$10M gift to restore slave quarters at Thomas Jefferson estate

A gift from a philanthropist will recreate Mulberry Row, which housed slaves at Monticello, the plantation of the author of the Declaration of Independence and the words 'all men are created equal.'

Steve Helber/AP/File
Former President Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello, in Charlottesville, Va., has received a $10 million gift from a Washington philanthropist. It will fund the reconstruction of Mulberry Row, the community where slaves lived on the plantation in the 18th century, helping visitors more fully understand the history of the plantation.

One-time slave quarters will be recreated at former US President Thomas Jefferson's home, and more of the Declaration of Independence writer's living quarters will be restored using a $10 million gift from a philanthropist who has a keen interest in the nation's history.

Mulberry Row, the community where slaves lived on the Monticello plantation in Virginia, will be reconstructed. Monticello officials plan to rebuild at least two log buildings where slaves worked and lived and will restore Jefferson's original road scheme on the plantation. The gift will also fund the restoration of the second and third floors of Jefferson's home that are now mostly empty and will replace aging infrastructure.

David Rubenstein, the co-CEO of The Carlyle Group private equity firm, announced his gift Friday night. It is one of the largest ever to the Monticello estate.

Archaeologists and historians designing the project will follow a drawing Jefferson made in 1796, describing the material and dimensions of the log structures along Mulberry Row. Over the next two years, they plan to rebuild a structure described as being among "servants' houses of wood, with wooden chimneys and earth floors."

It's believed to have housed members of the extended Hemings family, who held important positions at Monticello. Most historians believe Sally Hemings, a slave, had a relationship with the third president and that he was the father of her six children.

"By bringing back the place, we bring back the people, and we're able to put a face on slavery," says senior curator Susan Stein. "It's actually the lives of people."

Rubenstein told The Associated Press he has become a student of Jefferson in recent years since purchasing several copies of the Declaration of Independence and came to admire the man who wrote that "all men are created equal."

"I think it's important to tell people the good and the bad of American history, not only the things that we might like to hear," Mr. Rubenstein says. "And the bad of it is that as great as Jefferson was, nobody can deny that he was a slave owner.

"I think if Jefferson were around today, he would say 'I would like to see Monticello restored as it was.' "

The gift follows major donations Rubenstein has made to preserve US history at former President George Washington's Mount Vernon estate, at the earthquake-damaged Washington Monument in the nation's capital, and elsewhere.

He said he's driven, in part, by concern that Americans don't know enough about their history.

Leslie Green Bowman, the president and CEO of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, called Rubenstein's gift "transformational." It ranks among the top five gifts in the foundation's history since it purchased the estate in 1923 and began restoring Monticello for historical tours.

Monticello has been studying slavery for decades and has provided descriptions of slave life since 1993. Rebuilding sites where slaves lived and worked on Mulberry Row, though, represents a change to include even more African-American history.

"It's a huge step forward that we're including that story as an essential part of Monticello's history," Bowman says. "Jefferson did not live here in a vacuum."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.