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Frequently Asked Questions about Slavery at Monticello


Wyshingwell's picture
I find it interesting that most US caucasions view all African Americans (past and present) in a negative light. As an educated person, I know that not all caucasions owned slaves, they couldn't afford to purchase the labor. I do believe that African Americans should be treated fairly and equally. If said person does something that dimishes trust, that's a different story. It must be nice to know when your ancestors came to the US. It must be nice to be able to trace your ancestry to before the American Civil War. However, most African Americans cannot trace their history any further than a great grand parent. In case you're wondering why, it's because of that economic institution that allowed farmers/plantation owners to make money - slavery. Because of slavery, negligent record keeping, hiding history, and attitudes of the time period, many African Americans don't know whether they are descendents of freemen/freewomen, freed colored people or slaves. For those people who are fortunate enough to be able to trace your ancestry, cherish it. I stumbled upon this site while looking up some information on slavery. I think it's very interesting and I'm sure there is a wealth of information about Virginia (even though this is specifically in reference to Monticello) and some of its practices & laws during that time period.
Curious Anne
HistoryHuntress's picture
Curious Anne, perhaps you are unfamiliar with African American history and culture, as your estimation of how far back they can trace is generations off. Many African Americans have living great grandparents that they know, and thus can easily trace their ancestry in records. Furthermore, since slaves were regarded as property, there is a lengthy paper trail regarding people who were enslaved--you just need to know where to find these records and how to analyze them. Historical research for ALL Americans is challenging, especially when reaching back into the 19th and earlier centuries. Perhaps it is time for you to return to school and become better educated...
carolinagirl965's picture
I find it interesting that most "African-Americans" feel that all white people once owned slaves. Which of course is not true. Or that Africans in general enslaved their own or sold other tribespeople to European Americans or other tribes. Slavery, was no differnt than a mining town or mill that owned the town, the merchandise store, the houses the workers lived in (i.e. mill houses) and basically the workers whole life while keeping them in poverty. All slave owners were not what is portrayed in TV movie series. Some slaves were very committed and loved their owners and families. Most of my family didn't arrive here til after the Civil War. Having had no ownership of slaves and yet looked at is being responsible for another race's "struggles" IS indeed a very distur bing topic.
HistoryHuntress's picture
Carolinagirl965 There are numerous books on the Atlantic slave trade and American slavery that could help you become more informed about what slavery was and wasn't. You should try slavery--yes it is still practiced in different parts of the world, and report back to this website how committed and loving you have become towards your enslavers. Let us know how great of an institution slavery is, and how great the people are who have enslaved you.
ksmeltzer's picture
This is a great resource for folks interested in slavery specifically at Monticello as well as Jefferson's thoughts about the institution of slavery and some of his practices as a slave owner. People often ask if Jefferson was a "good" or "kind" slave owner; this question opens the door to a winding path of questions, few with easy answers. When addressing these questions I find myself defaulting to the facts about how Jefferson personally treated slaves (several of which you can find as answers to these FAQs) and urging people to make up their own minds. For me, the big questions are "Was slavery good or kind?" and "Was slave ownership typical of men similar in status to Jefferson in his time?" The answers: slavery was most certainly not good and men similar to Jefferson typically did own slaves. I, like many of us I presume, like to expect more of Jefferson. But hindsight is 20/20, and to judge him from my vantage point and come to hasty conclusions denies the complexity of the issue itself and Jefferson's personal struggles.
Kristie Smeltzer


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