Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello

April 9 – January 4, 2015

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” –Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence, 1776

Thomas Jefferson helped create a new nation based on individual freedom and self-government—yet he remained a slaveholder throughout his life. This powerful, revealing, and deeply personal exhibition follows the stories of six slave families who lived and worked at Jefferson’s plantation— the Fossett, Granger, Gillette, Hemings, Hern, and Hubbard families—and their descendants who fought for justice and helped bring to light their ancestors’ lives and values.

Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello features more than 280 artifacts that represent each family’s trade as well as personal items of Jefferson’s including a walking stick, chess set, books, spectacles, and replica of the portable desk used to draft the Declaration of Independence. Explore the story of slavery in early U.S. history while discovering the struggle and the self-determination at the heart of America’s founding. Leave being inspired to discover your own family heritage and history.

Exhibition highlights include:

  • Thomas Jefferson’s own possessions including his inkwell in the shape of Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire; his silver eyeglasses, made in Philadelphia in 1806; and his whalebone, ivory, and gold walking stick
  • Numerous archaeologically recovered items that offer a window into life on Mulberry Row, where Monticello slaves lived and worked: rare coins, tools, ceramics and tableware, jewelry, shoe and clothing buckles, combs, and toothbrushes
  • Hands-on activities and immersive environments including the “joinery,” a woodworking and furniture-making shop, where you can try your hand at using mortise and tenon joints
  • A chance to learn about the Hemings, Gillette, Granger, Hern, and Hubbard families—who lived in slavery at Monticello for three or more generations—through excavated artifacts, oral histories, and video interviews with their descendants, many of whom fought for justice and helped bring to light their ancestors’ lives and values

This exhibition is presented by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello in partnership with the National Museum of African American History and Culture. All objects in this exhibition are from the collection of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello, unless otherwise noted.

Additional support for the National Constitution Center’s presentation of this exhibition was provided by a grant from the Pennsylvania Abolition Society.


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