Friday, March 06, 2009

The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family

That's the title of a book [ISBN 9780393064773] by Annette Gordon-Reed that the Orange County Library System was kind enough to deliver to yours truly this afternoon.

I had seen the author on a recent talk show, which sparked my interest. She's a smart cookie, teaching both law at NYU and history at Rutgers. And, I figured any work that wins a National Book Award is worthy of a perusal. Besides, the whole genealogy angle is always appealing to me.

Though I am only just beginning to delve into it, I have not been disappointed so far. Gordon-Reed writes in a style that is easily followed, and cites her sources in a way that would make any English teacher proud.

Before I began reading, I couldn't help myself but check out all the illustrations inserted in between the pages near the middle of the book. Often times, pictures do indeed say a thousand words and offer the best prelude to a lengthy text like this.

Imagine my surpise (and discomfort) to discover the third illustration of the accounting of a slave sale dated 30 December 1772 included my own ancestor Richard Stith among the list of buyers of human chattel.

Clearly, this book's subject matter is going to be as challenging to this descendant of slaveowners to read as it must have been for the descendant of slaves to compile.

Fortunately, I'm always up to a good challenge . . .

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