When my brother Frank and I visited our great aunts Mary Walker and Agnes Randolph at their home in Charlottesville in the early 1950s, they used to load us into the back seat of the family Buick and drive up the mountain to Monticello and drop us off for the day. My aunts had been born at Edgehill, the Randolph family plantation, just a few miles down the mountain. My aunts treated Monticello as the family home, and we were given the run of the place.
We played on our sixth great-grandfather’s bed, we ran around upstairs in the unfinished bedrooms and played marbles in the Dome Room. We explored the cave-like work and storage rooms beneath the house, and we crawled out one of the upstairs windows onto the roof and playfully dropped pebbles on tourists as they passed by on the walks below.
If you took a tour of the place back then, you were unlikely to hear the word “slave.” Tours made it sound like Jefferson built the place and was the only person living there. The truth was far different. Jefferson owned as many as 600 slaves during his lifetime, and in the years after he retired to Monticello from the presidency, there were some 100 to 125 slaves living and working at his plantation every day.