Saturday, September 19, 2015

Monticello tour shows the paradox of Thomas Jefferson's slave ownership

Today, I visited Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s historic “little mountaintop” residence on the SE side of Charlottesville, VA (Exit 121 on I-64).  I’ve seen the main residence twice before, but there is a special expanded tour now.  But I visited (before going to LGBT Pride) specifically to take the 1 hour “Landscape of Slavery” Tour along MulberryRow. The Slavery app can be downloaded (link). . 

The tour physically was very short.  Shirley dealt with the question of Thomas Jefferson’s own conscience (which I asked).  

Thomas Jefferson personally considered slavery an abomination, but had no escape from his own hypocrisy because of the massive debts he had inherited. He kept detailed records of all the dealings with each slave.

Virginia law did not recognize slave’s marriages, and only the mother determined a baby’s status as chattel. A fertile young woman brought more money in the slave trade than an able-bodied man. But a woman’s market value dropped to zero after she could no longer bear children.  Slaves who even appeared to have insubordinate thoughts were often sold to go “South”, where conditions were harsher and life-spans shorter. 

Several slaves in the nailery and blacksmith shop had interesting histories which would lend themselves to movie screenplays if researched. 

Some of this material formed the backdrop for James Ivory’s 1995 film “Jefferson in Paris” (Touchstone) predicated on his supposed relationship with Sally Hemmings.

Today, there was a major event for Constitution Day on the grounds of Montpelier (James Madison’s home) near Orange.

There is also an exhibit showing the segregation in train service at a small museum at the train depot for Montpelier on Rt. 20.  

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