Sunday, February 17, 2008

Virtual Book Tour: Day 17

When my family and I took a trip back east this past June, we spent a day driving down from Washington D.C. to visit Monticello. This famous plantation home was owned by President Thomas Jefferson. It was also the home for many enslaved African Americans, including Sally Hemings.

Historical reports portray Sally Hemings as fair-skinned with a marked resemblance to her white half-sister Martha. (They had the same father but different mothers—Sally’s mother was a slave.) Yet because of laws stating the children of enslaved African American women were born a slave, Sally lived most of her life as the slave of Thomas Jefferson—compared to her half-sister Martha who was Thomas Jefferson’s wife.

When Sally and Martha’s father died, Sally and her mother and the rest of her enslaved family became the property of Martha and Thomas Jefferson. Only an infant, Sally was taken with the other slaves to live at Monticello. Sally grew up at Monticello as a house servant, learning to sew and do domestic work. She also helped take care of her cousins, the Jefferson’s two daughters.

After Monticello was built, the part of the house you see in the picture above was where much of the work was done to maintain the house. The Kitchen, the Cook’s Room, and the Washhouse were here. African Americans who were enslaved spent many hours in this part of the house, working hard to keep the great estate running smoothly.

This hallway runs underneath the house. It was often used during stormy or wintry weather. Food from the kitchen could be carried through this passage and taken up to the dining room where the Jefferson family was eating or entertaining famous guests.

There were many other African Americans who were enslaved at Monticello along with Sally Hemings and her family. This is a picture of Isaac Jefferson. He was a metalworker and worked at Monticello as a blacksmith, a tinsmith, and a nailer. When Isaac Jefferson was elderly, he was interviewed about his life. Copies of that memoir can still be read today. In his memoir, Isaac Jefferson mentioned Sally Hemings as well as described the different members of his family and other workers on the plantation. He talked about what it was like to live at Monticello. You can read Isaac Jefferson’s memoir by clicking on the link to the Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia Library.

Coming Tomorrow:
On Day 18 of my Virtual Book Tour, we’ll list the Top Ten Writers, post trivia questions, and more! Send in your answer to the trivia question and have your name put in a hat--prizes will be given away next week at the end of the tour.

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