Archeologists have uncovered the living quarters of Sally Hemings at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello mansion in Charlottesville, Virginia, NBC News reports.
Hemings was the enslaved woman who gave birth to as many as six of Jefferson’s children, many historians believe.
“For the first time at Monticello we have a physical space dedicated to Sally Hemings and her life,” Mia Magruder Dammann, a spokeswoman for Monticello, told NBCBLK. “It’s significant because it connects the entire African American arch at Monticello.”
“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 News. “It’s important because it shows Sally as a human being — a mother, daughter, and sister — and brings out the relationships in her life.”
While Hemings’ room, which was only 14 feet and 8 inches wide by 13 feet long, was located near Jefferson’s own bedroom, it went undiscovered for decades because it had been converted into a men’s bathroom in 1941—a slight that has not gone unnoticed by many.
“I am appreciative of the work that my colleagues are doing at Monticello because this is an American story, an important story,” Gayle Jessup White, Monticello’s Community Engagement Officer and a great-great-great-great niece of Sally Hemings, told NBC News. “But for too long our history has been ignored. Some people still don’t want to admit that the Civil War was fought over slavery. We need to face history head-on and face the blemish of slavery and that’s what we’re doing at Monticello.”
Historians eventually figured out where the room was located after studying a description from one of Jefferson’s grandsons who said that Hemings’ room was located somewhere in Monticello’s South Wing.
According to Fraser Neiman, director of archeology at Monticello, they were able to uncover the original brick hearth and fireplace in Hemings’ room, as well as the brick structure for a stove and original flooring from the early 19th century.
“This room is a real connection to the past,” Neiman said. “We are uncovering and discovering and we’re finding many, many artifacts.”
Heming’s rooms will eventually be restored for public viewing as part of the $35-million Mountaintop Project which aims to restore Monticello to how it was during Jefferson’s days. By doing so they also hope to tell the stories of everyone, both enslaved and free, who lived and worked at Monticello.