The recent announcement by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation of the restoration of Sally Hemings’ “room”… was based on the opinions of several historians and archaeology supposedly completed through a $35 million grant. The Foundation promises that the newly renovated room will show “Visitors will come up here and understand that there was no place on this mountaintop that slavery wasn’t” — A recent visit to Monticello revealed a gutted room and some renovation, but little evidence of actual archaeology. ** see image below
The historical record provides no evidence of this room being used by any person, let alone, Sally Hemings…. The Thomas Jefferson Foundation continues to rely on speculation and a disingenuous brand of conjecture disguised as authoritative narrative. If major archaeological discoveries were made, why weren’t they included in the media release? The alleged affair between Jefferson and Hemings is good for business; it sells tickets, books, and research proposals to impressionable philanthropists and unwitting spectators. It diminishes the impact of the Founder who gave this country its creed.
30 miles to the Northeast at James Madison’s Montpelier… archaeologists are meticulously plotting search grids and unearthing artifacts. Since 1999, archaeology has been a centerpiece of understanding Madison’s life at Montpelier. The excavations are providing insight into the original layout and functionality of the plantation, as well as the daily existence of Madison’s slaves. The historians and archaeologists are working with the historical and archaeological records to provide visitors a more complete picture of daily life at Montpelier. Research done at Madison’s home is academically and professionally sound. There is no predetermined narrative being propagated for the sake of political correctness or financial gain.
Friendship was not just a social convention to Jefferson… but he considered it essential to the human condition- a bedrock of civil society. Acquaintances come and go, but true friends grow, mature, and age with you. Jefferson realized that later in life, friendships would be therapeutic.
Oh really…..do tell.
“I find friendship to be like wine, raw when new, ripened with age, the true old man’s milk and restorative cordial.”
Jefferson struggled with his love for Maria Cosway…. going as far as to illustrate his emotional agony to her in a letter- the letter detailed the tug-of-war between Jefferson’s head and his aching heart. Jefferson was perfectly content to remain within his head, buried in his books and letters. But, as seen in the previous post, Jefferson was a man who cared and loved deeply. Maria Cosway was a special woman, he knew he would never find another like her:
Head: In fine, my friend, you must mend your manners. This is not a world to live at random in as you do. To avoid these eternal distresses, to which you are for ever exposing us, you must learn to look forward before you take a step which may interest our peace. Everything in this world is matter of calculation. Advance then with caution, the balance in your hand. Put into one scale the pleasures which any object may offer; but put fairly into the other the pains which are to follow, and see which preponderates…The most effectual means of being secure against pain is to retire within ourselves, and to suffice for our own happiness. Those, which depend on ourselves, are the only pleasures a wise man will count on: for nothing is ours which another may deprive us of. Hence the inestimable value of intellectual pleasures.
Heart: This world abounds indeed with misery: to lighten it’s burthen we must divide it with one another. But let us now try the virtues of your mathematical balance, and as you have put into one scale the burthens of friendship, let me put it’s comforts into the other….In a life where we are perpetually exposed to want and accident, yours is a wonderful proposition, to insulate ourselves, to retire from all aid, and to wrap ourselves in the mantle of self-sufficiency! For assuredly nobody will care for him who cares for nobody.
The grieving optimist- Jefferson lost nearly everyone dear to him…. so he could relate grief to his dear friend, John Adams upon hearing of the death of Abigail. Relating grief is not the same as understanding it, however…..
“Tried myself in the school of affliction, by the loss of every form of connection which can rive the human heart, I know well, and feel what you have lost, what you have suffered, are suffering, and have yet to endure. The same trials have taught me that for ills so immeasurable, time and silence are the only medicine….although mingling sincerely my tears with yours, will I say a word more where words are vain, but that it is of some comfort to us both, that the term is not very distant, at which we are to deposit in the same cerement, our sorrows and suffering bodies, and to ascend in essence to an ecstatic meeting with the friends we have loved and lost, and whom we shall still love and never lose again.”
” I have often wondered for what good end the sensations of Grief could be intended.”
Jefferson would detest this yearly remembrance of his birthday… but the readers of this blog support the Jefferson content. More Jefferson posts are on the way…..
To stop desecrating my memory
Maybe there’s hope
Jefferson loved two women in his life… both brought him periods of blissful happiness and profound sadness. Through all the sadness, Jefferson’s optimism could always be felt- He told his second love, Maria Cosway in 1786:
Head vs. Heart
“Heaven has submitted our being to some unkind laws. When those charming moments were present which I passed with you, they were clouded with the prospect that I was soon to lose you… I am determined when you come next not to admit the idea that we are ever to part again… May your days be many and filled with sunshine, may your heart glow with warm affections… Write to me often- write affectionately and freely as I do to you. Say many kind things and say them without reserve. They will be food for my soul…
Crawford, Allen Pell, Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson, Random House, 2009,
“A remarkably disciplined scholar… Jefferson spent money on books the way less purposeful young men spent it on whisky or women.” Allen Pell Crawford begins his study of Jefferson’s retirement at Monticello by reiterating long-established traits in the Sage of Monticello’s character. Crawford spends the first 50 pages concisely detailing Jefferson’s life through the presidency. No new ground is broken and it is clear that the author included this introduction to fit with the book’s overriding structure, chronology.
Crawford crafts a detailed and …readable account of Jefferson’s retirement following 1809. Ample time is spent exploring the personalities in Jefferson’s extended family including his intricate relationship with his daughter Martha. Family was vital to Jefferson’s being and all the heartbreak he experienced is recounted in painstaking detail. Crawford misses a real opportunity to examine loss, one of the accepted but underdeveloped themes in Jefferson scholarship. Rather, Jefferson’s much maligned finances are retold as Crawford does his best to link them to some character flaw, though he never is able to attribute it to more than carelessness. Readers unfamiliar with Jefferson’s retirement will read with disillusion of the attempted murder of his beloved grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph. More examination of the crucial relationships with Madison and Adams could have brought much-needed depth to Crawford’s analysis of Jefferson’s intellectual character. This remains the book’s weakest element, the examination of Jefferson’s mind.
Jefferson’s mind eludes Crawford… despite his best efforts to explain its inconsistencies. “Jefferson’s view of himself as an empiricist may also suggest how little self-knowledge he possessed…” Crawford’s error is applying traditional analysis to a mind like Jefferson’s. Biographers long ago discovered that Jefferson possessed diametrically opposed psychological features. Nowhere is this more evident than in the discussion of Jefferson and slavery. Volumes have been written about Jefferson and the contradiction of his slave owning. Crawford falls prey to the politically correct pseudo-scholarship that dominates current Jefferson discourse. This brand of scholarship deals in absolutes forged in modern racial attitudes leaving no room for nuance or ambiguity. “That Jefferson could not act when urged to do more to end an institution that he acknowledged to be a moral wrong indicates the extent to which he was lacking in moral imagination.” Crawford ignores the clear and well documented evidence to contrary to make the socially acceptable conclusion. The urgency with which Crawford recounts the rumors regarding Jefferson’s alleged affair with Sally Hemings nearly draws the narrative to the level of tabloid storytelling. Readers familiar with the controversy can’t ignore the fact that Sally stopped having children after Jefferson started residing at Monticello fulltime.
Allen Pell Crawford never actually… decides what kind of book he is writing. At times Twilight at Monticello is a chronological account of Jefferson’s retirement, while also trying to examine complex features of Jefferson’s psychological makeup. The result is a confused narrative filled with interesting tidbits and politically correct platitudes. Readers unfamiliar with Jefferson’s later years could find some use for Crawford’s study, but students of history won’t find much use for the book off their E-readers.