N.W.BOYER…Christian Author

Posts tagged “Sally Hemings

The Fabric of America

My writing has taken me into a new series called, The Blue Ridge Mountains.  It is a collection of books that celebrate the life and work of the people who live in and around the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway of Virginia and North Carolina.  In researching my stories of the books, it has been my privilege to interview a number of people whose roots go back generations.  Many small, family grave plots can be seen in the hills. Some have a small flag or stone that reads that the person was a Civil War member of the Confederacy dating back into the 1800’s. They are proud of their history and do not think of their confederate flag as a symbol of racism or bigotry, but of the bravery of the men who fought against those who had invaded their land and homes.

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Hearing their stories has brought to mind how tied the people are to their mountains and their history. The “Yankee” troops that marched through these valleys and hills during the Civil War, marched on afterward to return to their northern states.

The people of the South pulled themselves up to endure rebuilding and hardship, becoming a strong part of “one nation under God”.   Slavery was no more.  The long road to equality began far after the ships arrived with its human cargo from Africa.

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As an retired educator, I know the emphasis that I put on history in the classroom, but it has almost become, in recent years, politically incorrect to talk about slavery…even the Emancipation Proclamation which freed them.   It appears that the climate of the country is to bury our heads about the past. Remembering it no more must be the road to the future. I think that this way of thinking is wrong for we should learn from our past.   In all fairness, the nation must have believed that they had passed racial tensions and elected an African American President twice to follow in the footsteps of Presidents like Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson. When we see violence in our streets and children who can’t walk to school in our large cities without the fear of being shot, one wonders if we have learned anything from the strife of the past.

We have a fabric in America that is woven from many different threads and backgrounds. Most school children today probably do not know that there are descendants of Thomas Jefferson, the writer of the Declaration of Independence, who meet each year to celebrate who they are and to tell their stories. Many are highly educated because education was placed as a priority. (See video at end)

thomas-jefferson-3rd-pres-of-u-s-1801-1809Who exactly was Thomas Jefferson?  He certainly was a man of great contradictions. A graduate in law from the College of William and Mary, he at times defended slaves seeking freedom, but owned a large number of slaves himself.  He represented Virginia in the Continental Congress…drafting the law for religious freedom…served as a governor and became the U.S. Minister to France…served as Secretary of State under President George Washington.  He penned  “all men are created equal.” and had a strong belief in states rights.

Jefferson also became the 3rd President of the United States. There were many issues to deal with, as there are today, for this nation.  Jefferson’s were concerning trade and pirates. He doubled the size of the country with the Louisiana Purchase.  Not only was there controversy with slavery, but he began the removal of Indian tribes to the newly organized Louisiana Territory….but signed the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves.  (Yes, a difficult, but talented man to understand in the midst of a growing, new nation. )  Jefferson’s talents were in mathematics, surveying, horticulture and mechanics.

He was a Christian well versed in linguistics and spoke several languages.”Baptized in his youth, Jefferson became a governing member of his local Episcopal Church in Charlottesville, VA.  Influenced by Deist authors during his college years Jefferson abandoned “orthodox” Christianity.   In 1803 he asserted, ‘I am Christian, in the only sense in which Jesus wished any one to be.’ Jefferson later defined being a Christian as one who followed the simple teachings of Jesus.”

He was the founder of the University of Virginia after leaving public office.

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(Story behind picture of Lucy Cottrell was the daughter of Dorothea (Dolly) Cottrell, a house servant at Monticello who, after 1826, became the property of George Blaetterman, a professor at the University of Virginia. About 1850 Dolly and Lucy Cottrell went to Maysville, Kentucky, with the professor’s widow, who freed them five years later. In this daguerreotype Lucy Cottrell is holding Charlotte, daughter of Blaetterman’s foster son.)

Jefferson must have taken it literally that all of his hundreds of slaves belonged to him to do with as he liked.  After the death of his wife in 1782, he had a relationship with Sally Hemings and fathered at least one of her children. This may have been the beginning of those who now have Jefferson as part of their heritage.  Nevertheless, despite the events in his life that makes him controversial, he is consistently ranked as one of the countries “Greatest Presidents”.   Presidents are often making decisions to foster their own legacy.  History will play out whether the time in office points to greatness or the lack thereof.

Video.  Turn on sound and enlarge for best viewing.

 


Is American history being destroyed?

Recently, I have been interviewing the “old timers” of the Virginia mountains about their backgrounds and family history. Each person believes that his family history and heritage is important.  I have also been compelled to photograph the old barns in the mountains because once these beautiful structures have rotted and fallen to the ground, they will be no more.

Could this be what is happening to the overall history of America because one would not like to deal with the difficulties and sometimes ugly truth?

