In the continuation of this conversation, more or less, we landed on the issue of plantation owners having children by the African women they were keeping as slaves. My students were throughly fascinated, and despite the need to move onto China (the glories of teaching world history! a country a day! a continent a day!), we talked a little bit about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings and the varieties of experiences the children might have had. (oh good, I correctly remembered that Sally is thought to be the half-sister of Jefferson’s wife—but oops, I misremembered Jefferson’s wife’s name)

In totally unexpected synergy, the reading I had assigned on China was about families, with quite of a lot of information about concubines and their children, and I was able to make a beautiful segue* by saying “okay, now what’s different in China about how families deal with these similar issues?”

* rather less beautiful when I stopped in the middle and said “oh hey, I can make China and America connect! isn’t that cool?” which eliminated any actual coolness.

Edited to add: googling to check my facts led me to this, written in 1977:

To give credence to the Sally Hemings story is, in effect, to question the authenticity of Jefferson’s faith in freedom, the rights of man, and the innate controlling faculty of reason and the sense of right and wrong.

I guess knowing that Jefferson bought and sold human beings doesn’t challenge that authenticity at all.

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