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Secret Room in Thomas Jefferson’s Mansion Solves 200 Year Old Mystery!

Anjali DeSimone

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Thomas Jefferson is almost universally regarded as one of the wisest men in our nation’s history. As the primary hand behind the Declaration of Independence as well as the third President of the United States, Jefferson certainly has a reputation to uphold. His home in Virginia has become one of the most popular presidential tourist destinations in the country. Recently, Jefferson’s mansion was under construction for maintenance-related issues. Workers were absolutely shocked when they uncovered a hidden room within the building. The location of the room, and what it ended up meaning, would pull Jefferson into a pit of controversy. Keep on reading to find out what was behind the hidden doors of Thomas Jefferson’s secret room.

Thomas Jefferson – The Man, Myth, and Legend.

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Anybody who knows anything about the United States will understand how important Thomas Jefferson was to the nation’s growth. Jefferson was a force in the early beginnings of the United States. From crafting the Declaration of Independence, and thus becoming a beacon of morality, to masterminding the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Jefferson has done it all.

Jefferson’s Home in Virginia

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Before Jefferson took his post in the White House upon election in 1801, he lived on the Monticello Plantation in Charlottesville, VA. Now a historical landmark, this beautiful mansion is visited by thousands of tourists every single year. At the time, Jefferson owned more than 5,000 acres of land as a result of his inheritance. 

An Overhead View

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The Monticello Plantation was erected in 1776. The name is Italian and roughly translates to the phrase, ‘Little Mountain’. During its heyday, Jefferson needed an absurd amount of workers in order to tend the 5,000 acres. While we may think of Jefferson as a beacon of morality, he was also a slave owner. 

Countless Slaves Worked the Fields

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Slave labor was certainly cheaper than paying a worker. As a result, the beautiful Monticello Plantation became a home for hundreds of slaves who were forced to work the fields day and night. They were housed in separate facilities on the grounds, away from Jefferson and his own personal company.

Researching the History of the Land

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While the plantation has a dark past, historians can’t simply look away from it. As a result, in-depth research went into the Monticello Plantation so that it could be properly recreated in modern times. They ended up finding a document, penned by one of Jefferson’s grandsons, that helped their work. Only, this document didn’t just pertain to the grounds. It mentioned a room that nobody knew existed.

A Growing Mystery

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Renovations inside of historical locations like the Monticello Plantation are not a rarity. In fact, restorations and maintenance is the largest part of what it takes to keep these buildings ‘alive’. Here, we see a bathroom that had been renovated and re-renovated multiple times. This area of the building was the second clue that there was more than meets the eye.

An Archaeological Wonder

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More accurately, the information dredged up from Jefferson’s grandson was a wonder to archaeologists. The discovered document described a room in the southern wing of the building. This room didn’t register in their minds until they remember the multiple renovations that had gone on because of a bathroom. Soon, things started to come together.

Digging for Historical Gold

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At first, the historians involved were hesitant to begin digging. After all, they had been led astray by Jefferson’s grandson before. He was known to be unreliable, but this time was different. There had been rumors circling around Jefferson’s conduct for ages, so this was something worth pursuing.

Descendants of the Monticello Slaves

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Before we move on to the hidden room in question, we feel the need to step back. Here we see descendants of the original enslaved families that worked at the Monticello Plantation. This photograph was taken in 2016, right above the Kitchen Yard.

The Hidden Room

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The historians at the Monticello Plantation were quick to get to work and they were quick to get results. Once they knocked down the men’s bathroom, the workers found a small room that had been otherwise hidden. For years, this room had been completely off of the radar. Now they were staring reality in its face.

The Sally Hemings Home

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The secret room measured at 15 x 13 feet. Inside of the room was a brick oven. There were no windows. In fact, there were really no signs of any comfortable accouterments. This room, history goes on to show, belonged to Sally Hemings. Now, why is that so important? Why is this secret bad enough to mire Thomas Jefferson in controversy?

The Outrageous Claim

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If we turn back the clock, we’ll find this newspaper article that was penned by James T. Callender. In this article, Callender attacks Jefferson by claiming that he had been having a romantic relationship with a slave girl named Sally. This is obviously horrific as the implication here is downright scary. Could a slave girl turn down the advances of her rich and powerful slave keeper? What would happen to her young son, Tom, if she refused Jefferson?

