You may have tuned in to With Good Reason‘s episode in November, featuring Sarah McConnell’s interview with Henry Wiencek, former VFH Fellow and author of Master of the Mountain, a new book exploring the darker side of Thomas Jefferson’s thoughts about slavery.
In the interview that aired, Wiencek weaves a provocative tale of Jefferson’s changing attitudes toward slavery and his willingness to abandon his ideals—and the nation’s ideals—when it came to his own profits and the treatment of his slaves. You can listen to the show here.
Wiencek related several interesting anecdotes that, for issues of time, were left on the cutting-room floor.
For example, Wiencek told the story of Isaac Granger Jefferson, a blacksmith previously owned by Thomas Jefferson and then possibly by Jefferson’s son-in-law, Thomas Mann Randolph. Isaac Jefferson was interviewed in 1847, while living as a free man in Petersburg. In his recollections, he describes both Jefferson and Randolph as having been “good masters,” but Wiencek argues that he may not have been telling the whole story, especially in light of new evidence.
Interestingly, Randolph wrestled with his own concerns about slavery. After learning that a man enslaved at a neighboring plantation had hanged himself, Randolph investigated the reasoning behind this man’s suicide. Wiencek explores how what Randolph learned changed the way in which he treated his own slaves.
Read Isaac Granger Jefferson’s recollections for yourself and view images of the primary source material in Encyclopedia Virginia.