Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History

By Fawn M. Brodie | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXX

Like a Patriarch of Old

There is a tranquillity about him, which an inward peace could alone bestow.

Margaret Bayard Smith, describing Jefferson
at Monticello, August 1, 1809 1

Jefferson would return to Virginia in March 1809 to live out his days in a world that was far more repressive to blacks than the one he had left for the presidency in 1801. After 1805 anyone helping a slave to run away was liable to a fine of $100 to $500 and two or four years in prison. All slaves freed after 1806 were subject to immediate banishment from Virginia unless the owner secured a special dispensation from the legislature. Under the old liberal manumission law, which Jefferson had helped to write, the free black population in the state had risen from 3,000 to 30,000. However, during the same period the number of slaves had grown from 250,000 to almost 400,000, and emancipation sentiment lessened in direct proportion to the increase. Breeding slaves for sale to the Deep South had become profitable, and many free blacks were kidnaped and carried to South Carolina for transshipment to Georgia and Mississippi Territory.

Since the Gabriel conspiracy, free Negroes in Virginia had become objects of suspicion and hatred. Though there were as yet no laws prohibiting slaves to read, some schools for free black children had been forced to close, and many in this unfortunate caste were forced into vagrancy and thievery. 2 The insistence of the leading Virginia statesmen on the impossible, that emancipation must be accompanied

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