The Plot Thickens

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Callender wasn’t content to just lob rumors at Jefferson. Callender continued to try and incite a reaction from Jefferson by claiming that Jefferson had fathered children with Sally. Callender would go on to claim that Jefferson did not claim the children so as to keep his illicit affair hidden.

A Political Attack Dog

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While we doubt that James T. Callender was acting out of moral outrage, he was nonetheless right on the money in some respects. Callender had been attempting to slander Thomas Jefferson but, in doing so, he had made history. Callender’s words ended up being the backbone of legitimacy that this secret room needed.

John Adams References the Affair

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Callender alone would not have been enough to keep the story afloat. Here we see a letter penned by John Adams, the second President of the United States. This letter was dated eight years prior to Callender’s work. In this letter, Adams alludes to a relationship between Jefferson and a slave girl.

Time to Meet Sally

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We’ve danced around introducing Sally Heming, so let’s go all in. Sally Hemings was 16 years old when she moved to the plantation. She was the half-sister of Sally Heming, Jefferson’s late wife. Despite having a prominent white relative, Hemings was born into slavery due to her being half African American. She would spend her life tending to the house and doing manual labor on the grounds.

Known for her Beauty

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Despite her low station in life, Sally Hemings was well-known for her beauty. Despite being an ostensibly positive trait, it is easy to see how being an attractive slave could become a hindrance. Hemings was described as ‘handsome’ and ‘mighty near white’ by Jefferson’s blacksmith, Isaac Granger. Hemings was particularly known for her flowing hair that reached her waist.

A Trip to France

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Let’s go back in time even further in order to really flesh out this story. The year was 1784. Jefferson’s wife had recently died and he had been appointed to work as the U.S. minister to France. Jefferson would take Hemings on his trip to France. France did not condone slavery and thus Sally would have been protected by France had she chosen to stay. Some would argue that Sally’s return to the U.S. is proof that she was a willing participant in the relationship.

A Tangled Relationship

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It’s truly hard to say how willing Sally was in her relationship with Jefferson. She was 16-years-old when Jefferson began courting her in the wake of Martha’s death. Jefferson was in his 40s at the time. Sally would go on to bear four more children in her life and historians have begun to seriously contemplate whether or not they were the children of Thomas Jefferson.

No Real Escape

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While it is a romantic notion to believe that Sally simply chose to be in love with Thomas Jefferson, the truth is much muddier. At 16-years-old and in a foreign country, Sally was at a disadvantage. Add on to the fact that she was already pregnant at 16-years-old and was bereft of resources. What more could she do but stay with her slave master?

The Plot Thickens

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Perhaps most compelling of all was the fact that Jefferson was notorious for not freeing his slaves. Of the 500 slaves that Jefferson owned, he only ever freed a handful of them. The slaves that Jefferson chose to free were Sally and her children. Jefferson also gave money to Sally and her children as they left the estate. What could bring Jefferson to do such a thing?

A Verbal Agreement

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While Thomas Jefferson was vociferously averse to slavery as an institution, he still dabbled in and profited from slavery.  Despite having been freed, Sally chose to stay at the Monticello Plantation with Jefferson until his death in 1826. Her children left when they could.

The Great Controversy

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Before we get back to the secret room, we have to dig deeper into the controversy surrounding Sally and Jefferson. Despite not being listed as the father to her children, a fact which would have doomed his political aspirations, there are some interesting traits shared among the children and Jefferson.

Meet Eston Hemings

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Eston Hemings was one of the first children freed by Thomas Jefferson. His skin tone was fair and he was able to pass as white among the rest of society. Hemings would get married and have three kids of his own. This picture of Eston bears a striking resemblance to just about any portrait of a young Jefferson.

Rumors Spread Quickly

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When Eston Hemings moved to Ohio, rumors arrived soon after. Hemings was immediately attached to Thomas Jefferson and the local papers began to seriously consider his prior relations.  One reporter took the mission to find out the truth of Jefferson’s patronage and he would end up confronting Eston directly.

Not A Refusal

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When Eston was approached by the local reporter in regards to his lineage, he had every reason and opportunity to lie. Eston did not lie. Instead, he said, “My mother, whose name I bear, belonged to Mr. Jefferson. She never married.” That was it. That was all that Eston was willing to say on the topic. It was enough, however, as he would prove to be the missing link.

DNA Evidence Makes Stunning Revelation

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In order to put the mystery to rest, scientists turned to one of the wonders of modern scientific advancement: DNA testing. Scientists tracked down descendants of Eston Hemings in order to test their DNA against Thomas Jefferson’s lineage. They would soon find out that Jefferson fathered at least one of Sally’s children and possibly all of them.

