Current Research in Digital History

Scot French

Notes on the Future of Virginia
Visualizing a 40-Year Conversation on Race and Slavery in the Correspondence of Jefferson and Short

from volume 1 (2018),


Between 1785, when the first English-language edition of Notes on the State of Virginia was published, and January 1826, less than six months before his death at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson and his Virginia-born friend and “adoptive son,” William Short, engaged in a remarkable conversation about the fate of blacks in Virginia’s post-emancipation future. From their respective posts in Europe and United States, they discussed issues of race, slavery, emancipation, agricultural reform, and alternative labor systems based on European models (villeinage, or serfdom, and metayage, or sharecropping). Both men observed the condition of Europe’s white laboring poor while serving there as diplomats in the 1780s; both recognized the dangers posed by slavery in the Haitian Revolution of the 1790s and Gabriel’s Rebellion of 1800; and both expressed a desire to experiment with new labor systems that could provide a way out of slavery while preserving the agricultural basis of Virginian and American society. Yet they differed pointedly on the racial destiny of African Americans and the best path to a post-emancipation society in Virginia. Short directly challenged Jefferson’s views on black inferiority and questioned his continuing support for the colonization/expatriation/expopulation of blacks as the only viable alternative to slavery.

Thomas Jefferson’s views on race and slavery are well known to historians of the early American republic.1 In several oft-analyzed passages from Notes on the State of Virginia (1785–87), Jefferson envisioned the transformation of Virginia from a rigidly hierarchical slave society, dominated by a small but powerful planter elite, to a post-emancipation herrenvolk democracy rooted in classical republican values and embodied in the idealized figure of the white yeoman farmer. Jefferson’s plan, drafted for consideration by the Virginia General Assembly, called for the gradual replacement of black slave labor with white free labor. As the state reduced its slave population through post-nati emancipation and the removal of freed blacks to a far-off colony, “beyond the reach of mixture,” ships would be sent to “other parts of the world for an equal number of white inhabitants.” Jefferson anticipated practical, if not moral, objections to his plan: “It will probably be asked, Why not retain and incorporate the blacks into the state, and thus save the expence [sic] of supplying, by importation of white settlers, the vacancies they will leave?” In summoning this straw man, Jefferson sought not to open public debate but to constrain options for Virginia’s post-emancipation future with a master’s treatise on history, memory, race, and national identity. He wrote: “Deep rooted prejudices entertained by the whites; ten thousand recollections, by the blacks, of the injuries they have sustained; new provocations; the real distinctions which nature has made… will divide us into parties, and produce convulsions which will probably never end but in the extermination of the one or the other race.” Jefferson’s objection to race-mixing on “physical and moral” grounds further buttressed his argument against the incorporation of emancipated slaves as subjects or citizens.2

Jefferson held fast to these views from the first printing of Notes in 1785, when he was 42, till his death in 1826 at age 83. Not even the private pleadings and patient arguments of his close friend and confidant, Virginia-born William Short, could persuade Jefferson to budge from the positions staked out in Notes. 3 A close reading of relevant Jefferson-Short letters, spanning four decades (1787–1826) and two continents (Europe and North America), reveals Jefferson’s stubborn adherence to, and reaffirmation of, his public positions on race, slavery, emancipation, and colonization. Where others tried and failed, Short tried and tried again. A letter-by-letter analysis of their correspondence, as presented in the digital companion to this article, reveals the frustration Short experienced in urging Jefferson to reconsider his views and the strategic thinking behind Short’s ideological retreat from European-style abolition to a more Jefferson-friendly plan of gradual reform and amelioration.

