“….the architect and planter, struggling against the moralist” : Discussing “Master of the Mountain”

Living in Charlottesville, it’s hard to escape the shadow of Thomas Jefferson. From Monticello on the mountain to the University of Virginia, Jefferson’s influence is everywhere. But should this Founding Father be placed on a pedestal or should his written opinions concerning slavery be compared more critically with his actual practices in managing his estates? The Brown Baggers Book Group tackled some of these questions in their latest meeting while discussing Henry Wiencek’s Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves.

Our group was lucky enough to have a special visitor: Christine Sternberg Patrick, former Assistant Editor of The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. It was great to have an expert in the room to establish background facts and establish a context for the information presented in the book. There were many surprises in reading, and the group discussion tended more towards our own preconceived notions not only of Jefferson, but of colonial-era slavery, its defenders and opposition, and other weighty issues of the era and their effect on the present day.

Many group members offered additional reading suggestions regarding these topics. Check out one out at your nearest JMRL branch:

American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson by Joseph J. Ellis

Dominion of Memories: Jefferson, Madison, and the Decline of Virginia by Susan Dunn

Help Me to Find My People: the African American Search for Family Lost in Slavery by Heather Andrea Williams

JMRL also carries other books by Henry Wiencek, including his work on George Washington. C-SPAN’s Book-TV also offers a chance to hear the author speak about Master of the Mountain on their website. And of course, there is no shortage of other books in JMRL’s system about Jefferson.

Make sure to join the Brown Baggers on November 21st at noon to discuss Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth.

One comment

  1. The below paragraphs from Jennifer Schuessler’s “New York Times” review of November 26, 2012 offers up my thoughts on this book by Henry Wiencek. Henry is a very good writer. He did not need to go to sensationalism. His points have been brought up before without the same.

    “But even some who are sympathetic to Mr. Wiencek’s dark view of Jefferson say that if there is mud flying, Mr. Wiencek set it off by writing a sensationalistic book that repackages the work of scholars who have spent decades fighting for a full acknowledgment of Jefferson’s entanglement with slavery, only to be painted now as apologists for the man.

    “I think Thomas Jefferson is one of the most deeply creepy people in American history,” said Paul Finkelman, a professor at Albany Law School and the author of “Slavery and the Founders,” which outlines the evasions of earlier generations of Jefferson scholars. “But for Henry to come along and say, ‘I am the first one to discover this’? Come on.”

    Zanne Macdonald

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