She could feel her pulse throbbing in her temples. She looked down into the abyss of a hole by her feet. She couldn’t register that she was looking at something that hadn’t been seen by anyone for more than 100 years.
Her hands started shaking as she crawled feet first into the hole in the floor. The president had tried to keep this a secret, but she’d found it.
The Phone Call
Louise Smith was an archeologist and received a call in 2017 that she’d wanted her entire career. She was finally given permission to do it! To start excavation on a very important and historical building.
In Virginia where’s been talk of a house that holds many old secrets. It used to be a plantation and is called Monticello. We suspect you’ll know the original owner by name alone.
A Founding Father
Thomas Jefferson – a name everyone should instantly recognize. It was this founding father who once owned this beautiful home.
Jefferson is mostly known for his accomplishment of partly founding the Government you know today. But there were parts of his life that were kept a secret. Now Louise had the opportunity to find out more about him.
Jefferson’s life is quite controversial today as he owned a slave. But that wasn’t what Louise was fixated on, there was another aspect of his life that she was intrigued about.
It started when she stumbled upon an old diary that belonged to Jefferson’s grandchild. The diary speaks of rooms in the house that Louise had never seen before. They must have been there when Jefferson was alive. She needed to find it, but she needed help.
The South Wing
The south wing is a part of the house nobody had heard about until now. Looking at the layout of the house it seemed impossible that it existed. The tourist bathroom would have to be destroyed in order to get to the room beneath.
The Thomas Jefferson Foundation strictly forbid it. They used the bathroom’s intricate plumbing as an excuse. What were they hiding about the 3rd president that they didn’t want her to find?
But one day, Louise suddenly got the go-ahead to go on with the renovations. She could finally start her investigation into the secret room she was looking for.
She imagined how it would elevate her career if she was successful. She kept thinking about what she would find underneath that bathroom. She really wanted to find a particular piece of Jefferson history that would change everything.
Thomas Jefferson is buried on the premises and is regarded as up there with the greatest presidents of all time. His face can be seen on Mount Rushmore some history about has been forgotten – and it can be quite unglorifying.
There was more to Jefferson’s relationships with slaves than meets the eye and Louise knew it. She wanted to find evidence that would rewrite history books and knew she’d be the first to ever lay eyes on his well-kept secret.
It was the morning that they were scheduled to start work on the mansion. Louise felt as gleeful as a child on Christmas morning and she wanted to unwrap her present. Were they going to find the fabled hidden room in Monticello? The same building that you can see right now if you flip to the back of any nickel.
She knew Jefferson’s grandson could have been lying. Still, they started breaking up the bathroom floor with purpose. Louise knew if there was nothing below she would be mocked in the scientific community and regarded as a half-cocked treasure hunter. But then the pickaxe that was biting away at the bathroom floor changed in tone.
Into The Black
“This is it,” Louise thought. She had memorized the entry in the diary and reread it in her mind. His grandson said that the room they were looking for belonged to an important person in Jefferson’s life.
She knew this find would be one for the ages. And if she was right about her suspicions then could add a significant chunk to what we know about Jefferson’s life. Her hands started shaking.
Thinking about Thomas Jefferson makes one think of the Declaration of Independence. An amazing historical figure who’s dark past was often overlooked. Louise looked down into the depths of what she could only think was the truth behind the man.
The room below the bathroom belonged to a person named Sally Hemings. Who was she? And why did Jefferson have to bury the room so no one would find it?
Sally Hemings was the half-sister of Martha Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson’s wife, but much of her life has been shrouded in mystery for more than 200 years.
It wasn’t until historians looked a little closer into the life of the woman who lived on the Jefferson plantation that they started to connect the dots and reveal a long-running presidential scandal.
Despite being related to the First Lady, Sally was dealt a very different hand in life. Sally was mixed race and unlike Mrs. Jefferson, born into slavery.
She arrived at the Jefferson plantation at a young age and was tasked with labor within the household. But unfortunately for Sally, emotions ran high on the Jefferson plantation. She would soon become embroiled in the family’s life – and she wouldn’t be able to walk away from it.
The Paris Trip
Historical accounts show that Jefferson – the United States minister to France – once took Sally on a trip to Paris with him, before returning to business as usual on the plantation.
Owning slaves was illegal in France, so while in the country, Sally was given the opportunity to stay in Europe and be protected by French law. But she didn’t take it. As far as Louise was concerned, there could be only one explanation.
Shining A Light
Inside the room, Louise pulled out her flashlight and took it all in. The chamber was about 15 feet by 13 feet. It had a large brick oven in the middle and no windows. But still, the most startling thing about the secret room was its location in the south wing – just like the diary said it would be.
Down the hall, mere steps away, was Jefferson’s own private quarters. Louise was about to discover exactly what had to be so close to Jefferson, but hidden away from everyone else.
Sally went on to have children at the plantation, although she raised them alone without revealing who the father was. As Louise searched the small chamber, she hoped to find clues that would fill in the blanks of Sally’s past, and she was not disappointed.
Jefferson owned more than 500 slaves on his plantation, and of all those slaves, he only ever granted freedom to Sally Hemings and her children. She was his wife’s half-sister, but could there have been another reason for the preferential treatment?
A lot of rumours had circulated, but it was political journalist James T. Callender who was the first to outright accuse Jefferson of being romantically involved with one of his slaves and secretly fathering children with her. Callender referred to Sally as Jefferson’s “concubine.”
In an inflammatory article, Callender claimed Jefferson did not list himself as the father of the children in the public record in an attempt to keep his indiscretions hush-hush. Had Louise just entered the small, windowless room where Sally bore Jefferson’s children?
Historians strongly believe Thomas Jefferson did indeed father Sally Hemings’s children, and the hidden room only strengthens the argument.
On top of that, Dr. Eugene A. Foster, a university professor of pathology, analyzed the DNA of Hemings descendants. But he never expected he’d have to fight to have his findings taken seriously.
Foster knew the importance of these results, so pored over the data thoroughly to make sure there was no hair out of place. Foster concluded that the Y chromosome of a descendant of Hemings was a perfect match for Jefferson’s.
Thomas Jefferson was almost certainly the father. But many experts strongly disagreed with Foster’s findings, suggesting an even more controversial story.
Brother’s Secret Keeper
Some say that the reason Thomas Jefferson’s DNA was found in the analysis is because the real father of Sally Hemings’ children was actually his brother Randolph Jefferson.
But Louise’s discovery of the room sure makes that argument look weaker. “This room is a real connection to the past,” said Fraser Neiman, director of archaeology at Monticello. “We are uncovering, discovering and finding many, many artifacts.”
The team reached out to more descendants of Sally Hemings, who were not the least bit surprised by the results.
The power of storytelling had kept the truth in the family for generations. But Sally Hemings’ secret room and the results of the DNA test only confirmed what they already knew about their family’s history. At least now, they could get some closure.