Jefferson’s public speculations on black inferiority and his insistence that slaves, when freed, must “be removed beyond the reach of mixture” drew several pointed challenges from his contemporaries. In 1791, the African-American surveyor and astronomer Benjamin Banneker sent Jefferson a copy of an almanac he had compiled, along with a letter protesting the continued oppression and enslavement of the “African race.” He advised Jefferson and his compatriots to “wean” themselves from their “narrow prejudices” toward African Americans and to, “as Job proposed to his friends, ‘put your soul in their souls instead.” Jefferson wrote Banneker a polite, if somewhat opaque, reply: “No body wishes more than I do to see such proofs as you exhibit, that nature has given to our black brethren talents equal to those of other colors of men, & that the appearance of a want of them is owing merely to the degraded condition of their existence both in Africa & America.”4 Yet, privately, as historian Winthrop Jordan and others have observed, Jefferson “could not rid himself of the suspicion that the Negro was naturally inferior.” Jefferson rejected evidence of Negro “genius” as anecdotal or—worse—fabricated by friends of the race, and he held fast to his insistence on the colonization of emancipated slaves and free blacks as the only viable solution to the inextricably intertwined problems of race and slavery in Virginia.5

Perhaps the most sustained critique of Jefferson’s views came from within his own inner circle. Short—who was born to a prominent slaveholding family in Surry County, Virginia, and was related to Jefferson by marriage—enjoyed many of the same social privileges and political advantages as his mentor. Like Jefferson, Short attended the College of William & Mary, where he studied moral philosophy and became a founding member of the Society of Phi Beta Kappa. Like Jefferson, Short studied law under George Wythe and joined the Virginia Bar. Like Jefferson, Short served on Virginia’s Executive Council—a prestigious appointment that might have served as a stepping-stone to higher office. Yet, unlike Jefferson, Short chose a path that took him out of state and—for more than two decades—out of country. In 1784, he sold his slaves, which he had inherited from his father, left the Commonwealth of Virginia—never to settle there again—and moved to Paris to serve as Jefferson’s private secretary. There he embraced radical ideas on human freedom and equality and questioned the idea of race at the foundation of America’s slave society.6

While in Paris, Short’s clerical duties included the preparation of Jefferson’s Notes for their first authorized publication. “Suffice it to say,” writes Short’s biographer, George Green Shackelford, “that William Short was proof-reader and copy-boy for this undertaking.”7 It is clear, from their correspondence during their joint European residency (1784–88), that Short embraced Jefferson’s idea of replacing slave with free labor, but rejected Jefferson’s insistence that blacks be removed “beyond the reach of mixture” as a condition of their freedom. In a letter to Jefferson dated October 2, 1788, Short reports on his investigation into the European agricultural labor system of metairie (sharecropping) and comments on the prospects for transforming “our slaves” into metayers on the French model.8 Likewise, in a letter dated October 28, 1788, Short reports that the Milanois system of sharecropping is “less complicated in one respect than in France, and of course better for the genius of the negroes.”9 Where Jefferson saw no viable future for blacks in Virginia, Short envisioned a permanent place for them as sharecroppers and tenant farmers in a post-emancipation economy.

When Jefferson returned to the United States in 1788, Short—to Jefferson’s dismay—remained behind, preferring the cosmopolitan world of Paris to the plantation slave society of Virginia.10 Throughout his long residency in Europe, Short corresponded regularly with Jefferson about diplomatic appointments, investment opportunities, and, most notably, Virginia’s future as a post-emancipation society. In an extraordinarily pointed letter to Jefferson, dated February 27, 1798, Short argued that “keeping 700,000 people & their descendants in perpetual slavery” posed a far more intolerable threat to humanity than “the mixture of the two colors.” Race-mixing, he maintained, was inevitable, as natural as the cross-breeding of flowers and as capable of producing awe-inspiring beauty as “the perfect mixture of the rose and the lily.” Short offered a point-by-point rejoinder to Jefferson’s plan of post-nati emancipation and colonization, as set forth in Notes. He noted the degrading and dehumanizing conditions of slavery in America. He compared calls for the expatriation of free blacks from America to the expulsion of the Moors from Spain, and he pondered the devastating cost of expelling the nation’s native-born “agriculturers.” Short cited the recently reported discovery of advanced civilizations in the African interior as evidence of “the perfectibility of the black race,” and he predicted the rise of “populous & extensive nations of the black color, formed into powerful societies who will par in every respect with whites under the same circumstances.” Short acknowledged the depths of anti-black prejudice among white Americans, but saw movement in law and society toward “the restoration of the rights of citizenship of those blacks who inhabit the U.S.”11

