When people celebrate Thomas Jefferson as one of the country's Founding Fathers, they don't always acknowledge that he was a slaveowner. But awareness of this fact has been growing, thanks to a project to restore his Charlottesville, Virginia mansion Monticello. The archeologists have now uncovered his slave Sally Hemings' quarters, NBC reports.
Jefferson's slave and blacksmith Isaac Granger Jefferson remembered Hemings as "mighty near white...very handsome, long straight hair down her back." Historians think Hemings had six children who were biologically Jefferson's. Rumors about their relationship circulated throughout his presidency, but he never commented on them. Some media outlets including NBC and The Washington Post have referred to Hemings as his "mistress," but people on Twitter have pointed out that a relationship between a slaveowner and a slave cannot be fully consensual and suggested other terms like "rape victim" would be more appropriate.
The bedroom archeologists have found is only a few steps from Jefferson's, according to USA Today. It's about 14 and a half feet wide and 13 feet long, with a brick fireplace and hearth. It became a men's restroom in 1941 — a decision some felt was erasing Hemings' memory. The renovation, called the Mountaintop Project, is an attempt to bring back her memory and those of other slaves. Monticello’s curators are planning to incorporate Hemings' room, as well as her life story, into tours.
"This discovery gives us a sense of how enslaved people were living. Some of Sally’s children may have been born in this room," Gardiner Hallock, director of restoration for Jefferson’s mountaintop plantation, told NBC. "It’s important because it shows Sally as a human being — a mother, daughter, and sister — and brings out the relationships in her life."
Gayle Jessup White, Monticello’s Community Engagement Officer and a descendent of Hemings', said the renovation was important to "face history head-on and face the blemish of slavery."