Under a Monticello Restroom, a Hidden Piece of History

Restoration to show bedroom of slave Sally Hemings
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 20, 2017 12:10 PM CST
Monticello Makeover to Include Once-Hidden Hemings Room
In this Feb. 7, 2014, file photo, Thomas Jefferson's Monticello home is seen in Charlottesville, Va.   (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

A $35 million restoration of Monticello is underway, but it's what's been buried under a restroom there for nearly 80 years that's been attracting the most attention of late: the bedroom of Sally Hemings, one of President Thomas Jefferson's slaves and the mother of six children who historians suspect were his, the Washington Post reports. The WWII-era bathroom that was apparently built over where Hemings slept, close to Jefferson's own bedroom, has been slowly pulled apart by archaeologists based on coordinates provided by the third president's own grandson. The work is revealing the 18th-century plaster walls and brick floor, and peeling back the cover-up of a long-hidden (but well-known) secret of Jefferson's longtime relationship with Hemings.

USA Today explains it's all part of the Mountaintop Project, an ambitious initiative to bring the former Virginia plantation back to how "Jefferson knew it," and to showcase more stories of those who lived on the estate—both free residents and slaves, of which the author of the Declaration of Independence owned hundreds. Hemings, believed to have been a nursemaid for the president's daughter, then a regular Monticello maid, is rumored to be the daughter of Jefferson's father-in-law. Once the room (set to be open to the public next year) is fully restored, it will be furnished with artifacts from the Jefferson-Hemings period. A philanthropist who's donated money to various Monticello projects says bringing people to such historic landmarks means you have to "show them what it was really like. … The good and bad of history." (The UVa community pleaded with its president to not quote Jefferson.)

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