Monticello restoration aims to tell Jefferson's complete story, slaves and all

ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. -- Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia mountaintop home, is a popular tourist destination, but only in recent years have tour guides been allowed to give the whole story.

Sally Hemings was one of Jefferson’s slaves. It’s widely accepted by historians they had six children; some of their names found, with their mother’s, in Jefferson’s meticulous expense records.

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Monticello

CBS News

But for decades their relationship was rarely mentioned out of fear it would taint Jefferson’s reputation.

That started to change in the 1990s, and now a transformation is in the works.

Hemings’ room was once a public restroom. Now it’s being restored so that visitors can see how she lived.

“You can imagine Sally building fires here, and her children and Sally huddled around here in the winter time staying warm at this very hearth,” said Gardiner Hallock, Monticello’s director of restoration.

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Gardiner Hallock, left, in Sally Hemings’ room

CBS News

Niya Bates, Historian of African American Life at Monticello, says Hemings’ room is one part of a major project to accurately portray daily life at Monticello, including stories of the 600 slaves Jefferson owned over the course of his life.

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Shannon Lanier

CBS News

“His entire life depended on slavery,” Bates said of Jefferson.

She said the restoration will further “understanding [of] Sally Hemings as a woman, as a mother, as an aunt, as a sister and as an ancestor for her descendants.”

Shannon Lanier is one of those descendants, a great great great great great great grandson of Jefferson and Hemings.

“It’s about time Monticello is restoring the stories, the history, the legacy of Sally Hemings, because for so many years that whole story was swept under the rug,” he said.

A story that will now be front and center at the home of Thomas Jefferson, and Sally Hemings

  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.