A Complicated History with Race

Why Complicated?

Thomas Jefferson’s legacy has become more complicated since it was confirmed that he fathered children with Sally Hemings, a woman who was enslaved to him. Jefferson publicly spoke against slavery and advocated for abolition, while continuing to own slaves himself, enslaving more than 600 people over the course of his life.

Jefferson introduced several pieces of legislation to make slavery illegal, which were quickly defeated. However, he only offered freedom to two of his slaves during his life, while five were granted freedom by the terms of his will.
After His Death
Following Jefferson’s death, two hundred people who had been enslaved at Monticello were sold at auction. Sally Hemings was never granted freedom but was permitted to leave Monticello after Jefferson’s death. All of Sally Hemings’ surviving children were granted freedom.