How could the author of the Declaration of the Independence own slaves? How could twenty percent of the population of the new United States, founded on the principles of liberty and equality, live in bondage? What was life like for enslaved people in the early republic? This online exhibition uses Monticello as a lens through which to examine these questions. 

Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, yet, over the course of his life, he owned 600 people. His way of life always depended on the labor of people he held in slavery.

Directly or indirectly, the economies of all 13 British colonies in North America depended on slavery.

At any one time, about 130 enslaved men, women, and children lived and worked at Monticello.

Like others across the South, Monticello’s enslaved families resisted slavery’s dehumanizing effects by creating lives that flourished independent of Jefferson. 

The people of Monticello and their descendants strove to make Jefferson’s ideals a reality.

Presented by the National Museum of African American history and Culture in Partnership with the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello


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