Book Note: Henry Wiencek’s Master of the Mountain

While I am recovering, I have a lot of time to read. Currently, I am reading David Barton’s Setting the Record Straight: American History in Black & White, The Founders’ Bible, Jonathan Merritt’s A Faith of Our Own and Henry Wiencek’s new book Master of the Mountain about Jefferson as slave owner.

Thus far, I am very impressed with Wiencek’s book. He looks at numerous primary source documents to show the real Jefferson as slave owner. This book more than debunks David Barton’s whitewash of Jefferson in The Jefferson Lies. We covered similar ground in Getting Jefferson Right but Wiencek devotes an entire book to the topic.

Although I have not finished the book, I can already recommend it. See this Smithsonian article for an extended look at what is in the book.  One topic we did not cover in GJR was Jefferson’s treatment of the “nail boys” – the young boys assigned to make nails for Jefferson. In graphic terms, Wiencek details the atrocities committed against these 10-15 year old slaves. Wiencek produces evidence from a page of Jefferson’s Farm Book which has only recently become available.

There is much more and I hope to write a more formal review when I finish the book.


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  • James Ferguson

    McLaughlin also delved into Jefferson’s farm records in Jefferson and Monticello, noting that Jefferson bought and sold slaves, used indentured servants extensively and tried to produce nails for profit, only for this to become one his many failed efforts as a businessman. He also noted the rough treatment of slaves at Monticello.

  • Carol A Ranney

    “It is curious that we accept Jefferson as the moral standard of the founders’ era, not Washington. Perhaps it is because the Father of his Country left a somewhat troubling legacy: His emancipation of his slaves stands as not a tribute but a rebuke to his era, and to the prevaricators and profiteers of the future, and declares that if you claim to have principles, you must live by them.” Telling words from the Smithsonian article. Amazing that Jefferson was willed money for the express purpose of freeing his slaves, buying them land and setting them up to live as freedmen, but he refused to receive the gift. Then at his death his slaves, most all related to one another, were auctioned off one by one to different owners…a final slap in the face by Jefferson, who had turned down the money to set them free. Quite the example.