and her life.” She is Monticello’s spokesperson. “It’s significant because it connects the entire African American arch at Monticello,” she continued. We learned more about Sally Hemings as a result of the room’s discovery. It also helped us gain a better understanding of the lives of Monticello’s enslaved workers. This provided historians with a better understanding of Thomas Jefferson’s character.

The First Proof In History

The First Proof In History

Outside Of The Mystery

The discovery of the secret room for Sally Hemings, according to historian Niya Bates, would “portray her outside of the mystery.” The new exhibit helped to humanize this powerful woman, whose life has long been surrounded by rumors. “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 continued.

Outside Of The Mystery

Outside Of The Mystery

In Memory Of Sally Hemings

Recent discoveries have changed our perceptions of Monticello. Now, the focus is entirely on Sally Hemings. Indeed, she is the centerpiece of the museum’s sprawling exhibits. In 1968, Lucia “Cinder” Stanton, a retired historian, began working at the plantation. At the time, tours made no mention of Sally Hemings. This, we are certain, will change. Previously, much was said about her and her family. In 1993, curators began including slave narratives in their exhibitions in commemoration of Thomas Jefferson’s 250th birthday. However, descendants of the slaves took some time to arrive.

In Memory Of Sally Hemings

In Memory Of Sally Hemings

A Project Called Mulberry Row

Apart from Sally Hemings, they also shed light on other enslaved individuals. In 2015, Monticello began a new project. It told the slaves’ stories on the plantation. The restaurant Mulberry Row opened its doors and showcased the reconstruction of the central plantation’s street dwellings. This was the location of the enslaved workers. From 1770 to 1831, the row displayed over twenty structures. The restaurant invited over a hundred descendants of slaves to take part in the memorial tree planting. Bear in mind. This was merely the first of numerous commemorative events planned.

A Project Called Mulberry Row

A Project Called Mulberry Row

Her Life In Focus

Apart from Mulberry Row, the curators intend to place a greater emphasis on Sally Hemings. They intend to highlight her room and life story. They hope to provide a comprehensive account of her time at the Monticello estate, among other things. Naturally, they intend to discuss her relationship with Thomas Jefferson and others as well. After such a long period of time, the recent discovery helped them in solving the mystery of her life. We’re interested to hear what her descendants have to say about the recent discoveries.

Her Life In Focus

Her Life In Focus

What Their Descendants Had To Say

Gayle Jessup White, a Community Engagement Officer at Monticello, is Sally Hemings’ great-great-great-great niece. She shared, “As an African American descendant, I have mixed feelings – Thomas Jefferson was a slaveholder.” Given this, she expressed gratitude for her coworkers’ efforts. “But for too long, our history has been ignored,” she said. “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.” More people share this sentiment.

What Their Descendants Had To Say

What Their Descendants Had To Say

It Got Mixed Reactions

Furthermore, she stated that people are often conflicted about Monticello’s role in African-American history. “I find that some people are receptive to the message, and some are resistant,” she shared. “But our message is that we want the underserved communities and communities of color to become partners with us.” She went on, “Anecdotally, we have seen an uptick in African Americans visiting Monticello, so I know we’re making progress.”

It Got Mixed Reactions

It Got Mixed Reactions

There Are Questions Still Unanswered

Although the room was a true game-changer, it didn’t fill in all of the gaps in the estate’s history. And though Thomas Jefferson kept track of the slaves on the plantation, there were few individual portraits of the enslaved workers. Their descendants lived on the Monticello estate and provided additional details about life at the time. This allowed us to get a glimpse of things that had not previously been written about.

There Are Questions Still Unanswered

There Are Questions Still Unanswered

The Descendants Of Sally Hemings

Her descendants would be another source of information about Sally Hemings. They assisted in the creation of a family tree for their ancestors. They were linked to Thomas Jefferson, so we can combine their data with that of his heirs. Annette Gordon-Reed, a historian, published a book called “The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family” in 2008. The author of the book discussed the lives of enslaved people and traced the family’s history over time. She combed through their farm logs, diaries, legal documents, and other documents. In the end, her efforts yielded a remarkable discovery.

The Descendants Of Sally Hemings

The Descendants Of Sally Hemings

What Happened To Her Children

Sally Hemings was the mother of four children who all grew up to be adults. Eston, Beverly, Madison, and Harriet were the names of the four girls. With the exception of Madison, they had all lived their entire lives in the North. He penned a memoir about his siblings in which he revealed more about them. His writings are widely regarded as trustworthy. He claimed that both Harriet and Beverley married affluent white men in Washington, DC. In the meantime, in Charlottesville, the two men married free black women. Eston, on the other hand, was the only one who acknowledged his paternity by changing his surname to Jefferson.