Jefferson’s silence on the topic spoke volumes. Receiving no response to his lengthy missive from Jefferson for nearly two years, Short wrote a follow-up letter dated December 18, 1800: “I have never heard from you whether you recd. a very long letter I wrote you some years ago of the date of Feb. 27. 98….It went a good deal on a subject to which I think it of importance that our countrymen should pay attention—that of slaves—I know none more deserving of their most profound researches.”12 Jefferson eventually answered Short, but without ever acknowledging the substance of the 1798 letter.

In The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, historian Annette Gordon-Reed offers a brilliant close reading of Short’s 1798 letter—–and Jefferson’s apparent reluctance to respond—–within the context of Jefferson’s intimate sexual relationship with his slave, Sally Hemings. With the 1798 letter, Gordon-Reed speculates, Short sought to move Jefferson toward recognition of African Americans—and not just the mixed-race Hemings family of Monticello—as worthy of manumission and a path to citizenship. Jefferson, she concludes, ignored the letter and “changed the subject” to avoid an extended foray into matters both highly personal and politically explosive.13

Historiographically, Gordon-Reed provides the rationale for my longue duree study of the Jefferson-Short correspondence by viewing Short’s February 1798 letter as part of an extended “conversation” that began with Short’s preparation of Notes for publication. “Short knew the exact significance of his choice of words [on race and race-mixing],” she writes, “for this was a direct challenge to some of the best-known of Jefferson’s passages in Query 14 of the Notes.”14

Like Gordon-Reed, I view Notes as a critical reference point in a running dialogue between Short and Jefferson on race, slavery, and Virginia’s post-emancipation future. Where Gordon-Reed focuses on a single noteworthy and seemingly isolated exchange, I expand the corpus to include nearly 75 letters between Short and Jefferson spanning nearly four decades, 1787–1826.15 Where Gordon-Reed advances her argument in narrative form, within the context of a book-length study, I present mine using an open-access interactive visualization platform—VisualEyes—that employs multiple “views” and invites readers to explore selected “themes” and “threads” running through the correspondence.16 While this dialogical approach cannot capture the fullness of Jefferson’s thought, or the various positions he took in correspondence with others, it can illuminate the rhetorical thrust and parry, across time and space, between Jefferson and one of his closest friends and confidants.

Notes on the Future of Virginia: The Jefferson-Short Letters, 1787–1826, culls Jefferson-Short letters from a range of published sources to create an online essay/exhibit/interactive visualization that doubles as a scholar’s resource.17 It invites users to explore selected “themes” and “threads” running through Jefferson and Short’s extended “conversation” and ruminate on the significance of time and place and key events in framing their ideological positions and worldviews. The site combines brief introductory essays, annotated excerpts, and interactive visual displays to chart the shifting ideological positions and rhetorical stances assumed by Jefferson and Short. It privileges user-driven “exploration” in the Storyline View (figure 1) and author-driven “interpretation” in the Discourse View (figure 2).

A screenshot of the Story Line view of the "Notes on the Future of Virginia: The Jefferson---Short Letters" website.
Figure 1. The StoryLine View invites users to follow topical threads running through the curated collection of 75 Jefferson-Short letters, with contextual framing throughout.

In the StoryLine view users can isolate topical threads—slave labor, agriculture, sharecropping, serfdom, tenancy, manumission, colonization, rebellion, and Short’s property at Indian Camp—for easy tracking in a timeline format. Color-coded bands at the top provide framing context. When users click on individual letters, a text box displays relevant data (author, date, location), key excerpt in italics, analysis/summary of contents, links to a scanned image of letter and full text transcription (if available), and relevant excerpts with ellipses.

