Thomas Jefferson, one of America’s founding fathers, had a very dark secret. The former president kept slaves at his home, dubbed Monticello, and even had a mistress amongst them who bore as many as six of his children. Archaeologists have now discovered the room where she once lived inside of his mansion.
Jefferson’s primary home in Charlottesville, Virginia, was built in 1809 and was turned into a tourist attraction in 1941. However, Sally Hemings, the enslaved mistress’ room, was just recently discovered.
According to those working at the site, Hemings’ room was located just off of Thomas Jefferson’s room. She was next door to him for obvious reasons. And while she lived a better life than other slaves on the plantation, meaning she lived in the main house and enjoyed the amenities it provided, her room was also likely not as comfortable as those belonging to the white inhabitants.
The current work suggests that Sally Hemings’ room may not have had windows and was likely dark and dank. However, she did have a brick hearth and fireplace, as well as a stove inside of her room. This would have helped keep her warm during the cold winter months on the plantation.
Sally Hemings’ room was later turned into a bathroom for tourists during World War II, which is likely why it has taken so long for it to be unearthed.
Thomas Jefferson acquired Sally Hemings as part of an inheritance from his father-in-law. Sally and her mother, Elizabeth Hemings, were the property of the Wayles estate until 1774. Sally and her mother moved to Jefferson’s plantation in 1776.
Sally and Thomas Jefferson’s affair was an open secret. In 1802, it was written in a newspaper that Jefferson had kept one of his slaves as his lover. The six children Thomas Jefferson fathered with Sally were later freed one by one as they entered adulthood.
Sally Hemings herself remains somewhat of a mystery despite her legendary status in history. There are only four known descriptions of her to have ever been written down.
This discovery, historians say, is an important one in rounding out what is already known about Sally and her relationship to Thomas Jefferson.
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