“Master of the Mountain” makes Jonathan Yardley’s Best Books of 2012

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From “My best books of the year” by Jonathan Yardley in the Washington Post:

“A fine book that fits no precise category is “Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves,” Henry Wiencek’s devastating picture of the slaveocracy maintained by the author of the Declaration of Independence at his plantations at Monticello and elsewhere. The complexities of race in America have preoccupied Wiencek for years and have now produced three exceptional books (the others are “The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White” and “An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America”), of which this may be the best. Wiencek goes far beyond the much-told story of Jefferson and Sally Hemings to leave no doubt that, given the choice between the economic well-being of his holdings and the rights of the enslaved people who kept them humming, the slaves did not come first. It is not a pretty story, but Wiencek tells it very well.”

Clink the link under “Blog Roll” to see the Yardley article.

“The Cycle” MSNBC

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See the link under “Blog Roll” to view the segment.

New Yorker, ipad edition, review of Master of the Mountain

An excellent notice in the Oct 8 ipad issue of The New Yorker

Smithsonian Magazine cover story on “Master of the Mountain”

The October issue of Smithsonian Magazine (with beautiful illustrations by Charis Tsevis) runs an 8,000-word excerpt from “Master of the Mountain.” Over one hundred people have posted comments. Click the link to the article under “Blogroll.”

Master of the Mountain Launch Event — “Sold Out”

As of August 30 all seats are taken for the October 18 launch event for “Master of the Mountain” at the Jefferson Library. Some seats may become available the week before the event if there are cancellations. Check the “special events” page on Monticello.org during the week prior to October 18.

I will give a talk and sign copies of “Master of the Mountain” at New Dominion Bookshop in downtown Charlottesville on Thursday, Nov. 1, at 5:30 pm. At this time, no other events are scheduled in Charlottesville until the Festival of the Book in March. The previously announced Nov. 8 panel discussion at UVA will NOT take place.

A recent historical discovery

Recently I got a Facebook message from a woman in California who came across the Civil War impressment document for a Hairston slave named Ben, who was requisitioned as a laborer for Robert E. Lee’s army on October 17, 1864. Ben’s value was set at $5,000.

According to my correspondent, some 30 years ago she bought an antique stationery box containing the document. She writes — “I can’t remember exactly where I purchased this.  It was in 1980 or ’81 and I was living in Maryland at the time, so it is quite possible that I did buy it in Virginia.  However, I hit just about every swap meet and rummage sale I could find throughout the eastern states, primarily the New England area, so I’d just be guessing.” While researching the document, she came across my book about the Hairston family and contacted me.

The owner was Major S. H. Hairston–Samuel Harden Hairston of Chatmoss plantation in Henry County. The transaction was handled by B. J. Hawthorne, the Captain of the Enrollment Office in Henry County. Ben was very likely sent to work on the defenses around Richmond and Petersburg, where Lee was besieged by Grant.

I don’t know Ben’s fate. Samuel Harden Hairston survived the war but he was killed in 1870 when a ceiling in the state capitol collapsed. A slave descendant described him as a very cruel master, as I recount in my book.

The bottom of the box bears the label “Pickfords”–presumably the seller or the manufacturer.

American History Magazine

American History Magazine

My article “Thomas Jefferson, Slave Master,” is the cover story in the October 2012 issue of American History, available on newsstands in August.

Jefferson’s Labyrinth

Monticello stairs Holsinger

Interior of Monticello, by Rufus Holsinger

Jefferson by Thaddeus Kosciuszko

Jefferson by Thaddeus Kosciuszko