Lucia Stanton's "Those Who Labor for My Happiness": Slavery at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello is a worthy addition to the voluminous literature on Thomas Jefferson. While much is known about Jefferson, the statesman, intellectual, and scientist, far less is known about Jefferson, the slaveholder and human being. This collection of essays begins to fill this void. In particular, it brings Jefferson back to life to a point where "he is both more recognizably (and comfortingly) 'human' and recognizable to us in his day-to-day transactions with his slaves" and where he is "as a master, as the owner of these equally recognizable people, an alien and alienating figure, the very embodiment of the despotism that the patriots of 1776 had sought to demolish" (p. xii). Stanton, a public historian who is the Shannon Seiler Historian at the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello, [End Page 91] effectively expounds on Jefferson's complicated relationship to—and with—slavery. However, her insight into, and analysis of, the varied experiences and culture of Monticello's African Americans during slavery and beyond is disappointing in comparison. It should be further acknowledged that nine of the eleven essays included in this collection were published previously by Stanton between 1993 and 2010 and that this volume is devoid of a nuanced thesis as well as any discussion of the relevant historiographical framework.
Stanton divides "Those Who Labor for My Happiness" into three parts. The first group of essays, which focuses exclusively on Jefferson's relationship to slavery, addresses such topics as his personal interactions with slaves at Monticello and in the White House, his ideas concerning rational plantation management, his political philosophies and personal feelings about slaves and slavery and even his contemporaries' views about the disconnect between his revolutionary and egalitarian rhetoric and his defense of the institution of slavery. The second and third sections concentrate more directly on the African American experience before, during, and after the Civil War at Monticello and in such other locales as Paris, Washington, D.C., Charlottesville, Virginia, and Chillicothe, Ohio. In so doing, Stanton sheds light on the ways in which bondsmen characterized Jefferson; the ways by which former Monticello slaves conceptualized their roles—and acted upon their convictions—in the abolitionist movement, during the Civil War and Reconstruction and through the civil rights movement of the twentieth century; and the ways by which former Monticello slaves chose to remember their lives in bondage and how they chose to racially identify themselves in freedom.
Although the two latter sections of this collection emphasize the African American experience, Stanton focuses almost entirely on the Hemingses and a few other related families—for example, the Fossetts and Trotters—who enjoyed higher statuses with Jefferson and within the slave community. This stems from the reality that Stanton largely relied upon interviews that are part of the Getting Word oral history project, a collection of more than one hundred interviews [End Page 92] conducted since 1993 with persons who disproportionately descend from the aforementioned families. As a result, the reader has little sense of the lives of the many other families who spent generations at Monticello and especially the lives of those bondsmen who toiled in the field. In addition, this collection would benefit from more rigorous editing as a means to reduce excessive repetition and overlap among the essays. Even though "Those Who Labor for My Happiness" offers relatively little new insight and analysis for professional historians, it will undoubtedly influence the ways by which public historians educate the several hundreds of thousands of visitors who visit Monticello each year. For this reason alone, Stanton has made an important contribution.
Katherine Rohrer is a PhD candidate in the department of history at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia. She is currently researching a dissertation which examines the rise of the urban South in the nineteenth century.