A screenshot from the Discourse view of the "Notes on the Future of Virginia: The Jefferson---Short Letters" website, which features a map of the Atlantic in the background, informational text, and a portrait of William Short.
Figure 2. The Discourse View favors author-driven “argument” over user-driven “exploration.” It features introductory essays and annotated excerpts from the selected letters—organized chronologically, thematically, and geospatially

The Discourse View (figure 2) highlights the geospatial dimensions of the conversation. Selected place names referenced within the Jefferson-Short letters appear as “hot spots” on the stylized world map; textual annotations illuminate the local-global dimensions of the discussion and provide geopolitical context. The relative addresses of sender and receiver are displayed using icons (J for Jefferson, S for Short) on a stylized world map, with editorial notes providing context. These markers convey the physical distance between the two men and—at times, as noted in particular letters—the intellectual and emotional distance between them as well. A beta-version Position Tracker visualizes the convergence/divergence of Jefferson’s and Short’s positions on key issues (expatriation/forced removal) across time and space in sync with the threaded display of letters.

The local-global dimensions of the Jefferson-Short discourse can be seen clearly in a subset of 40 letters dealing with a property known as Indian Camp. In 1795, hoping to entice Short to return from his diplomatic post in Europe and settle among a close circle of friends (including James Monroe and James Madison) in Piedmont Virginia, Jefferson arranged for Short’s purchase of the 1,334-acre Indian Camp tract near his Monticello home. Two competing visions of Virginia’s future—Jefferson’s desire to replace plantation slavery with small-scale, sustainable, white tenant farming and Short’s abolitionist dream of transforming slaves into free laborers—emerge from their correspondence on Indian Camp. Writing from Paris in 1798, Short endorsed Jefferson’s plan to have Indian Camp “tenanted out,” but expressed doubt that white tenant farmers would be willing to do the work of slaves in a slave society. Instead he proposed that “some person of fortune & well known” (a thinly veiled allusion to Jefferson) conduct an experiment in free black tenant farming on a selected portion of land to demonstrate the profitability of “converting” slaves into tenant farmers. “Let all the minute calculations of detail be entered into & published in the gazettes—Whatever may be the result of the first essays, time & repetition will I think infallibly shew the advantage of free, above forced, labor.”18  Jefferson disregarded Short’s suggestion and instead recruited white tenant farmers to work the Indian Camp land—possibly with the assistance of rented slaves—according to his strict rules of crop rotation. The property served, I would argue, as a canvas on which the two men sketched their competing visions of Virginia’s post-emancipation future.19

The visualizations provide a stereoscopic view of two prominent white, native-born Virginians—bound by ties of family and social class—as they grappled with the most pressing social, political, and economic issues of their day. Both men observed firsthand the condition of Europe’s white laboring poor (serfs and sharecroppers) and drew pointed comparisons to that of America’s enslaved blacks; both recognized the mortal dangers posed by slavery in the Haitian Revolution of the 1790s and Gabriel’s Rebellion of 1800; and both expressed a desire to experiment with new labor systems that could provide a way out of slavery while preserving the agricultural basis of Virginian and Southern society.

Yet Jefferson and Short differed profoundly on the inevitability and desirability of “race-mixing,” the capacity of black people for citizenship in America, and the prospects for a peaceful transition to bi-racial democracy in post-emancipation Virginia. Short directly challenged Jefferson’s views on black inferiority and rejected Jefferson’s scheme of state-sponsored colonization as the only viable alternative to slavery. An early advocate for black citizenship, Short pushed Jefferson to consider the transformation of slaves into serfs (villeins) or sharecroppers (metayers) as part of a larger societal transition, following the European model, to a more advanced state of freedom and civilization. That Jefferson ignored or rejected all such appeals from Short, over the course of forty years, is significant. It confirms his almost routine exposure to opposing views from within his inner circle and accentuates the closed-mindedness that characterized his thinking on the subjects of race and slavery.

