When Jefferson died he left his family deep in debt. His beloved Monticello and all his possessions were sold within three years. The “Executor’s Sale” in the winter of 1827 put up for sale 130 of his slaves, while five were freed in accordance with his will. Unified slave families that Jefferson maintained during his life were separated and sold.
The Slave Auction
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, 1993
The sale began—young girls were there,
a Defenseless in their wretchedness,
Whose stifled sobs of deep despair
a Revealed their anguish and distress.
And mothers stood, with streaming eyes,
a And saw their dearest children sold;
Unheeded rose their bitter cries,
a While tyrants bartered them for gold.
And woman, with her love and truth—
a For these in sable forms may dwell—
Gazed on the husband of her youth,
a With anguish none may paint or tell.
And men, whose sole crime was their hue,
a The impress of their Maker’s hand,
And frail and shrinking children too,
a Were gathered in that mournful band.
Ye who have laid your loved to rest,
a And wept above their lifeless clay,
Know not the anguish of that breast,
a Whose loved are rudely torn away.
Ye may not know how desolate
a Are bosoms rudely forced to part,
And how a dull and heavy weight
a Will press the life-drops from the heart.