JULY 4 NEWS: Sally Heming’s Bedroom

I very much enjoyed and recommend the novel written about Sally Hemings. In that book  Barbara Chase-Riboud  describes a bedroom Jefferson built in Monticello for the slave paramour.  Archaeologists have now excavated an area of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello mansion that had been used as a bathroom since 1941.  As told in a post at NBC, the room is now being restored.

Standing on a red-dirt floor inside a dusty rubble-stone room built in 1809, Gardiner Hallock, director of restoration for Jefferson’s mountaintop plantation said, “This discovery gives us a sense of how enslaved people were living. Some of Sally’s children may have been born in this room .  It’s important because it shows Sally as a human being — a mother, daughter, and sister — and brings out the relationships in her life.”

The living quarters of Sally Hemings, the enslaved woman who, historians believe, gave birth to six of Jefferson’s children.

Archaeologists investigate Monticello’s South Wing Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello

As described in the novel. Hemings’ living quarters were adjacent to Jefferson’s bedroom.  The room was 14 feet, 8 inches wide and 13 feet long — went unnoticed for decades. The space was converted into a men’s bathroom in 1941, considered by some as the final insult to Hemings’ legacy.

Related: Descendants of Thomas Jefferson’s slaves spend the night at Monticello

Image: Sally Hemings MonticelloBy the late 1960s, Magruder said, the earlier bathrooms had become too small to accommodate Monticello’s growing number of visitors so local restoration architect Floyd Johnson renovated and enlarged the bathrooms in 1967.

But recently, historians studied a description provided long ago by a grandson of Jefferson who placed Hemings’ room in the home’s South Wing.  So archaeologists started digging.


This room is going to be restored as the residence of Sally Hemings.


Albemarle County, Virginia, United States

Workers carefully remove the 1960s tile floor from Monticello’s South Wing Sarah Addleman / Thomas Jefferson Foundation

The excavation showed that  Sally Hemings probably lived a higher-level lifestyle than other enslaved people on Jefferson’s plantation. Still, her room had no windows and would have been dark, damp and uncomfortable.


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