Thomas Jefferson is known as a wise man who helped lay the foundation for the American democracy that we know today. He was the primary author of the Deceleration of Independence and was also the third President of the United States. He was such an important man that there are memorials dedicated to him and his home in Virginia is a popular tourist destination. Over the years, the house has needed maintenance and construction work to keep it standing. During one of the maintenance projects, workers came across a secret room that nobody ever knew about. This hidden room of Thomas Jefferson’s mansion solves 200 year old mystery.
Thomas Jefferson’s legacy is pretty incredible. Before he became President, he was one of the Founding Fathers, by creating the country that we know today. When he was President, he nearly doubled the size of the nation through the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
His Home Was Once a Plantation
Before Jefferson moved to the White House in 1801, he lived at Monticello Plantation in Charlottesville, Virginia. He inherited the 5,000 acres when his father passed, and with all that land came a lot of work. In 1776, he built the Monticello Plantation, which translated to Little Mountain in Italian. On his 5,000 acres, he also built housing for slaves. Like most large plantation owners, he had hundreds of them. According to the rumors, one slave, in particular, caught his eye. It was these rumors that made the discovery of the secret room seem scandalous.
Hidden From Sight
For years, the hidden room in the Monticello Plantation remained out of sight. During the 20th century, the mansion was converted to a museum. During the construction, nobody found the mystery room. It also remained hidden when a modern bathroom was installed in 1941. The same bathroom was renovated during the 60s because of the high volume of tourists visiting the plantation. Still, the room remained hidden.
The First Clue
The first clue that led to the discovery of the secret room came from Jefferson’s grandson’s diary. The historians wanted to determine the original layout, and they came across a document written by one of his grandsons. In the document that they found, Jefferson’s grandson described a room that didn’t fit in with the known layout of the plantation. The document stated that the room was located in the south wing of the former plantation house. Archaeologists weren’t too sure if the information was accurate since there had already been a restroom addition. Also, Jefferson’s grandson was known for being unreliable. They weren’t sure if what they were reading was true, but what if it was?
Supporting the Rumors
In 2017, archaeologists conducted excavations as part of the restoration plans for the plantation. They found something that supported the rumors that had been going on for centuries. While they were working to uncover the original layout of the south wing, they found something that Jefferson’s grandson mentioned in his diary. What was shocking was that it was in an area that had been renovated many times, behind the bathroom.
The Hidden Room
When they were knocking down the men’s bathroom, they discovered a small room that had been sealed off for hundreds of years. It was 15-feet by 13-feet, with a large brick oven in the middle. The room was windowless, which made historians wonder what the room was for, and why it was so close to Jefferson’s private room. This started to make historians think about what a journalist from the Richmond newspaper wrote over 200 years earlier. He wrote about Jefferson having a relationship with a woman after his wife died. The journalist, James T. Callender, was said to have written the article to smear Jefferson’s name. To make things even more scandalous, Callender wrote that the woman that Jefferson had the relationship with was a slave girl who had been on the plantation since she was very young.
Callender also said that Jefferson fathered children with the slave girl, but didn’t list himself as the father of her children on any records. By this point, the rumors were swirling, and many claimed that the children looked like Jefferson. Historians believe that Jefferson kept his mystery slave and their children in that hidden room.
Did President John Adams Know About This?
John Adams, the second President of the United States, wrote a letter to his sons in 1794. In the letters, he referred to Jefferson’s relationship with a slave girl. He didn’t come right out and say it though. The references are veiled in Roman mythology so that nobody can know for sure.
Who Is the Mystery Woman?
The mystery woman is said to be a 16-year-old slave named Sally Hemings. She was the half-sister of Martha Washington, Jefferson’s wife. Despite her relation to the First Lady, Sally was dealt a different hand. She was half white and half African-American. Also, she was born to slavery. She was known for her beauty, and she worked in the house even after Jefferson’s wife died. She worked for the Jefferson’s until he died in 1826.