Slavery, Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings

This video from the USA says about itself:

Finalist for the National Book Award, this epic work tells the story of the Hemingses, whose close blood ties to our third president had been systematically expunged from American history until very recently. Now, historian and legal scholar Annette Gordon-Reed traces the Hemings family from its origins in Virginia in the 1700s to the family’s dispersal after Jefferson‘s death in 1826. It brings to life not only Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson but also their children and Hemings’s siblings, who shared a father with Jefferson’s wife, Martha. The Hemingses of Monticello sets the family’s compelling saga against the backdrop of Revolutionary America, Paris on the eve of its own revolution, 1790s Philadelphia, and plantation life at Monticello. Much anticipated, this book promises to be the most important history of an American slave family ever written.

From British daily The Morning Star:

A poignant tale of slavery

(Sunday 21 December 2008)

The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed
(WW Norton, £21.99)

THE Hemings were families of slaves owned by Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the US, who paradoxically railed against slavery all his life.

At the heart of the Jefferson story is his 38-year love affair with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings, and the children they had together.

This relationship is recorded in Fawn Brodie’s biography of Jefferson and in Barbara Chase-Riboud’s novel Sally Hemings – “one of the most poignant stories in US history.”

The love affair was derided by Jefferson’s political enemies and bawdy ballads about “Sooty Sal” proliferated in the popular press. One urged the atheist Jefferson to give up Sally and to turn to religion: “With sooty Sal give o’er/Indulge thy body, Tom, no more/But try to save thy soul.”

In nearly 800 pages, Annette Gordon-Reed presents a dauntingly detailed account of the entire Hemings clan, beginning with the union of an unnamed black woman and the original Hemings, an English captain of a trading ship.

Jefferson’s death meant that all his property, slaves included, came up for auction. The Hemings families and others that had lived at Monticello for decades were broken up, never to be reunited.

“In January of 1827, Peter Fossett, all of eleven years old, stood alone on an auction block and was sold away from his mother, father, brothers and sisters … some as young as eight years old, suffered the same fate.” The contents of Monticello, including “130 valuable negroes,” were auctioned off to many different purchasers.

Jefferson freed some slaves, but kept Sally to the end, stating that she would be freed after his death. Did she love him or was the relationship one of coercion?

DNA evidence has established the links between Sally’s children and Thomas Jefferson. This book, intriguing and touchingly sad, provides insights into US slavery and the journey so far travelled.


Lincoln and Frederick Douglass: here.

Black Women and White Women Working Against Slavery: here.

Abolitionist Mary Ann Shadd Cary: here.

It is a popular misconception that slavery in South Africa was mild compared to America and the European colonies in the Far East: here.

Unequal Protection: Jefferson Versus the Corporate Aristocracy: here.

History: Frederick Douglass Slave Village Uncovered: here.

8 thoughts on “Slavery, Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings

  1. London Education Centre Presents:
    Race and Education Conference 2009

    Saturday 31st January, 2pm

    West London Trade Union Centre

    33/35 High Street

    Acton W3 6ND

    Tube: Acton Town , Acton Central BR

    Buses: 607, 70, 207, E3

    Race, class and the Education System – Empowerment or Entrapment?

    Justin Baidoo – An activist and former teacher involved in campaigns against Academies in Southwark. He will look at how the education system and current education policy fails black & working class students

    Education or MisEducation? – Addressing the Challenge of Educational Reparations

    Esther Stanford – Esther Stanford will explore the praxis of Reparative Educational Reform with reference to developing a 21st Century curriculum. She will highlight the social movements and knowledge creations which have informed recent curriculum changes which claim to be inclusive of the subjugated histories, heritage and knowledge creations of African, African Caribbean and other African descended peoples

    Alternative approaches to teaching Black History

    Martin Spafford – A History teacher in Waltham Forest, a member of the group designing the new History Curriculum and an active member of Black and Asian studies Association

    Speakers from Campaigns against Deportation

    Refreshments will be available.


  2. Founding father’s slave exhibit opens

    UNITED STATES: Thomas Jefferson wrote “all men are created equal” as a rallying cry for national liberation against Britain, yet he was a lifelong slave owner.

    That contradiction between ideals and reality is at the centre of a new exhibition opening tomorrow at Washington’s Smithsonian Institution.

    The exhibit, Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello: Paradox of Liberty, offers a look at Jefferson’s Virginia plantation through the lives of six slave families and artifacts unearthed there.


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