Archeologists have excavated a small room in Thomas Jefferson‘s Monticello mansion that belonged to Sally Hemings, the enslaved woman who many historians believe was Jefferson’s mistress and was the mother of six of his children.
Gardiner Hallock, Director of Restoration for Thomas Jefferson’s mountaintop plantation, said of the room, which was built in 1809, “This discovery gives us a sense of how enslaved people were living. Some of Sally’s children may have been born in this room.”
Hallock told NBCBLK , “It’s important because it shows Sally as a human being — a mother, daughter, and sister — and brings out the relationships in her life.”
“For the first time at Monticello we have a physical space dedicated to Sally Hemings and her life,” Mia Magruder Dammann, a spokeswoman for Monticello, also told NBCBLK. “It’s significant because it connects the entire African American arch at Monticello.”
Whiel Hemings’ living quarters were adjacent to Jefferson’s, very little is known about her, so this restoration is a piece in a long-dormant puzzle. The small room, 14 foot, 8 inch-by-13 foot, was unnoticed and was even converted to a men’s bathroom in 1941 and renovated in 1967.
But then historians, relying on an old description of Hemings’ room from one of Jefferson’s grandsons, prompted archeologists to start digging, and the original brick, hearth, fireplace, and floors were revealed.
“This room is a real connection to the past,” Neiman told NBCBLK. “We are uncovering and discovering and we’re finding many, many artifacts.”
The Mountaintop Project is a $35 million project spread over several years dedicated to restoring Monticello to its state when Jefferson was living there. The project aims to tell the stories of everyone who lived there, with tours that focus solely on the experiences of the enslaved people who worked and lived there in addition to the Jeffersons and others.
Hemings’ room is being restored to the point that it will eventually be open to the public.