Before & After ~ 4th of July Weekend Edition Our nation’s history is complicated, and our understanding of it is incomplete. Historic preservation has a role in how we better understand it in the future. Monticello is a good place to look at this issue.
Thomas Jefferson, principal author of the Declaration of Independence, signed July 4, 1776, was its designer and most famous occupant. Sold by his heirs in 1826, it was rescued from decay by the Levy family after the Civil War and became one of America’s early historic house museums in 1923.
The grand homes of “Great Men” were the focus of early preservation efforts, and their interpretation was exclusively concerned with those men and their families. In recent decades recognition has grown that these buildings are monuments to others as well – those who actually built them, maintained them, and did the labor that paid for it all, often enslaved people.
Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello has embraced this expanded role, expending significant resources in archeological and documentary research into the other people who resided at and worked on the plantation, including the large enslaved population, followed by reinterpretation of the house and grounds for visitors. This includes the history of Sally Hemmings and her family, some of whom were the bi-racial children of Thomas Jefferson.
As a nation, we’ve made fitful progress on fulfilling the ideals of the document Jefferson drafted in 1776, “that all men [people] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” We will continue making progress only by acknowledging and celebrating the contributions of all Americans.
All aspects of historic house restoration are covered in “Restoring Your Historic House, The Comprehensive Guide for Homeowners.”
Signed and personalized copies of the award-winning and bestselling 720-page hardcover book are available from the author in our online shop, YourHistoricHouse.com/shop/.
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© Scott T. Hanson 2023