How could the author of the Declaration of the Independence own slaves? How could twenty percent of the population of the new United States, founded on the principles of liberty and equality, live in bondage? What was life like for enslaved people in the early republic? This online exhibition uses Monticello as a lens through which to examine these questions. 

Explore the Exhibition

Thomas Jefferson: Liberty & Slavery

Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and founded the University of Virginia. Yet, over the course of his life, Jefferson owned 600 people. His way of life always depended on the labor of people he held in slavery.

Get Started

African Slavery in Colonial British North America

Directly or indirectly, the economies of all 13 British colonies in North America depended on slavery.More »

Life on the Monticello Plantation

At any one time, about 130 enslaved men, women, and children lived and worked at Monticello.More »

Enslaved Families of Monticello

Like others across the South, Monticello’s enslaved families resisted slavery’s dehumanizing effects by creating lives that flourished independent of Jefferson.More »

After Monticello

Advertisement from Charlottesville Central Gazette, January 15, 1827

The people of Monticello and their descendants strove to make Jefferson’s ideals a reality.More »