A Student of History

October 24, 2006

Jefferson’s slave records now online

Filed under: Historic Places,The strange place called the South — John Maass @ 8:29 pm

Miniature of Jefferson by John Trumbull  

Monticello has recently created an electronic resource called the Monticello Plantation Database, which contains a searchable catalog of Thomas Jefferson’s slave records.  The database is available on the Monticello Web site, www.monticello.org.   According to the database introduction there,

This website contains information about people who lived in slavery on Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia plantations.  It provides access to a database of information on over six hundred individuals–details of life span, family structure, occupation, and transactions like purchases and sales.  It is a work in progress, which will be expanded and revised throughout 2006 and beyond.  It is hoped that it will give voice to the men, women, and children whose labor sustained Jefferson’s family and plantations but whose lives and contributions went unrecorded.

Jefferson lived all his life in a world made by slavery. From the age of fourteen, when he inherited Sawney from his father, until his death seventy years later, he had by Virginia law been the owner of more than six hundred people. Despite his lifelong belief that slavery was an “abominable crime” and his early efforts to end it, he did not free his own slaves, always owning about two hundred at any one time. He manumitted only two men in his lifetime and bequeathed freedom to five more in his will. And although he had “scruples” against selling slaves, he did sell more than 110, mainly for financial reasons, and he “alienated” 85 more by gift to family members. He favored a gradual plan for a general emancipation – to include expatriation of the freed slaves – but while slavery was the law of the land he abided by that law.

Aerial of Monticello and West Lawn in Early Spring

Development of the Monticello Plantation Database, which began in 1996 with data entry, has been made possible by the Robert H. Smith Fund, which provides program support to Monticello’s Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies. The database is a work in progress: It will be continually expanded and revised as new information comes to light, with the ultimate goal of encompassing all aspects of the Monticello plantation – its residents (both free and enslaved), livestock, crops, and buildings.

The database includes records of over 600 slaves.  For more details, click here.

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