Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Thomas Jefferson exhibit at the History Museum

A few weeks back we were at the history museum and walked thru the Thomas Jefferson exhibit.  My husband and I have been to his home, in Monticello,Va.  I hope to one day go back and take the children to visit his home.  I have always been an admirer of this great man because of what he stood for and how he helped this country to be.  However there were many things I learned while walking around this exhibit and it caused me to reassess this man and recognized that he was a very flawed individual.   I learned things on this day that made me sad, and while I still hold his legacy in great respect I no longer have him on a pedestal.

Most people know that he was one of the main contributors/writers of the Declaration of Indepence

and of course the story of is he or is he not the father of  Sally Hemmings children.  Although I think it is proven that he most definitely is.

What I truly did not know was upon his death he only freed 7 of his slaves splitting families apart and selling them in order to pay off his family debt.  One story we read told of a freed slave working hard to try to buy back his wife and children.  Truly heartbreaking to read.  
I knew he owned slaves and he was a very conflicted man about the need for slavery.  While he thought it was an abomination he knew that for the economy of the times he felt it was an necessary evil.  Here is a newspaper ad placed for Jefferson looking for a run away slave.

I chess set that he owned with the red pieces shown as african

many of his younger male slaves were put to work at the iron forge making nails, these are the different types.

his portable writing table

His was an extensive reader and his home was filled with books

While Jefferson wanted his slaves treated well they often were not due to the long absences of Jefferson from his home. 

Behind this statue was a list of 600 slaves that Jefferson owned of which he freed seven on his death

Kids watching a movie about Thomas Jefferson and his life
This was a real eye opening exhibit for the kids and for me.  Throughout the exhibit it brought up Jesfferson wishes to abolishes slavery and then stories of the many slave families that lived at his plantation and what they went through.  The exhibit talked about how slaves were needed at this point in time in order to run an successful plantation.  While in no way does this endorse slavery it brought out many interesting conversations with our children.

My husband and I have often classified ourselves as middle class and the after the exhibit and reading and listening to the views of each side our oldest asked "since we are considered middle class would we have owned slaves then"  My gut was to answer absolutely not, no way in the world, that is horrible way of life.  However, the reality is I am not living in the 1800's on a plantation where there is limited machinery and man power is the only way to make a plantation successful.:(  This is an ethical question that was discussed with our children and it is these tiny moments that make me grateful for our choice in educating our children at home.  


  1. I did find this a very interesting post. I have read his history but the fact of him not freeing all of his slaves is not good. Of course, we didn't live in those times; so it is hard judge his heart. I do think this was an excellent time for a family discussion. I always love your posts; I am behind on reading them.. I must catch up.
    Blessings t o you all!

  2. I knew there was controversy about him and slavery, but did not know how controversial it was. 600 slaves is a lot! Plus, for every living slave he owned, many others died without making it to the U.S. (like when a slave ship was about to be caught and they dumped all the shackled slaves overboard to prevent being caught in slave trading or all the others that died of disease in transport). I like to hope that I would have taken up another industry that did not rely on slavery. Of course, as women, we would not have had much say in the whole thing....