J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Thomas Jefferson Online

A while back, Lucia Stanton, Senior Historian at Monticello, sent a note to the H-OIEAHC email list with links to three unusual parts of her organization’s website—beyond the usual information about the building and the main family living there. Some of these websites are still works in progress—which is in keeping with how Thomas Jefferson lived in his mansion:

The Monticello Plantation Database contains information on over six hundred people who lived in slavery on Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia plantations between 1774 and 1826. It provides details of life span, family structure, occupation, and the transactions of bondage (sale, purchase, gift, and hiring). There are also short biographies of individuals and accounts of various aspects of slavery at Monticello.

The Getting Word website contains information on a project begun in 1993 to interview the descendants of Monticello’s African-American families. The seventy-odd pages of the website include biographical information on dozens of enslaved men and women (and their descendants) as well as plentiful photographs and the results of research in historical records and interviews with over 170 people.

The Monticello Classroom is a teacher-student website for elementary and secondary classroom use, a compilation of resources about Thomas Jefferson and life at Monticello.
I’ve also been interested in the Th: Jefferson Encyclopedia, a wiki-style resource of information. The online library catalogue simply makes me jealous. As for Jefferson’s own library, there’s a nifty starting-point on LibraryThing.

Some of Jefferson’s own documents are actually here in New England—they ended up at the Massachusetts Historical Society alongside the papers of Jefferson’s friend, rival, and long-distance friend John Adams.

The M.H.S. offers a virtual look at many of those documents in its Thomas Jefferson Papers website. Among its topics are how the President collected books, drafted the Declaration of Independence for the Second Continental Congress, and managed his slave-labor plantations.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Have you read Elswyth Thane's Williamsburg novels? Dawn's Early Light is the first one. I highly recommend. I don't recall Jefferson appearing but one of my favorite characters is later named for him.

J. L. Bell said...

Nope, I usually confine my Revolutionary historical fiction reading to New England.

For other folks, here’s a webpage about Thane’s Williamsburg books. They cover many periods of history.

She wrote when Rockefeller money had transformed the little old Virginia capital into a center of heritage tourism. I wonder if Williamsburg played such a big part in earlier historical fiction about the Revolution. The town seems to be mentioned only a couple of times in Little Maid of Virginia, for instance.

Anonymous said...

Inglis Fletcher's Albemarle novels focus on the Carolinas primarily but include Virginia. They are historically accurate but dated and somewhat dry. Next to Thane, my favorite Revolutionary era novels are Celia Garth, set in Charleston, by Gwen Bristow, and some of Jane Aiken Hodge's novels, set in Georgia and Massachusetts (having attended Harvard herself she likes to include it where she can).

Those are adult novels but Betty Cavanna set one YA novel in Williambsurg, Helen Fuller Orton wrote one from a boy's perspective, Isabelle Lawrence wrote a mystery (I don't remember it but she also wrote a great book set in Ancient Rome so I am sure this one is good too). My mother had a mystery about a signet ring and Bitsy Finds a Clue by Augusta Huiell Seaman, who was a bestseller in her day - both published in the 30s and lost when she went to college.

J. L. Bell said...

As far as I can tell, the earliest of those books was Orton’s A Lad of Old Williamsburg, published in 1938. That was the decade that Colonial Williamsburg opened, turning a little college town that had once been Virginia’s capital into a center of American Revolutionary heritage.

I doubt many authors would have thought of setting a story in Williamsburg before that change. Now there are probably as many or more Williamsburg stories for kids as books set in Boston or Philadelphia.