Saturday, April 2, 2016

April 2016

Saving Monticello: The Newsletter

The latest about the book, author events, and more

Newsletter Editor - Marc Leepson

Volume XIII, Number 4                                                                     April 1, 2016

HEMINGS FAMILY TOUR:  Although Saving Monticello begins on the day that Thomas Jefferson died (July 4, 1826), people regularly ask me what I think about the relationship between Jefferson and Sally Hemings, the famed enslaved woman. I always tell them that Saving Monticello is a history of what happened to Monticello after Jefferson’s death and I therefore do not cover the controversial question of their relationship in the book.

That said, I do provide a brief look at the house’s origins and Thomas Jefferson’s last years (1809-26) in the book. I mention that in a codicil to his will, Jefferson granted freedom to five of his enslaved men who had learned trades, all of whom were members of the Hemings family: Joe Fossett, Burwell Culbert and John, Madison and Eston Hemings. All five of the newly free men were also given houses. I also note that Burwell Culbert, Joe Fossett, and John Hemings joined with family members at Jefferson’s bedside during the last week of his life.

There was a lot more to the Hemings family at Monticello, of course. The newest special tour at Monticello, the Hemings Family Tour, helps visitors learn about seven members of the family, including Sally. Starting today, April 1, 2016, Monticello will offer this one hour, forty-five minute tour on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 1:45 p.m through November. The cost is $27 per person and the tour includes the standard first-floor house tour.


 This is a small-group tour that takes visitors into the house and along Mulberry Row, interpreting life in the house and plantation through the stories of the Hemings family members.

“Through their experiences, you will learn about the challenges faced by members of this large, important family at Monticello as they negotiated to maintain family ties and strove for freedom,” the Monticello web suite notes. “The tour will also highlight how the Hemingses straddled the color line, defying the stark racial dividing lines imposed in American slavery.” 

This special tour is another example of the admirable job the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which bought Monticello from Jefferson Levy in 1923, has done in recent decades documenting the lives of the enslaved families at Monticello. The Hemings family is among the best documented—not just at Monticello, but anywhere in the U.S.

Researchers at Monticello have, as the website notes, done a massive amount of documentary research, archaeological analysis and oral histories of Hemings descendants, and have come up with “related narratives of struggle, survival, and family bonds across more than three generations.” For more info on the tour, go to

The Foundation also has just made available a free new app, “Slavery at Monticello,” that complements the tour. For info on that, go to

EVENTS:  I’m wrapping up my next book, the biography of Barry Sadler, “The Ballad of the Green Berets” guy, which will come out in March of next year. I soon will be doing more speaking on my books, including Saving Monticello. Here’s what’s afoot this month:

·        Monday April 4 – 11:00 a.m. Pacific time appearance on “The Mike Slater Show” on KFMB radio in San Diego, discussing What So Proudly We Hailed, my biography of Francis Scott Key
·        Saturday, April 30 Talk on Francis Scott Key for the Cameron Parish DAR Chapter’s annual meeting, Ashburn, Virginia

Please email me if you’d like to arrange an event for Saving Monticello—or for any of my other books, including What So Proudly We Hailed and Lafayette: Idealist General, my concise bio of the Marquis de Lafayette—at  For more details on other upcoming events, go to  That’s the “Author Events” page on my website,

 Facebook, Twitter: If you’re on Facebook, please send me a friend request. If you’re on Twitter, I’d love to have you as a follower.

Gift IdeasIf you would like a personally autographed, brand-new paperback copy of Saving Monticello, e-mail me at Or go to this page of my website: to order copies through my local bookstore, Second Chapter Books in Middleburg, Virginia. We also have copies of Desperate Engagement, Flag, Lafayette, and What So Proudly We Hailed.