You ARE the Father

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The results were conclusive and the revelation would go on to shock people throughout the United States. This DNA evidence was proof positive that Thomas Jefferson was far from the paradigm of moral perfection that he had been presented as.

Not Without a Fight

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The Thomas Jefferson Foundation obviously didn’t like this news as it cast Jefferson into a fairly negative light. They created their own research group and came to the conclusion that Sally had children with Randolph Jefferson, not Thomas. This evidence has not held up over the years and many researchers see it as a simple defense for the man’s reputation.

Meet Harriet Hemings

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While the Thomas Jefferson Foundation has their stance, most modern researchers agree that Thomas Jefferson is the father of Sally’s children. Here we see Harriet Hemings who was also renown for her beauty. She was also able to marry into white culture while hiding her heritage.  Madison Hemings would stay at the plantation with his mother.

Constant Exploration

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While we think of history as something we ‘know’, the truth is that history is always changing. Fraser Neiman is the Director of Archaeology at the Monticello Plantation. He is leading the charge toward finding more of the hidden artifacts and relics that dot the property of the plantation.

Understanding History

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While we look at the Founding Fathers of the United States of America as idols to be respected, they were as flawed as anyone else. Thomas Jefferson’s legacy has suffered in the wake of the illicit affair. His actions are made even worse when put against his own words that insisted that all men were “created equal”. However, how far is it to judge Jefferson with modern standards? Was he guilty all the same?

The Shameful Room

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What shocks most historians is the fact that Sally’s secret room was located adjacent to Thomas Jefferson’s. It is very likely that she bore her children within these walls, alone and away from the rest of the world. Just imagine being a 16-year-old girl, enslaved, and forced to give birth to the children of your master. It’s a tough pill to swallow.

Pulling Back the Blinds

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For a long time, the Monticello Plantation historical preservation has fought against Jefferson’s shadier history. Now, thanks to the prevalence of research, it seems like the historians at the plantation are finally giving Sally her time in the light.  Still, it IS hard to measure what Jefferson did against the modern conception of the man.

A Dark Spot in History

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Nowadays, the Sally Hemings room has been updated and dressed up to be more befitting her place in history. Here we get to see a room dedicated to how Sally might have lived when she was inside of the mansion. It’s interesting to see her station in life compared to her living quarters. Sally even allegedly told her children that they were Jefferson’s children. How did they feel about this truth?

Dead at 83

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Thomas Jefferson would live a long life before passing away in his home at the age of 83. Jefferson ran into serious debt issues later in life and he would sell off his slaves in order to regain some financial compensation. This, too, ran counter to Jefferson’s public belief in the morality of slavery.

Changing Your View

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The revelation that Thomas Jefferson fathered children with an enslaved teenager is hard to wrap our mind around. For so long, Thomas Jefferson has been a paradigm of morality. Does this new insight into his true actions inspire any change in your perception of him? He’s still one of the most important figures in American history, but it appears that his own life was far more textured than we realized.

Changing History

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While the Thomas Jefferson Foundation was hesitant to embrace the news of Jefferson’s misdeeds, history has slowly developed around these new facts. As a result, kids all over the world are learning about Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson at the same time. She has become an intrinsic part of her history.

Truth in Pop Culture

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With more information being released about Sally Hemings and her relationship with Jefferson, new media has begun to embrace the story. Popular TV show Saturday Night Live has already parodied the story, thus bringing the information to the mainstream.

Yet Mysteries Remain

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Despite all that we now know, what we don’t know weighs even heavier. Will we ever truly discover if the Sally – Jefferson relationship was a consensual one? Was Thomas Jefferson secretly some sort of monster? We may never know.

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Here Are 5 Facts About The “Band Of Brothers” That You Did Not Know!

Anjali DeSimone

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Since its initial airing back in 2001, the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers has only continued to gain in popularity. Now that later generations are accessing the miniseries on their favorite apps and devices, the men of E Company have become a regular topic of discussion.

They answered the nation’s call as members of the 101st Airborne Division (506th Parachute Infantry Regiment). They were one of the elite forces of World War II but there is still much to be learned about each of these brave men and the battles that they fought. Read on to learn some little known facts about each of these soldiers…..

