Jefferson's Sons Times
Cici van Paasschen
Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Thomas Jefferson’s Secret Children
Who were Thomas Jefferson’s secret children? Well, they were children that had Thomas Jefferson as a slave master and father, and Sally Hemings as a mother. That is what Jefferson’s Sons is about. This book is told from the perspective of Beverly, Maddy, and Peter. Beverly and Maddy were Jefferson’s children, but Peter was a friend of them. There were four children that Thomas Jefferson had with Sally Hemings. They were Beverly (the oldest), Harriet, Maddy, and Eston. The author of this book is Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. The setting for Jefferson’s Sons was Thomas Jefferson’s house in Virginia; Monticello.
Beverly, Maddy, and Peter all face many conflicts as slaves at Monticello. Maddy and Beverly both face the problem of being set free before Thomas Jefferson died. That type of conflict is a character vs. character problem. They also face the problem of keeping it secret that they are children of “Master Jefferson”. This problem is a character vs. society conflict. Peter faces the conflict of being sold when Thomas Jefferson dies. His problem is also maybe not being able to be bought back by his parents if he were sold. That is also a character vs. society conflict.
All of the main characters’ conflicts revolve around Thomas Jefferson dying. This story is about what these children do about that and how they do it. The climax of the story is when Thomas Jefferson dies. Everything after that happens very quickly. Right before he dies, though, Thomas Jefferson writes a will that says all of his children with Sally Hemings would be free once he died. That solved the problem for them. But, there still was the problem of being a former slave, so they would have to always carry free papers and not be treated equally. That would be solved when the story came to the resolution. Even though Maddy, Eston, Harriet, and Beverly still faced a problem, it was not as big as Peter’s problem. He wasn’t even sure if he would ever be with his family again. He had so many brothers and sisters that he was positive his dad (freed already from the will of Thomas Jefferson) would not be able to buy all of them. The resolution for his problem was not really resolved. His father didn’t have enough money for all his brothers and sisters except the youngest two and his mom. That was how the story ended for Peter. But, there still was the problem of the four freed children of Thomas Jefferson. That was resolved by an idea of Sally Hemings. She thought that since her children were legally white and looked white enough, that they could go in the world pretending to be white. That idea was the resolution of the story.
Who was Ms. Ellen?
Ms. Ellen was one of Thomas Jefferson’s daughter Martha’s daughter. Throughout the whole book, Ms. Ellen shows kindness, thoughtfulness, and respect. She shows these traits a few ways. First, she was never like her mother or her siblings in their attitude towards their slaves. She acted respectfully, thoughtfully, and kindly towards them. Another way she showed these traits was teaching one of the main characters, Maddy, to read and write. That was illegal at that time for a white person to teach a slave to write. She did it anyway. Also, she gave him a slate, slate pencil, and a primer. She did this even though her family was not equal towards slaves. She still did it even though she would have been severely punished if she’d been caught. A specific example of Ms. Ellen being thoughtful, kind, and respectful is on page 161 and 162 when Ms. Ellen gives maddy a primer.
Spotlights on History
Fact 1:“The whip whistled through the air and came down with a crack against James’s back. James jerked, but didn’t yell. A red welt formed on his skin. Beverly turned his face away. Mama pushed it back. “You watch,” she whispered. Crack! Another jerk. Another welt, and a trickle of blood. Crack!” This passage was on page 39. It shows us how in that time, slaves were whipped. That would never happen now, but it was much more common then. It connects to that time period because then they had slaves and whippings.
Fact 2: “Straight across the road was the smokehouse , locked so the hams couldn’t grow legs and wander away. To the right was the blacksmith’s shop. Beverly often went there to watch the nail boys work. He knew he’d be a nail boy himself when he was older. The nail boys made nails all day long, tap, tap, tap! They cut nail rod into short pieces, then hammered one end of each piece long and pointy and the other square and firm. The nail boys’ muscles stood out on their arms. Master Jefferson was proud of them.” This passage was on page 4. It connects to that time period because it was normal then to have slaves. They were common. Also, it was common to have slaves working very hard work from a very young age. Even the younger slaves would only hope to have those jobs when they were older, no matter how hard they were. Another fact that connects it to that time period is that the character is calling his owner “Master Jefferson” instead of “Mr. Jefferson”, or even “Thomas Jefferson”.
Fact 3: “A gust of wind shook the doors in their frames. Miss Ellen shuddered. Maddy went over to the Declaration of Independance, those fancy handwritten words on the wall. He’d see if he could read it now. “When,” he read triumphantly. “When in the-” He paused. The next word was harder.” This passage is on page 162. It connects the story to the time period because the building he is in (Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s house in Virginia) had the Declaration on the wall. Now it is in a museum, but then, he just kept it in his house. Also, the character didn’t know how to read very well. That connected it to the time period it was in because now, if someone was the same age as he was, they would know how to read, but then, for a slave, they weren’t allowed to learn how to read. He was taught secretly.
Turning Point: One turning point from Jefferson’s Sons was when Beverly Hemings and Harriet Hemings left Monticello for a life that wasn’t as a slave. Both were able to pass for being white, so they went far away from Monticello (the place where everyone knew them) to begin a new life. Later, Eston Hemings joined them. Madison Hemings never joined them, though. On the right is a portrait of Eston Hemings.
Turning Point: Another turning point from Jefferson’s Sons was when Thomas Jefferson (right) died. That was important because since he died with so many debts, a lot of the Jefferson family things would have to be sold, along with a lot of slaves. That included all of the friends of the Hemings, and a lot more. Many of the characters you really get to know in this book get sold at the end because of Jefferson’s death.
Turning Point: One last turning point in Jefferson’s Sons was when Thomas Jefferson gave Beverly Hemings a violin. Beverly had always liked to hear Thomas Jefferson play on his italian violin (right), so that meant a lot to him. That really showed that there was a bond between Jefferson and his children, even though he wasn’t aloud to have that known publicly.
Place in Time-1805 to the Present
1. Lewis and Clark reach the Pacific Ocean. They were the first Europeans to cross the continent. (November 19, 1805)
2. The American Civil War began. The war was about slavery and states rights. (April 12, 1861)
3. The United States bought Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million. (March 30, 1867)
4. Henry Ford sold the first car, the Model T, for $825.00. (August 12, 1908)
5. Philo Farnsworth invented the television. (September 7, 1927)
6. “Black Tuesday”, the day when the stock market crashed, which began the Great Depression. (October 29, 1929)
7. The Japanese bombed the US naval fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii causing the US to declare war on Japan. (December 7, 1941)
8. British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. There was enormous environmental damage to the coast. (April 20, 2010)