What Happened To Her Children

What Happened To Her Children

Madison And Eston Hemings

Madison and Eston both had successful careers and fathered multiple children. Some of them went on to fight for the Union in the Civil War. Their children then had their own children, and so on. Interestingly, his great-grandson Frederick Madison Roberts made history as the first elected person of black ancestry to hold a public office position on the West Coast a few generations after Jefferson’s presidency. He spent two decades in the California State Assembly.

Madison And Eston Hemings

Madison And Eston Hemings

They Collected Accounts And Anecdotes

More than 200 people were interviewed by Monticello historians in 1993 to learn more about the subject. The interviews were a crucial component of a larger oral history project. Its mission was to compile personal accounts from those who lived and worked on the Monticello plantation. The National Endowment for the Humanities and the University of Virginia held a summit at the estate in 2016. The event was attended by a few descendants of the families who once lived there. “Memory, Mourning, Mobilization: Legacies of Slavery and Freedom in America,” was the title.

They Collected Accounts And Anecdotes

They Collected Accounts And Anecdotes

A Deeper Understanding

The stories told on Monticello museum tours, on the other hand, have significantly changed in order to provide a more accurate account of the property’s history. One of the manor’s guides, Tom Nash, spoke openly about the manor’s history. “This is a spectacular view from this mountaintop,” he shared with the visitors. “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.” He’s not afraid to tell it like it was.

A Deeper Understanding

A Deeper Understanding

The Visitors Were Intrigued

The curious visitors had several questions for him after he told them this. They inquired, among other things, “Why did some slaves want to pass for white when they were freed?” and “Why did Jefferson own slaves and write that all men are created equal?” In response to these, he replied, “Working in the fields was not a happy time. There were long days on the plantation.” He went on, “Enslaved people worked from sunup to sundown six days a week. There was no such thing as a good slave owner.”

The Visitors Were Intrigued

The Visitors Were Intrigued

Monticello At The Moment

We have no doubt that the Monticello controversy will continue to be discussed in the future. Despite this, the estate held a fantastic celebration in July 2017 to commemorate its 55th Independence Day. The event drew over 70 people from 30 countries, all of whom were granted citizenship through naturalization. The United States, like the rest of the world, recognizes that these people’s stories and contributions will not be forgotten. Their freedom may have been limited during their lives, so the least we can do now is pay tribute to their memory.

Monticello At The Moment

Monticello At The Moment

Not The Only Slave Owner President

Most people point out how ironic it is that Thomas Jefferson owned slaves when he declared, “All Men Were Created Equal.” This is also true for other United States presidents. Slaves were also owned by many of the forefathers. According to historians, twelve of them had slaves while they were alive. Not only that, but eight of them were slave owners while in power. While it is claimed that the United States was founded on quality, we can see that this is not the case.

Not The Only Slaveowner President

Not The Only Slave Owner President

George Washington Also Had Slaves

Something distinguishes George Washington from the other presidents who owned slaves. No one else, after all, had freed personal slaves. In his will, he requested that they be given their freedom after his death. For this reason, his wife, Martha, freed over a hundred slaves after he died.

George Washington Also Had Slaves

George Washington Also Had Slaves

Those Who Did Not

Do you know who was the first president to live in the White House? John Adams was the recipient of this honor. He did not own slaves because he held “moderate” views on slavery. Slave labor was still used in the construction of the presidential residence, despite this. His son, John Quincy Adams, became the sixth president of the United States. He, like his father, did not own slaves. In fact, years after leaving office, he began to oppose slavery.

Those Who Did Not

Those Who Did Not

You Do Not Learn This In School

We hope you’ve learned more about Thomas Jefferson since then. We seriously doubt that these events were covered in your history textbooks. He was a slave owner himself, despite calling slavery an “assemblage of horrors.” Unfortunately, he was not the last president to hold the position. Who are the rest of them? Andrew Jackson, James Madison, and James Monroe are among them. Martin Van Buren, the eighth president of the United States, owned only one slave. Later on, he joined the anti-slavery movement.

You Do Not Learn This In School

You Do Not Learn This In School

The Last Presidents To Be Slave Owners

Although William Henry Harrison inherited a few slaves, he did not have any during his presidency. This was significant because he had been president for 31 years. We have John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, and James Polk on the other hand. During their terms, they all owned slaves. The last presidents to have slaves were Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant. The Emancipation Proclamation was signed by Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, in 1863. More than 3 million slaves were freed as a result of it. Slavery was finally abolished two years later when the 13th Amendment was enacted.

The Last Presidents To Be Slaveowners

The Last Presidents To Be Slave Owners

Burwell Colbert

From 1783 to 1862, Burwell Colbert worked at Monticello as an unpaid migrant worker. His mother was Betty Brown, and his grandmother was Elizabeth Hemings. When Colbert was ten years old, he began working at the Mulberry Row nail salon, where he learned painting and window glazing. Among his achievements was the painting of the roof balusters and Chinese railing, as well as the landau carriage designed by his uncle John Hemmings and cousin Joseph Fossett.

