Many years ago, on a bright summer morning on Cape Cod, I walked into a cluttered used bookstore in Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts. The three story woodMany years ago, on a bright summer morning on Cape Cod, I walked into a cluttered used bookstore in Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts. The three story wood frame building had been constructed about 150 years earlier as a general store. I don’t recall being overly impressed at the age of the building though, since the Inn across the street where we were staying was nearly 300 years old.
Ancient wood floors creaked patiently as I walked though the floor to ceiling shelves overflowing with books. At some point my eyes somehow focused on the bright red cloth spine of a book titled “The Domestic Life of Thomas Jefferson.” It was a pristine copy of the third edition of the book, written by Jefferson’s great-granddaughter, and published in 1939. The book looked nearly new and had obviously been very well cared for. I might have happily sat down and read it then and there, but my wife was anxious to get back on the road and head up the Cape to Brewster and beyond. I paid $7.50 for the book and we left.
That evening after dinner, I finally had the chance to look through the book. The first thing I noticed was a small, hand-printed inscription on the cover page; “To Miss Hathaway, my life saver friend who did much to make this book a success. E.B.S.“ Flipping through the pages I discovered a few bits of handwritten paper, some newspaper clippings and two small, sepia photographs. The clippings were from 1940 and showed the Jefferson Memorial which was soon to open, and a few pieces about Jefferson. The photographs were of Monticello and had handwritten notes on the back from April 1941. Most interesting of all was the portion of a handwritten letter which was signed by Mary R. B. McAdie, the editor of the book.
This third edition of the book was published as “a memorial to the Thomas Jefferson Randolph family of Edgehill, Albemarle County, Virginia.” Sarah Nicholas Randolph (1839 – 1892), Jefferson’s great-grandaughter, wrote the book in 1871, and published a second edition the following year. She and her sisters helped establish The Edgehill School for Young Ladies at the family’s estate. Sarah later accepted an offer to become Principal of the Patapsco Institute in Maryland, and later founded a school of her own in Baltimore.
It turns out that the editor and copyright holder of this third edition of the book, Mrs. Mary Randolph Browne McAdie, whose letter I found in the book, was a former student at the Edgehill school, Patapsco School, and Sarah Nicholas Randolph’s own school in Baltimore. She undoubtedly knew Sarah Randolph, perhaps well, and published this book on the 100th anniversary of her birth. Mary R.B. McAdie died in 1961 at the age of 97 and is buried in the Monticello graveyard along with Sarah Randolph, and Thomas Jefferson himself. ...more
“The Hemingses of Monticello” is part biography and part social comment. It is, most of all, a condemnation of slavery. The Hemings family, about whom“The Hemingses of Monticello” is part biography and part social comment. It is, most of all, a condemnation of slavery. The Hemings family, about whom there is comparatively little documented history, are utilized primarily as supporting actors to demonstrate both the logistics and psychological aspects of slavery. That said, the book is thoroughly researched and very readable. The author, Annette Gordon-Reed (AGR), presents many fascinating glimpses into Thomas Jefferson’s life and habits. Ultimately though, the primary focus of the book seems to be an attempt to define the presumed differentiation in Jefferson’s relationships with, and nurturing of, his white children and grandchildren versus that of his presumed black children. The premise of the book is based on Jefferson’s paternity of the Hemings children, which, though not scientifically certain, is believed to be likely. DNA testing conducted in 1998 established that an individual carrying the male Jefferson Y chromosome fathered Eston Hemings, the youngest of Sally Hemings children. Although there were approximately 25 adult male Jeffersons who carried this particular chromosome living in Virginia at that time, the study concludes that "the simplest and most probable" conclusion was that Thomas Jefferson had fathered Eston Hemings. A research committee formed by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation indicated a high probability that Thomas Jefferson was the father of Eston Hemings, and that he was perhaps the father of all six of Sally Hemings' children listed in Monticello records.
AGR presents Jefferson’s paternity of all of Sally Hemings children as an established fact, and then critiques his character on the basis of his perceived treatment of these children. The fact that Jefferson never recorded his thoughts regarding his relationship to, or feelings for, the Hemings, causes the author to freely speculate on both. The result of this problematic tactic is sometimes one-dimensional; slavery is evil, Jefferson owned slaves, therefore Jefferson is evil. There seems little effort to consider slavery in the context of the period. The author often appears to struggle with the concept that acceptance of historical context does not mandate an endorsement of its weaknesses. As a result, her objectivity seems intermittent. At times, Jefferson’s actions are examined in relation to the conditions of the times and deemed reasonable; at other times, he is presumed unreasonable prior to examination. AGR often appears to view the Jefferson-Hemings relationships through the lens of “presentism” – a term used by historians to describe the application of contemporary or otherwise inappropriate standards to the past – in other words, viewing 18th century slavery through 21st century morality.
Historian Douglas L. Wilson, in his pivotal article, “Thomas Jefferson and the Character Issue” [Atlantic Monthly, November 1992:] wrote that “the perspectives of the present invariably color the meanings we ascribe to the past.” Although Jefferson acknowledged slavery as a “great political and moral evil” in his book Notes On The State of Virginia, historical revisionists and presentists have made it politically correct to excoriate him for the so-called Jefferson Contradiction: how could a man who so clearly and publicly opposed slavery own slaves himself?. Wilson argues that proper historical context suggests that the question should be inverted; “How did a man who was born into a slave holding society, whose family and admired friends owned slaves, who inherited a fortune that was dependent on slaves and slave labor, decide at an early age that slavery was morally wrong and forcefully declare that it ought to be abolished?”
Ultimately, “The Hemingses of Monticello” presents a fascinating, if sometimes speculative, narrative of colonial slavery in general, and the Jefferson “family” in particular. Both subjects are worthy of attention. In one chapter, the author writes that “Politics is theatre, and the successful politician is the one who can skillfully bring just the right symbolism to the cultural and political moment at hand.” It could be argued that her view of biography is similar.
(1947 hardback edition) A small but pleasant book, supposedly "as told by" Thomas Rhodes, who was an overseeer at Monticello for 50 years. There are m(1947 hardback edition) A small but pleasant book, supposedly "as told by" Thomas Rhodes, who was an overseeer at Monticello for 50 years. There are many small gems about Jefferson and the house that he built, nearly as a brick & mortar alter-ego of himself. There are also more than a few future cliches that may well have begun in this brief volume. While the edition is dated - illustrations are drawn in the 1940's fuzzy American homefront style that makes each somehow a bit reminiscent of Ozzie & Harriet's house - it is a nice and semi-rare collectible book, good for a weekend reading....more
This unfortunate book was written like a soap opera, and has about as much credibility. Yet, in spite of the sensationalist agenda, it manages to be qThis unfortunate book was written like a soap opera, and has about as much credibility. Yet, in spite of the sensationalist agenda, it manages to be quite boring.
The audio version is also greatly diminished by the narrator who has an annoying, grating voice and can't even manage to pronounce "Monticello" correctly....more
This horrible, inexcusable book is full of sloppy research, lies, innuendo and bias. The author must have either had an ax to grind, or just made theThis horrible, inexcusable book is full of sloppy research, lies, innuendo and bias. The author must have either had an ax to grind, or just made the whole thing up. Avoid this disaster at all costs!...more