1. Captain Ronald Speirs

The series and book spent some time focusing on the role that Speirs played in the Brecourt Manor attack. German cannons had been firing on the troops at Utah Beach prior to this counterattack. While the series hinted that he was responsible for the killing of a German POW platoon, this was not likely.

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He was also one of the few men in the army to have made a combat jump in Korea and in World War II. Many do not know that Speirs served as a Red Army liaison as well. After this assignment was complete, he also served as a liaison to the Royal Lao Army before the Vietnam War broke out. 

2. Albert Blithe

Those who have read the book remember the story about Blithe losing his eyesight. He was shot in the neck during a Normandy patrol but the series and book were both incorrect when it came to addressing his fate. The book and series implied that Blithe died as a result of this wound.

In fact, he lived on after World War II and even served in Korea as well. Blithe was also not a southerner, as the series portrayed. He was actually from Philadelphia and did not speak with a southern accent. 

3. Edward “Babe” Heffron

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“Wild Bill” Guarnere was a close friend of Babe’s, as the two men both hailed from the city of Philadelphia. After the series aired, Babe and Wild Bill began to give tours of the famous battle sites together. The actor who played Babe looks nothing like him, though.

Robin Laing is a Scotsman with a gentle appearance. Meanwhile, Babe looks like more of a tough guy. The real Babe even makes an appearance in the actual series. He had a cameo as a Dutchman who was seen drinking wine during the Eindhoven liberation. 

4. Herbert Sobel 

Brilliantly played by none other than David Schwimmer of Friends fame, Sobel was detested by the other men in the E company. They viewed him as a coward who was too interested in going by the book. The famous scene where Sobel sends the men up Mount Currahee after a massive pasta dinner is 100 percent true.

However, Sobel is also credited by many of the men in the company for his unorthodox training techniques. They did not like him but they certainly respected him. He survived a suicide attempt in 1970 that cost him his eyesight and died in a VA facility of malnutrition 17 years later.

5. “Why We Fight”

One of the most famous episodes of the series, “Why We Fight” focused on the E company’s liberation of an SS camp in Germany. The episode concludes with German citizens assisting the men in burying the dead, forcing them to confront the true horrors of the regime that had risen to power.

There was just one issue: the men had never liberated any such camp. The producers added the liberation as a means of conveying the horrors of this war. They did not wish to solely focus on the experiences of the E Company.

If these facts were as amazing to you as they were to us, be sure to pass them along to your friends and loved ones. Let’s all do our part to keep our nation’s war history alive and well in the years to come! 

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The MOH Marine Who Carried An Aircraft Machine Gun On Iwo Jima

Cynthia Brooke

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There is no doubt the United States marines are all heroes that should be celebrated but some of them take their patriotism and heroic acts to a higher level. Unfortunately, not all these heroes are celebrated the way they should be celebrated and some of their achievements only get noticed or publicized after their demise.

One of such heroes is Corporal Tony Stein who can best be described as the hero of Iwo Jima. He virtually single handled took out a lot of Japanese soldiers who had laid siege for American troops in Iwo Jima in 1945 during the Second World War. Since this article is meant for casual readers, it has been written in a simplified form devoid of too many military terms. Corporal Tony Stein recently received the Medal of Honor posthumously. The medal was given to his widow. However, not many are aware of why he was nominated for the award. 

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This is why this article has been written to bridge the knowledge gap. Stein was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1921 to Jewish immigrants from Austria. He was enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserve shortly before his 21st birthday. He initially served in the Marine Corps paratrooper unit. Thereafter, he fought in the Pacific Theater on several occasions. During this period, he had started exhibiting some extraordinary courage, intelligence, and patriotism that are worthy of emulation. 

One of his impressive achievements was taking out five Japanese snipers in a single day. Tony Stein was definitely a handful for the Japanese troops. For his military prowess, he got promoted to corporal in 1944 shortly after the paramarines were disbanded and was assigned to the 5th Marine Division where he was the assistant squad leader.

One of the most effective weapons then was a variant of M1919 that was meant to be used on patrol aircraft and bombers. Although it is a lighter version of M1919, it is much more destructive than M1919. While M1919 could output 400 rounds per minute, this improved version could do up to 1350 rounds per minute and Corporal Tony Stein was astonishing with it.

Due to its level of destructiveness, the weapon was dubbed “The Stinger” and there were only six of them but Stein was in custody of one them. And you bet it was utilized to capacity by the young marine. In fact, it was his mastery of the use of this machine that won him the highly coveted Medal of Honor.

