Sally of Monticello: Founding Mother
the story continues...
Thomas told me today—Monday, 8th of October, 1821—he’s
been borrowing from his overseer, Edmund Bacon. The occasion for
his admission was to announce Mr. Bacon would be quitting at some
point in the coming season. Thomas was taking anticipated departure
of the man very hard.
To keep a daily watch on the progress of university construction,
he often sent Mr. Bacon, who obliged Thomas’s every whim.
Over the fifteen or so years of his service I’ve had a few frank
talks with our overseer. At first he didn’t know what to make of me,
who I was in relation to Thomas, accepting others’ stories about the
origin of my children. He wasn’t here for all the commotion Mr.
Callender’s articles had caused.
After we established better communication, I learned Mr. Bacon
was growing guardedly jealous of Jefferson Randolph’s dominance
over Thomas’s lands. He’d begun to feel superfluous. He also knew
better than most the dire financial situation engulfing us. I was
confident that was part of his motivation to remove to Kentucky.
More than once the overseer expressed doubts of young
Jefferson’s intelligence, noting Thomas’s grandson seemed to need
help writing a simple report or letter. He’s had no issues with the
young man’s character, however, and was frankly disgusted with how
Mr. Randolph treated his son.
Mr. Bacon’s faithful and efficient service helped balance the
disappointment Thomas has expressed concerning Mr. Randolph’s
deficiencies as a provider for his large family. The impending loss of
equilibrium from the overseer’s leaving was one more reason
Thomas’s spirit seemed so crushed today.
Did he know that Mr. Randolph, in one of his raging fits of
madness, actually stoned young Jefferson? If he knew, it wasn’t the
result of my telling, for I’ve feared that Thomas—old as he is—would
chase after Randolph to thrash him, or worse. He knew the man caned
Jefferson as a boy and formed a seething disgust if not hatred at that
Mr. Bacon came to know of my relationship with the Master. He
would have had to be blind not to see it through all his years at
Monticello. He showed me a great deal of respect, and I was going to
miss that. Had he not feared incurring Martha’s displeasure, we might
have become good friends. But we maintained a proper distance
marked by mutual high regard.
When Wilson Cary Nicholas died a year ago, sealing Thomas’s
responsibility to pay his loans, Mr. Bacon was the one who buried Mr.
Nicholas. He then confronted creditors who were certain Nicholas had
faked his death to avoid paying his obligations.
Were it not for the university project in which Mr. Bacon has
been of enormous help, Thomas would surely fail in body and spirit.
He was so engrossed in bringing to life the University of Virginia that
the planning and building of the place have become critical to his own
survival. His daily attentions kept his heart pumping blood and his
lungs taking air.
My own relationship with Thomas has entered a phase I would
best describe as “resigned,” perhaps a peculiar label. I was past being
frightened by what may come should the banks foreclose on Thomas’s
properties—even this house—and take possession of mortgaged
slaves. If we were to sink, we should do so with as much courage as
we could muster.
I was also resigned to Thomas’s aging, though he was back to
occasional riding of his favorite steed, Eagle. He could still get about
on foot, provided he was cautious. We were no longer having wild
copulation, but we still slept together as often as possible and engaged
in small releases.
We took joy in the sight of each other—each comfortable with
the other’s habits, touches, sounds, and odors.
I’d sooner die than try to endure without Thomas, the only man
I’ve ever loved. By his standards I was a young woman, but I didn’t
share his perspective. By my own reckoning I felt as though I was
aging more rapidly now. I didn’t expect to outlive him by much.
My duty was to keep him alive as long as possible so that he
may accomplish everything he can.
And when my dreamer has created all of which he’s capable,
safeguarding the rest of us to the best of his ability and satisfying what
he saw as his life’s purpose, it would end for both of us—I hoped