Lucia "Cinder" Stanton, the Shannon Senior Historian at the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello and the author of "Those Who Labor for My Happiness": Slavery at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, has weighed in on Henry Wiencek's controversial Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves.
We have covered the responses to Wiencek's book here and here and here.
And now here is a taste of Stanton's letter to The Hook, an alternative newspaper in Charlottesville that recently published an article about Master of the Mountain. Stanton is "angered" by Wiencek's "distortion of history."
In short, he has misled his readers. So much so that, to cite one
example, some reviewers now believe that Jefferson “ordered” the
whipping of ten-year-old slave boys in the Monticello nailmaking shop.
Jefferson actually ordered the manager of the nailery to refrain from
using the whip, except “in extremities.” And there were no ten-year-olds
in the shop at the time; most were fifteen to eighteen, with two others
about to be thirteen and fourteen.
Whipping boys of any age is terrible to contemplate, but we all know
that the whip was the universal tool of slave discipline in Virginia.
The more interesting point, which Wiencek does not explore, is that
Jefferson was experimenting with methods of discipline that might help
minimize use of the whip.
One would not know from Wiencek’s book, however, that historians,
myself included, have examined slavery at Monticello and written of
sales and whippings, not to mention young boys shut up in a hot smoky
shop swinging their hammers 20,000 times a day. Yet Wiencek makes no
mention of the work of Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Annette
Gordon-Reed. And his treatment of the late Edwin M. Betts, editor of
Jefferson’s Farm Book (1953), is unfair, to say the least.
He makes a great to-do about Betts’s omission of a sentence that
revealed that the “small” nailers were whipped for truancy–- in
Jefferson’s absence and without his knowledge. How can he know that
Betts “deliberately” suppressed this sentence, in what was a compilation
of excerpts, not full letters? Especially when it was Betts who first
published the letters that describe troubling events in which Jefferson
himself was involved: the flogging of James Hubbard, the selling south
of Cary “in terrorem” to his fellow nailers, the addition to capital
through slave childbirth. Wiencek fails to mention Betts’s pioneering
I am angered by Wiencek’s distortion of history as well as
disappointed that, with all his talents, he didn’t probe
still-unexplored corners of the story of Jefferson and slavery. He has
instead used a blunt instrument to reduce complex historical issues to