Monticello working to restore Sally Hemings’ history


BEDFORD COUNTY (WSLS 10) – Her room, just steps away from our third president’s, was replaced with a public bathroom.

Historians believe Thomas Jefferson fathered six children with Sally Hemings, a slave at Monticello. Now, as part of a $35-million project, Monticello is uncovering Hemings’ living space after some Jefferson descendants spent decades trying to cover up her relationship with him.

For decades, her name was rarely mentioned inside the octagonal walls of Poplar Forest.

“There is no documentation to indicate that Sally Hemings ever visited, ever came down from Monticello to Poplar Forest. So we have no reason to say that. We can’t prove that she didn’t come down,” said Wayne Gannaway, the Director of Programs, Marketing and Grants at Poplar Forest.

“He (John Hemings) comes to Poplar Forest with his three nephews who are also Hemings family members,” explained Travis McDonald, Poplar Forest’s Director of Architectural Restoration.

John Hemings, Sally’s half-brother, was at Thomas Jefferson’s Bedford County retreat. He and his apprentices crafted doors.

“The little molding here was kind of signature for Hemings,” explained McDonald, analyzing a door made by Hemings.

McDonald will watch as the marks Sally Hemings left at Monticello are uncovered, as her place in history unfolds.

“I went to Monticello a few months ago and they were just taking out the public restroom and you could see evidence right there on the floor,” continued McDonald. “It was very exciting to see in 2017 that they were still discovering major things.”

Docents at Poplar Forest tell the whole story of the slaves who lived on Jefferson’s plantation.

“Poplar Forest believes, like most historians, that Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson did have offspring,” said Gannaway.

Though they may never have been to the Bedford County retreat.

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