Slave Plantation Hawks "Day of Pure Chocolate Indulgence At Monticello," Proudly Extolls "Chocolate Was a Favorite of Jefferson's"

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Straight from the files of "Historical Shit That Can't Be Made Up," we woke up this morning to a pretty unbelievable email from the Thomas Jefferson Foundation with the subject line, "Taste: Chocolate at Monticello."

Oh my, we thought, before opening it. Surely someone in TJ's PR office might be sensitive to and knowledgeable enough of, er, certain Jefferson proclivities to be wary of harping about his "taste" for chocolate!?

Apparently not.

From the good folks at Monticello, who seem to be trying out synergy marketing, no matter how crude or ill-advised the subject area may be (emphasis ours):

"Join us for a day of pure chocolate indulgence at Monticello!

Celebrate your love for chocolate at Taste: Chocolate at Monticello with a full day of chocolate-themed events. Learn how chocolate was a favorite of Jefferson's and how it was prepared and served at Monticello. Enjoy a chocolate-making demonstration and savor several pairings of chocolate and Virginia wines.

Create your own itinerary with your friends or surprise your significant other for a special Valentine's Day treat. 'Taste' includes a chef demonstration, keepsake recipes to try at home, and numerous indulgent chocolate tastings. House tour included.

Thomas Jefferson loved chocolate? No shit, we imagine at least one woman would say.

The Monticello Chocolate Experiece (www.monticello.org/chocolate) is taking place on February 4th and is open to people of any race who can cough up the $49 fee.

We've visited Monticello twice in the past three years. For the way the former slave plantation represents the life of Thomas Jefferson (one of the most brilliant and complicated Americans of the Revolutionary generation), the life of the young Republic, and the way in which slavery is such an integral part of the American story, it is a location that every American citizen should visit at least once in their lives. It is simultaneously a place of remarkable architectural and natural beauty, a reminder of unspeakable cruelty, and the birthplace of a great deal of American intellectual thought.

And yet, it's a place that (like Jefferson himself) is very much of two minds when it comes to its conflicting roles with freedom and slavery; furthermore, we find that it "markets" itself rather strangely.

Both times we've visited Monticello (in 2008 and 2011), we've gone on two tours: a regular "house" tour, and a special tour of the part of the plantation where the slave quarters once stood. Both times, we had the same guide for the slave tour, a black woman who (not surprisingly) had no trouble speaking about Jefferson's ownership of hundreds of slaves and his history with the Hemings family. But our two tours of the house were very different.

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Nick Nolte and Thandie Newton as Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings in Jefferson in Paris
The first time we went inside, the docent (a middle aged white man) started with slavery right away. He openly talked about the Hemings's construction work in the house itself, how slaves had built the entire plantation, and how Jefferson used slaves as collateral in maintaing his lavish lifestyle, despite leaving his estate deeply in debt. The second time was very different. The young volunteer (a young white college student) was extremely nervous talking about slavery. She avoided it is much as possible, and whenever any of the people in our tour asked a question (which were all about slavery) she demurred and cast as much doubt as she could on the question of whether Sally Hemings's descendants were related to the Jeffersons or not.

It is the crude marketing of Monticello we find to be the strangest. Since we bought our tickets to visit with a credit card, we've been bombarded with email and snail mail advertisements, begging for money to keep the estate open to the public. Given our own history and ancestry from slaves, it's rather ironic to open our mailbox and find the one-time owner of hundreds of slaves (who left all of them and his closest kin at the mercy of his creditors) asking us for money.

But tying this controversial yet extremely important American landmark into themed events -- especially one that peddles a Jeffersonian indulgence of chocolate, with no apparent sense of irony -- well, that's one even we can't imagine an inventor as prolific as old TJ himself could ever have come up with.

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sthrasher@villagevoice.com | @steven_thrasher


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6 comments
GetReal
GetReal

This is a shallow, venomous, and ridiculous blog. You should be ashamed.

armchair editor
armchair editor

You post not one but two links to the Wikipedia article about Sally Hemings, yet you repeatedly misspell her name.

Commonwealthwines
Commonwealthwines

Excellent journalism Mr Thrasher......you have brilliantly spun a "none story" into something that's even more meaningless. Prefect timing as well with the debates and race being back on the forefront. You exemplify why most Americans are sick and tired of the press and their ability to report and print anything. Talk about "Hawking"..........

Warrendino
Warrendino

Isn't it convenient, Commonwealthwines, to blame the press for printing "anything", as an excuse for your unwillingness to face the realities of the Jeffersonian paradox. It's a well known truism that those who forget history may well be doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.  You mention that "race being back on the forefront" is an issue for you.  I would remind you that this nation, for all of its greatness and pretentions, was built on the back of slaves, and that the injustice and mistreatment of the descendants of former slave (myself included) is never anything less than "on the forefront".  That is not to say we obsess about it, but for people of color just the fact of day to day living brings constant reminders of the travesties which our forefathers endured. Your disingenous attempt to blame the press is about as tired to us as is your denial of the reality of what happened to so many of us.  I suggest you attempt to get a grip on the demons which prevent you from ordering for yourself a reality check.

dehist
dehist

Really? This has anything to do with visiting Monticello and enjoying some chocolate while you're there? The original article is juvenile (The author thinks Monticello is an American treasure, and yet he faults them for trying to raise money in order that it can be preserved so that people can experience this American treasure? Come on, Thrasher.)...Commonwealthwines' acknowledgment of the silliness of the article is hardly evidence of their "unwillingness to face the realities of the Jeffersonian paradox."

Jefferson was a paradoxical man, and indeed our country's history is certainly a complicated and paradoxical story. The last time I went to Monticello, the guides I encountered acknowledged and openly discussed that paradox with what I found to be great insight. Snickering over some chocolate and turning a fundraising event into a statement about race is just plain silly. 

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