Tell A Tale in 500 Words

Thomas Jefferson's Legacy By Christopher Denton

Sally waggled a finger at the father of her six children. 'Thirty three years ago, you made me a promise.'

Still dressed in his night gown, Thomas Jefferson blinked at the sunlight streaming into his bedchamber and shuffled upright against the pillows. His wrinkled forehead creased, and his rheumy blue eyes focused on her. 'What's gotten into you?'

Sally arranged her petticoats and perched on the mattress, then reached over and took the former president's hand in hers. Soft skin; he'd never worked the tobacco fields. How could he, educated and born into wealth, ever fully understand her, a woman of colour, born into slavery?

'Yesterday afternoon, I spied our son sweating in the sun, mending a gate.'

'Eston is almost full grown, and carpentry is a good trade for him to learn.'

She sighed. Thomas simply didn't understand some chains were invisible. 'That night in Paris, the first time you came to my bed.'

He averted his eyes. She'd been sixteen, he forty-six, yet she'd let him have his way after a whispered promise. As if she'd really had a choice.

'Remember?' she hissed.

'I swore if we had children, they'd never be slaves.'

'You also said all men were created equal. Did you really mean that, or were they empty words like your promise?'

He glanced down at their intertwined fingers. 'It isn't that simple.'

Sally squared her shoulders. 'When our sons were young, you taught them to read, write and play the violin. What was the point if all they'll do is fix white folks' fences?'

Thomas raised his free hand to her cheek. 'You know I do what I can. Why, three months ago I made arrangements for Beverley and Harriet to live in Washington.'

'It's not enough. You need to fix your promise in writing.'

'Manumission? But that would be tantamount to admitting paternity. I must do right by my family.'

'Your white family,' she snapped. 'What about my children's right to the pursuit of happiness?'

'I'll do everything—'

She ripped her hand away and stood, folding her arms across her bosom. 'Come spring, you'll be eighty. What'll happen when you're gone? Would you see your own flesh and blood auctioned off?'

He cringed. 'What would you have me do?'

'Free our children.'

'I cannot do that; they are mortgaged.'

'But when you pass, your estate shall be settled.'

'What are you suggesting?'

Pulse racing, she took his hand again and held it tight. 'Please, Thomas. If you ever held any affection for me…if you truly love all your children…change your will. Set our children free upon your passing.'

'That document will be made public.'

'What's more important, your pride or our children? Must they wear shackles so you can hold your head high?'

His shoulders slumped, and he nodded. 'You're right. My children are my true legacy. I'll change my will.'

She embraced him. 'Thank you, Thomas.'

Her master was a man of his word; her children would know the freedom she never had.


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