For that reason and because the subject matter is so sensitive, I debated whether to write a review as my thoughts are a bit complex. The author really harped the whole idea of how incredibly unfair and unsafe slaves lives were to where I felt I was getting lectured and scolded by an extremely bossy person. I do not need to be reminded repeatedly about how wrong, disgraceful, and just plain ugly slavery was. I, and many people around the world, possessed this opinion long before any of us picked up this book. If you need further proof of this then you can read many negative and positive reviews saying how they agree slavery is wrong and how everyone wishes it never existed.

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Annette Gordon-Reed chronicled the life of a complex American family in her History winner. In celebration of Black History Month, read an excerpt from the book with a new introduction by the author. By Annette Gordon-Reed After I wrote my first book, "Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy," critiquing the way historians had written about the connection between the pair, I decided it was important for readers to understand the world in which Jefferson and Hemings lived; the forces that shaped them; the web of relationships that helped set the terms of their existences.

Hemings and Jefferson, part of a complicated and tragic generational saga, cannot be understood in a vacuum. It also meant writing about others enslaved at Monticello, with whom the Hemingses and Jefferson interacted. The unique place — a mansion and the mean cabins of the enslaved situated atop an foot mountain, had to come into considered view as well.

It was my great honor, privilege, and joy to explore this world, and report on what I had found. Bear has pointed out, more would be known about this family of slaves than is known about the vast majority of freeborn white Virginians of the time.

And then there is the place itself. Hemingses helped build and maintain the house, crafted furniture for it, and laid its floors. They worked as servants within the household, tended the gardens, and performed other essential tasks throughout the plantation. They lived there as husbands and wives, raising their children in slavery as best they could.

Some died and were buried there. It is, quite simply, impossible to tell an adequate history of the mountain without including Hemingses. The tactic did not work. Jefferson won in a landslide, bringing to office with him a large Republican majority in Congress. These events were not just about the life and fortunes of Thomas Jefferson.

Other people were involved. Sally Hemings, her children, her mother, and other members of her family were dragged into the national spotlight in a way unprecedented for individual American slaves.

Sarah Jefferson. The story crossed the Atlantic, with foreign commentators weighing in with their own perspectives. Sally Hemings is often treated as a figure of no historical significance — a mere object of malicious personal gossip.

Hemings does not t the bill on any of these accounts. She neither spoke publicly about her life nor engaged in any public acts that have been recorded. Even though she was not in control of her life, Hemings must be seen as a figure of historical importance for a multiplicity of reasons, not the least of which is that her name and her life entered the public record during the run-up to a presidential election.

On the other hand, politically ambitious men with power used Hemings and her children as weapons against Jefferson while he was alive and in the decades immediately following his death. Her connection to him inspired the first novel published by an African American. Even without direct agency in these matters, Sally Hemings has had an impact on the shaping of history. More important for our purposes, we must also see the public spectacle surrounding Hemings and Jefferson as a defining episode in the lives of all the Hemingses.

In every community, throughout history, slaves and servants have been privy to the innermost secrets, anxieties, strengths, weaknesses, successes, and failures of the people they served.

The Hemingses were no different. There is much evidence that the Hemings-Jefferson connection meant a great deal to some members of her family. Apparently, the relationship and its notoriety were critical reference points, not only for the descendants of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson but for collateral branches of the family as well, serving as a guidepost that helped them remember who they were and where their family had been.

Even the descendants of slaves at Monticello who were not members of the Hemings family carried the story of Hemings and Jefferson as an important truth about life on the mountain. When other things were forgotten, that understanding remained. Sally Hemings and her children have overshadowed the lives of other members of her family.

How could they not, given their relationship to Thomas Jefferson, who himself looms like a colossus over the lives of all those who will be discussed in these pages.


Excerpt: 'The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family'

On the left, he lasciviously caresses a black woman. No one embodied this contradiction more strikingly than Thomas Jefferson. The book caused a sensation in the sedate world of Jefferson scholarship. Engrossing and suggestive, it is also repetitive we are frequently reminded that the law does not necessarily reflect social reality and filled with unnecessary pronouncements about human nature e.


The Hemingses of Monticello

Lee C. The woman, whose name is unknown and who is believed to have been born in Africa, was owned by the Eppeses, a prominent Virginia family. The captain, whose surname was Hemings, and the woman had a daughter. They named her Elizabeth. Gordon-Reed, author of the highly acclaimed historiographyThomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, unearths startling new information about the Hemingses, Jefferson, and his white family.

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