Speed Reads

a piece of history

Archaeologists found Sally Hemings' quarters at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello

Excavations at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello plantation property in Virginia have uncovered the quarters of Sally Hemings, the enslaved woman who is believed to have borne six of Jefferson's children.

The room was located next to Jefferson's bedroom. Measuring about 14 feet by 13 feet, it was converted into a men's restroom in 1941 to accommodate growing crowds of tourists. A bathroom renovation in the 1960s maintained that use, but in recent years, historians reviewed a description of Monticello penned by one of Jefferson's grandsons. The document identified the location of Hemings' quarters, and investigations began.

Since ripping out the later construction, archaeologists have found the room's original floors, remnants of a stove and fireplace, and other valuable artifacts. The space will be restored to focus exclusively on Hemings' life and legacy, part of a broader restoration project at Monticello that takes a more honest look at the experiences of the property's enslaved residents than past iterations of the museum have done.

"This discovery gives us a sense of how enslaved people were living. Some of Sally's children may have been born in this room," said Gardiner Hallock, Monticello's director of restoration. "It's important because it shows Sally as a human being — a mother, daughter, and sister — and brings out the relationships in her life."