An Overseer Doing His Duty, Near Fredericksburg by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, 1796.
An Overseer Doing His Duty, Near Fredericksburg by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, 1796. Maryland Historical Society
Stating that it was his “first wish” that his slaves be “well treated,” Jefferson struggled to balance humane treatment with a need for profit. He tried to minimize the then-common use of harsh physical punishment and used financial incentives rather than force to encourage his artisans. He instructed his overseers not to whip slaves, but his wishes were often ignored during his frequent absences from home.