Let me explain why I am asking if American history is being destroyed:

  • After the terrible tragedy of murders of African Americans in their South Carolina church by a young white man draped in a flag of the Civil War, there has been a serious backlash of all things related to that period of history. The Old Timers say that the flag represents their southern roots. Others say it is “racist”.

Southern states, such as Texas,  have  gone so far as to remove elegant statues of the  leaders of our country  that have stood for years on places like college campuses. It appears that political correctness is blinding the eyes of our young and those teaching our young about history.  Schools in Texas have been renamed because they have previously had the school named after Civil War generals such as Stonewall Jackson and others.    To read the full account of this dismantling of American historical figures, including a President, I give you this link.   Removing History in Texas

After reading this, I still have some questions on whether we are doing ourselves or our future generations any favors by trying to rewrite or remove history. One may even call it “sanitizing” history, which may be totally impossible to do.

  • Let’s take a look at getting rid of things that are displeasing.  Should we rename the capital of the United States from Washington to something else?  

  •  After all, George Washington, our first President, was a slave holder all his life…in fact, over 300 slaves. He wrote in his 1799 will that they would be freed or returned to other slave holders after Martha Washington’s death.    Read more about Washington’s Mt. Vernon.

 

  • The state of Virginia, I have learned, had laws that we would think by today’s standards totally unjust to people’s freedom of choice.  Such a law was that a white person could not marry an African American. Other states also had this law.   See for yourself the legal battle of Mildred Jester and Richard Loving vs the State of VA 

 

  • History is sometimes hard to swallow, especially when it comes to those we hold in high esteem.  One of these people is Thomas Jefferson, a writer of the Declaration of Independence and owner of hundreds of slaves.  How many people would know about the fact that whole generations are now part of the United States population because Jefferson, a Virginian, fathered a number of children by a favored slave named Sally Hemings, who he also took with his family to London and Paris.

    Sally Hemings  and Thomas Jefferson

    Painting of Sally Hemings

Elizabeth Hemings was her mother, whose parents were an English Sea Captain and an enslaved African woman.   My, these men certainly did get around regardless of any laws…especially if slaves were considered property.

Now, the question….if we are dismantling history, should we tear down beautiful Monticello as we are doing with statues?   (See video at end of the descendants of Thomas Jefferson)

I think any reasonable person can see that history cannot be destroyed or removed just because it  sometimes goes against everything we believe to be right.  Let’s leave something for our children to understand how we rose above the problems regardless of their beginning.

Should we destroy  Mt. Rushmore because two of the men there were slave owners?  

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On left, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson

 I read recently that ISIL (ISIS) has destroyed by 2015 over 24  monuments that were thousands of years old because they did not agree with them.  Places You’ll Never See because they are no more.

Even world history is important.   The Germans probably will never remove Auschwitz as sickening as it is to remember. It must not be forgotten.

Surely freedom loving Americans do not want to destroy their heritage..for good or for bad. The people of American saw the wrongs in their history…and abolished slavery by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.  Many of our laws have preserved the rights of individuals. More will most likely continue to be passed.

 Leave history  alone. It should not be replaced or removed.  Make it better, but leave it as a testament for what needs to be improved and what people fought for or against.   History is history.  People have  good and bad qualities. Many leaders are also gifted and talented. Pulling down their statues or calling names of those who want to preserve them in history will not change that reality.

Watch the following video that is most informative:

CBS Video of the Descendants of Thomas Jefferson 

After posting this blog, I had my reader, Stephen from England, send me a comment, which I would like share:

“We have the same issues here. Personally though we should move with the times, I don’t think we should re-write or erase history. Perhaps none have influenced the world as us British and no doubt in that there was lots of good and bad.

It’s hard to take the blame for the sins of the father. Such is human nature, there is little in the way of thanks for science, law, discovery, what might be labelled generically as Western Civisikstion. Though lots of blame for things such as conquest, war and the like.

Can anyone really judge either way for events before their own lifetime. Should I be grateful for the Romans for laws and demanding reparation for bring enslaved by them? Should I add the Danes, Vikings, French and even Irish to the list. It goes without saying that I have totally forgiven Germany for the events of the world wars. And those wars were far more bloody, more selfish and in no way as defensible as wrongs both our nations have committed much further back.  Whilst not reveling and glorying in the worse aspects of our past, we shouldn’t hide from them. They are part of our story just as they are parts of the story of those who suffered in those situations.

Recently over here an African student studying at Oxford has led a high profile campaign to have the statue of Sir Cecil Rhodes removed from a college in Oxford. This is on account of him colonizing much if Southern Africa. Of course today few would ever think of such a thing but I dint think we can judge him by modern standards. Interestingly this African student is said to be studying thanks to a bursary set up long ago by this same Cecil Rhodes.

Perhaps a good example of how no one being all bad and also someone being hypocritical in hating someone and yet being happy to profit from the more positive aspects of this man…. Almost like others might have done 100 years ago!”