He made the best of the beast when his unit hit Iwo Jima on February 1945. He singlehandedly wiped out several Japanese troops with the weapon. When he ran out of ammunition, he would run back to the beach to resupply himself without his boots and helmet so that he could run faster. He made 8 of such trips and during some of them, he would help a wounded marine get back to safety. In some cases, when they had to lie low to avoid continuous enemy fire, he would courageously stand up and take some destructive shots at the enemies’ location to obliterate them and he often did it successfully with his stinger.

To underscore how close he was told death, in Iwo Jima, his stinger was shot out of his hands twice but he would pick it up and continue to do what he did best until the Japanese troops had to retreat in defeat. 

Unfortunately, Corporal Tony Stein was taken out by a sniper not long after. He was being treated when he heard that his unit had been pinned down so he left the medical facility to join them. May be it was because he wasn’t fully fit or it wasn’t just his day. The great Corporal Tony Stein was taken down by a Japanese sniper.

It is quite heartwarming that his achievements, courage and patriotism didn’t go unnoticed and unrewarded. His Medal of Honor was presented to his widow about a year ago. The least you can do to celebrate this war veteran is to share the story of his sacrifice and contribution to America. 

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Our Real Life Hero Sergeant Snorkel

Kelsey Freeman

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Beetle Bailey and Sergeant Snorkel were actually based on real-life people. The comic strip may have been embellished upon to add to the humor, but the real Sergeant Snorkel did possess many of the same characteristics. His daughter Griffen wished that her father Octavian N. Savu had known that the comic strip was based on him. He would have enjoyed knowing that.

Octavian Savu had been born to parents who had immigrated from Romania. Savu was born in Indiana and raised in St. Joseph MO. When he began school, his teacher had misunderstood his name when she was told it was Tavi, so he remained being called Tom or Tommy. He later attended Park College, Junior College and the University of MO.

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When he turned 21 years old, in 1935, he joined the service. He was sent to the US Army at Fort Leavenworth Kansas. He was in the 17th infantry. This was the beginning of a decade long career for Savu.

In 1940, he married the love of his life, Margo. Around this time, he began to climb the ranks slowly in the military. He first became a Reserve Officer Trainer in Iowa, at the Abraham Lincoln High School. He taught the young recruits map reading skills, first aid, marksmanship and also combat tactics.

When he and the wife moved to St. Louis, he began a position at St. Louis’ Washington University. He was the overseer of soldiers in that school’s Army Specialized Training Program. These were twelve-week courses between 1943 and 1945. The courses later became known as “Engineering, Science and Management War Training Program”. This is where he met Mort Walker, an already known artist. Walker came from Kansas City and was a World War 2 draftee. In later years, Mort Walker would become the creator and artist of Beetle Bailey comic fame. The world would later learn that Sergeant Snorkel, the character in the comic strip, was actually based on Octavian Savu. Before leaving Missouri in 1944, Walker had given Savu a hand-drawn caricature of Savu.

Savu was then assigned overseas in France. He was a First Sergeant. Octavian Savu was there from April until August 1945. He served as an Administrative Sgt. with the 14th Reinforcement Depot. He was discharged early and sent home on a disability discharge on September 21, 1945. He was diagnosed with cardiovascular disease and later it was found that he was diabetic. 

Octavian and Margo Savu adopted two daughters and moved to Colorado. He became an employee specialist at the Air Force Accounting and Finance Services. When the girls were still young, Savu had his first heart attack. He then began gardening and became known for his lawn and his roses. He was also a commander in his local VFW post.

In April of 1968, the family took a vacation and headed to where Mr. Savu had grown up. He showed the girls his family home where he had grown up. They also visited with family friends. As the vacation neared the end, they began to drive home. They stopped for the night in Omaha and obtained a hotel room. Savu had his third heart attack and passed away in the hotel room. The daughters were 14 and 11 years old.

Octavian N. Savu was given full military honors during his funeral. He was then buried at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver, Colorado.

His daughter, Griffin has stated that “He possessed many of the characteristics of Sergeant Snorkel. He was a compassionate man. He was tough but fair, and he was full of character. That is quite possibly why the troops loved him.” She also stated that to her and her sister, he was not just dad; he was their hero and their mentor.

Mort Walker spoke very highly of Savu also, before he himself passed away. He recalled when the Sergeant had written a poem and given each one of the men a copy by placing it on their pillows. The poem was called “My Boys”. Walker had stated that that was the point that they had realized he had a heart. 

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