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When Thomas Jefferson died, scores of slaves were sold from his Monticello plantation to settle his debts.
Peter Fossett, 11, was among them, recalling that he was ‘born and reared as free, not knowing that I was a slave, then suddenly, at the death of Jefferson, put on an auction block and sold to strangers.’
Fossett’s story is one of many included in several new projects launching this winter to shed light on the slaves who lived and worked at Monticello.
Sprawling: Jefferson’s home (top right) stands on acres of land at the Charlottesville, Virginia estate where several projects launching this winter will shed light on the slaves who lived and worked there
A website launching January 27 will showcase oral histories of the slaves in an online project called ‘Getting Word: African American Families of Monticello’.
An exhibit at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. called ‘Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello: Paradox of Liberty’ also opens January 27 and will weave in some excerpts from the ‘Getting Word’ project. And an outdoor exhibit, ‘Landscape of Slavery: Mulberry Row at Monticello,’ will open February 17 at the Monticello estate in Charlottesville, Virginia.
‘We don’t shy away from slavery, we talk about slavery because we know that it’s fundamentally important to understanding Jefferson and understanding America,’ said Susan Stein, a senior curator at Monticello. ‘In this time period, 20 per cent of America’s population was enslaved, and 38 per cent of Virginia’s population in 1790 were slaves.’
Expanding the reach of the oral history project is among Monticello’s ongoing efforts to give more prominence to the role of slaves as well as indentured servants and others who worked on the 5,000-acre plantation owned by America’s third president. Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, and although he owned slaves, he called slavery ‘an abominable crime’.