Burwell Colbert

Burwell Colbert

Elizabeth Hemings

Elizabeth (Betty) Hemings was the matron of a powerful and large family that made up a third of Monticello’s population, making them the city’s largest family ever. Slavery and kinship bound the Hemings and Jefferson families forever, reflecting the complexities of enslaved people’s relationships with their owners. Elizabeth Hemings’ children and descendants held the most powerful household and trade positions on the mountain. Many of her children were able to contract themselves out and keep their earnings, something that Thomas Jefferson’s slaves rarely did.

Elizabeth Hemings

Elizabeth Hemings

Martin Hemings

Martin Hemings was the oppressed son of Elizabeth Hemings. He was born and raised in The Forest, John Wayles’ plantation house. Martin was assigned to Monticello following Wayles’ death in 1773 and served as Thomas Jefferson’s butler. According to family legend, Martin Hemings was in charge of concealing the Jeffersons’ family silver when Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton’s troops approached Monticello in 1781. 1 After an unexplained disagreement, Hemings “desired” that Jefferson sell him to another leader, and Jefferson agreed.

Martin Hemings

Martin Hemings

Mary Hemings Bell

Mary Hemings Bell was Elizabeth Hemings’ eldest known daughter. Bell and her family were brought to Monticello in 1774 following the division of the estate of Martha Jefferson’s father, John Wayles, where she worked as an enslaved household servant and seamstress. Between 1772 and 1783, Mary Hemings Bell gave birth to six children, some of whom were sold away from her and others who lived in freedom.

Mary Hemings Bell

Mary Hemings Bell

Robert Hemings

Elizabeth Hemings had a son named Robert Hemings with John Wayles, Thomas Jefferson’s father-in-law and Elizabeth Hemings’ master before Jefferson inherited her. Robert Hemings, the first of their six children, was born in 1762. By at least 1775, Hemings appears to have been Jefferson’s enslaved body servant, a position previously held by Jupiter Evans. In 1775 and 1776, Jefferson accompanied Hemings to Philadelphia, and he was described as a “bright mulatto.” In 1775, Jefferson was inoculated against smallpox by Dr. William Shippen, who had inoculated him almost a decade before.

Robert Hemings

Robert Hemings

Sally Hemings

In American history, Sally Hemings is a well-known African American woman. For more than 200 years, her name has been linked to Thomas Jefferson as his “concubine,” obscuring the truth about her life and identity. Unlike many other enslaved women, Sally Hemings was willing to bargain with her master. When she was free in Paris, the 16-year-old decided to return to Monticello’s enslavement in exchange for “extraordinary rights” for herself and protection for her unborn children.

Sally Hemings

Sally Hemings

Edith Fossett

After Thomas Jefferson’s retirement, Edith Hern Fossett worked as the enslaved head chef at Monticello. She was a French cooking instructor at the White House in Washington, D.C. According to Daniel Webster, who was referring to her cooking, the meals at Monticello were “half Virginian, half French style, in good taste and abundance.” In 1802, Thomas Jefferson decided that fifteen-year-old Fossett should learn to cook at the White House under George Washington’s chef, Honoré Julien.

Edith Fossett

Edith Fossett

Joseph Fossett

Mary Hemings Bell, Elizabeth Hemings’ eldest daughter, had a son named Joseph Fossett. He was a skilled blacksmith who “could do anything with steel or iron that was required.” Despite the fact that some of Fossett’s descendants claim Thomas Jefferson as a paternal grandfather, Joseph’s surname suggests a different lineage. In the years leading up to Fossett’s birth, a white carpenter named William Fosset worked at Monticello. Fossett’s mother and other enslaved housekeepers lived in Richmond when Jefferson was governor of Virginia.

Joseph Fossett

Joseph Fossett

Peter Fossett

Peter Farley Fossett was an enslaved person in Monticello. After gaining independence at the age of 35 with the help of his family, he went on to become a successful caterer in Ohio, an Underground Railroad conductor, and the pastor of First Baptist Church, Cumminsville, where he served for 32 years. In his reminiscences, published in 1898, Peter Fossett remembered the comparison between Monticello and his new owner’s plantation, Colonel John Jones, where he was threatened with a whipping if ever caught with a book in his hand.

Peter Fossett

Peter Fossett

Isaac Granger Jefferson

Isaac Granger Jefferson worked as an enslaved tinsmith and blacksmith at Monticello. Granger’s short memoir, written by an interviewer and published in the 1840s, contains significant and interesting details about Monticello and the people who lived there, as well as major historical events he witnessed. Granger was the third son of two powerful members of the enslaved labor force at Monticello. In 1797, his father, George Granger, rose from foreman of labor to overseer of Monticello, the first enslaved person to do so, and was paid £20 a year.

Isaac Granger Jefferson

Isaac Granger Jefferson

ADVERTISEMENT