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Milestones in the Research and Interpretation of Slavery at Monticello

1950s 

Archaeologists begin to use Thomas Jefferson’s 1796 Mutual Assurance Plat, an insurance document detailing all of the storehouses, workshops, and dwellings on Mulberry Row, as a guide to understanding slavery at Monticello.  Using this plat, Harvard graduate student Oriel Pi-Sunyer uses a trenching technique to conduct archaeological excavations along the western half of Mulberry Row.  Pi-Sunyer locates three buried structures – the “blacksmith and nailer’s shop” (building D), an “addition” to the nailery (building j), and a “store house for nailrod and other iron” (building l).  He also excavates the remains of the “joiner’s shop” (building C).

The Joiner's Shop before and after excavation in the 1950s.

 

1967

<strong>Isaac Granger Jefferson</strong>Then Monticello curator, James A. Bear, Jr., edits Jefferson at Monticello: Recollections of a Monticello Slave and a Monticello Overseer (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press), which contains recollections by Monticello overseer Edmund Bacon and enslaved blacksmith Isaac Granger Jefferson. Granger’s memoir was one of 4 memoirs published by former Monticello slaves.  Peter Fossett, Israel Jefferson, and Madison Hemings also recorded their memoirs in the late 19th century.

 

1970s

Page from Jefferson's Memorandum BooksCover of the letterpress edition of Jefferson's Memorandum BooksMonticello’s Executive Director, James A. Bear, Jr., and researcher Lucia Stanton begin transcribing and annotating Jefferson’s account books, known has his Memorandum Books.  Although not completed until 1997, Bear and Stanton's extensive research greatly enhances Monticello’s understanding of the work, locations, families, and lives of enslaved people, as well as their relationship with Jefferson.  Stanton goes on to devote the next 40 years of her career at Monticello to studying the lives of the 607 people owned by Jefferson in his lifetime.

 

 

1980s 

Relying on the earlier excavations of Pi-Sunyer in addition to Jefferson’s 1796 plat, Dr. William Kelso begins more extensive excavations of Mulberry Row using a cross-trenching technique.   Kelso locates nine additional structures on Mulberry Row, including the remains of 3 slave dwellings not detailed on Jefferson’s original plat.  Serving as Director of Archaeology from 1979 to 1993, Kelso explained his Mulberry Row findings in Archaeology at Monticello (Monticello Monograph Series, 1997).

Excavation of Building "o", a slave dwelling

 

1993

Monticello staff historians Lucia Stanton and Dianne Swann-Wright launch the Getting Word African American Oral History Project, a groundbreaking project that has preserved and recorded interviews with nearly 200 descendants of Monticello's enslaved community.  The oral histories of Getting Word become an integral part of the Monticello slavery tours, also launched in 1993 and taken by nearly 100,000 people each year.

Slavery tours are offered on the mountaintop; nearly 100,000 people take these tours each year.
 

Monticello guide leading a Slavery at Monticello Tour

 

1996 

Monticello publishes Slavery at Monticello (Monticello Monograph Series) by Lucia Stanton, the first monograph to illuminate African American life on Jefferson’s plantation.  

Slavery at Monticello by Cinder Stanton

 

1997 

Over 100 descendants of the enslaved community who also participated in the Getting Word project gather on the Monticello mountaintop to celebrate their ancestors.

Getting Word Gathering, 1997

 

1998 

DNA tests conducted by Dr. Eugene Foster and a team of geneticists establish a genetic link between male-line descendants of the Jefferson and Hemings families.  Foster and his team publish their finding in the scientific journal Nature.

 

2000 

Monticello publishes Free Some Day: The African-American Families of Monticello, by Lucia Stanton.  Stanton’s book illuminates the previously little-known lives and community of the Hemings, Hern, Granger, Gillette, and Hubbard slave families.

The Report of the Research Committee on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, published by a panel of Monticello staff, reports that based on oral and written historical documents, statistical studies, and DNA evidence, it is highly probable that Thomas Jefferson was the father of Sally Hemings’s children.

Monticello’s Archaeology Department launches the Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery (DAACS) initiative and website.  DAACS standardizes the cataloguing of archaeological artifacts relating to slavery at sites across North America and the Caribbean.

DAACS homepage, 2016

 

2003 

The Cook’s Room in the South Dependency is restored.  Originally completed in 1802, this room was first home to Peter Hemings before being occupied by chief cook Edith Fossett, her husband Joseph, and their children.

Cook's Room

 

2005

Monticello’s kitchen is restored. In this state-of-the-art kitchen, enslaved chefs trained in the art of French cookery, including Edith Fossett and Frances Hern, prepared sophisticated cuisine for the Jefferson household.

Restored Monticello Kitchen

 

2007 

The Monticello Community Gathering, which brought together about 250 descendants, both white and African American, is held at Monticello.  

The Monticello Family Gathering in 2007

 

2009

The museum and introductory film, “Thomas Jefferson’s Worlds,” open at the new David M. Rubenstein Visitor Center.  All of the museum exhibitions --“Making Monticello: Jefferson’s ‘Essay in Architecture,’”  “Monticello as Experiment: ‘To Try All Things,”” “Thomas Jefferson and ‘the Boisterous Sea of Liberty,’ and the “Words of Thomas Jefferson” -- highlight the role of slavery and enslaved people at Monticello.

 

2010 

Monticello opens the Crossroads Exhibition in the cellar of the main house.  Life sized-figures of enslaved workers and white Jefferson family members demonstrate the constant interaction between free and unfree members of the Jefferson household.

Crossroads Exhibition

 

2012 - 2014 

Monticello publishes Lucia Stanton’s “Those Who Labor for My Happiness”: Slavery at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press).  Stanton’s book combines previously published essays on the enslaved families of Monticello with new work based on Getting Word oral histories that describe lives and experiences after slavery.  To coincide with the publication of Stanton’s work, the Getting Word website is launched.

Monticello co-sponsors a major exhibition, Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello: Paradox of Liberty, with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC).  The exhibition, which synthesizes over 40 years of research on slavery at Monticello, attracts 1 million onsite visitors and 1 million virtual visitors.  It then travels from Washington to museum venues in Atlanta, St. Louis, and Philadelphia.

Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello: Paradox of Liberty

 

2013 

Monticello hosts a two-day symposium, “Telling the History of Slavery: Scholarship, Museum Interpretation, and the Public.”  The conference focuses on how new innovations in slavery research impact academic scholarship and public interpretation at museums.

A panel discussion from the Telling the History of Slavery Symposium

 

2015 

Monticello unveils the transformation restoration of Mulberry Row, which includes the recreation of two slave-related buildings, the “storehouse for iron” and the Hemmings cabin.  In May, over 100 descendants of enslaved families participate in a tree-planting ceremony to commemorate these new buildings.  In August, Monticello hosts the Slave Dwelling Project -- an initiative that seeks to preserve and call attention to slave dwellings – for slave descendants, many of whom sleep overnight in the dwellings of their ancestors.  Featuring the voices of many Getting Word participants, Monticello also launches the Slavery at Monticello app, which garners several awards.

Tree planting during "Revealing the Mountaintop Project: New Perspectives on Monticello"

 

2016 

Monticello, along with the National Endowment for the Humanities and the University of Virginia, hosts a public race summit for thousands on the West Lawn of Jefferson’s famous home. Memory, Mourning, Mobilization: Legacies of Slavery and Freedom in America featured leading academics like Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Annette Gordon-Reed, artists like Nikki Giovanni, activists like Bree Newsome, descendants of Monticello’s enslaved families and community members who joined us in a discussion about learning from the past and grappling with issues that face us today.

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