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Slavery in the Thomas Jefferson White House - Photo 3

Slavery in the Thomas Jefferson White House - Photo 3

Credit
Library of Congress

Slavery in the Thomas Jefferson White House - Photo 3

This letter from March 2, 1809 was written by John Freeman to Thomas Jefferson. In the letter, Freeman apologizes to Jefferson for previously refusing to return to Monticello in order to remain in Washington, D.C. with his free wife, Melinda Colbert. According to an 1806 Virginia law, freed slaves could only remain in the state for one year after manumission. He writes, “Rather than disples you i will go and do the best i can…I shall oblige to leave [Melinda] and the children.” Jefferson eventually relented and sold Freeman to James Madison so that Freeman could remain with his family. The letter is a rare example of a letter written by an enslaved individual and an even rarer example of an enslaved person negotiating with their owner.

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