“Thomas Jefferson’s very existence was shaped and enabled by slavery. Slaves placed newborn Thomas in his cradle, and slaves comforted the former president on his deathbed” writes NPR for their March 11, 2012 program: “Life at Monticello, as his slaves saw it.”
One of these men and women, pictured left, is Monticello Blacksmith Isaac Granger.
“Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello: Paradox of Liberty” is a new exhibition, created by the Museum of African American History and Culture and housed at the Museum of American History in Washington D.C. on the National Mall.
Rex Ellis, an associate director with the Museum, says “We are looking at Jefferson, but, more importantly to me, we are somehow acknowledging the 600 men, women and children who also were a part of Jefferson’s life.”
“Men, women and children who, in fact, made Jefferson’s life possible — which, in turn, gave them a part in shaping early American history.”
At Dickinson Homestead, I’ve identified the names of five dozen men and women who, through their labor inside and outside of the house, enabled the life of one of the world’s foremost poets.
They included Henry Hawkins,pictured to the left with his granddaughter Helen Pettijohn, who labored for the Dickinson family.
The men and women who made Emily Dickinson’s life possible were not owned. They were not slaves but hired hands as I’ve described in Maid as Muse.*
They were African-American, Native American, white Yankee, and Irish and English immigrant maids, seamstresses, gardeners, stable hands, and general laborers.
As Mr. Ellis and his colleagues have created in the new exhibit, we learn more about these renowned figures when we learn about the other people who were an intimate part of their lives — and in doing so we learn something about ourselves.
* Maid as Muse is now on sale at 35% off. Details.