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Jefferson’s Slaves – “Burr” – Gore Vidal

September 27th, 2012 · No Comments · Hypocrisy, Politics, US Politics

We rode through a meadow filled with brick kilns. Slaves were everywhere, hard at work. I was surprised to see how “bright” they were. I do not know if that word is still in use in the south, but in those days a slave with a large degree of white blood was known as “bright.” It made me most uneasy to see so many men and women whose skins were a good deal fairer than my own belonging to Mr. Jefferson. A number were remarkably handsome, particularly those belonging to the Hemings family whose most illustrious member was Jefferson’s concubine Sally, by whom he had at least five children. Recently I learned that Sally is living with one of her sons in Maryland. Apparently the son is now considered white, obliging his mother to keep her identity a secret from their neighbours in Aberdeen. “I inherited the bright slaves from my father-in-law John Wayles.” Jefferson sighed. “It is no secret—there are no secrets in Virginia—that many of them are his children.” Sally Hemings was a daughter of Wayles which made her the half-sister of Jefferson’s late wife. Certainly the girl bore a remarkable resemblance to Martha Wayles, if the portrait in the dining-room at Monticello was to be trusted. Amusing to contemplate that in bedding his fine-looking slave, Jefferson was also sleeping with his sister-in-law! One would have enjoyed hearing him moralize on that subject.

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