Upon his return to America in 1810, Short settled in Philadelphia and steadily retreated from his more radical views on race, emancipation, and black citizenship. In a letter to Jefferson dated October 9, 1823, Short wrote: “I must own that since my return & residence in America I have considered all such efforts as mere visions. An insuperable difficulty must ever be found in this, that every reform must depend precisely on those whose prejudices & whose interests are the most opposed to, & would be the most likely to take the alarm at any squinting towards a reform.” Where once Short endorsed the transformation of slaves into citizens, Short now urged Jefferson to consider—and publicly endorse—a plan for transforming Virginia’s slaves into serfs on the European model. Such a plan would prevent the breakup and sale of families and, while preserving elements of involuntary servitude, “modify and moderate the evil.” Recalling Jefferson’s insistence, in Notes, on the removal of emancipated blacks as a condition of their freedom, Short wrote: “I remember well that near half a century ago you treated of this population, but then were in favor of the expopulating system. If you should have now, like myself, become convinced of the impracticability, or even of the inhumanity of this plan, would it not be worth while to encourage the idea of changing the condition of these slaves into that of serfs attached to the glebe?”20 Jefferson was unmoved. In a reply to Short, written six months before his death, Jefferson conceded Short’s point that converting slaves into serfs might improve their lot, but said he still favored the “expatriation” of emancipated blacks to countries governed and populated by people “of their own colour.” Jefferson declared this scheme “entirely practicable” and “greatly preferable to the mixture of colour here.”21

Jefferson’s death on July 4, 1826, freed Short to ponder the what-ifs of their long-distance correspondence. What if Jefferson had been more open-minded about the various schemes that Short put forward as alternatives to slavery? What if Jefferson had accepted the leadership role that Short and others had urged upon him? In an 1829 letter to their mutual friend, John Hartwell Cocke, Short lamented the dearth of any political movement toward antislavery reform in Virginia. “I have long meditated on the best remedy for this evil of slavery in Virginia & I have satisfied myself fully as to it—but wld never be able to satisfy the owners & the Legislature of the State as to it. Mr. J., to whom I had written on the subject a short time before his death, agreed that mine would be the best remedy save one, wch. was his old one of shipping them off. You know he did not easily renounce any idea which he had taken up in this way.”22


Bowman, Rebecca. “William Short.” The Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia. Last modified Sept. 29, 1997. Accessed July 30, 2018.

Cannon, H. Brevy. “Early Archaeology at Morven Taps into Little-Studied Veins of History.” UVA Today, April 1, 2010.

Cocke Family Papers. Special Collections, University of Virginia Library.

Finkelman, Paul. Slavery and the Founders: Race and Liberty in the Age of Jefferson. 2nd ed. New York: M.E. Sharpe, 2001.

Ford, Paul Leicester, ed. The Works of Thomas Jefferson in Twelve Volumes. Federal Edition. American Memory, Library of Congress. Accessed May 29, 2018.

French, Scot. The Rebellious Slave: Nat Turner in American Memory. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004.

French, Scot A., and Edward L. Ayers. “The Strange Career of Thomas Jefferson: Race and Slavery in American Memory, 1943—1993.” In Jeffersonian Legacies, edited by Peter S. Onuf, 418–456. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993.

French, Scot, and Bill Ferster. “Notes on the Future of Virginia: The Jefferson-Short Letter, 1787–1826.”

George, Laura Voisin. “Surveying the Past: Virginia Archaeological Team Uncovers Layers of Meaning in a Jeffersonian Map from the Huntington.” Huntington Frontiers (Spring-Summer, 2010): 16–23.

Gordon-Reed, Annette. The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family. New York: Norton & Co., 2008.

Jefferson Papers, Founders Online, National Archives.

Jordan, Winthrop D. White Over Black: American Attitudes toward the Negro, 1550–1812. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1968.

Miller, John Chester. The Wolf by the Ears: Thomas Jefferson and Slavery. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1991.

Onuf, Peter S. “‘To Declare Them a Free and Independant People’: Race, Slavery, and National Identity in Jefferson’s Thought.” Journal of the Early Republic 18, no. 1 (1998): 1–46.

The Papers of Thomas Jefferson Digital Edition, edited by James P. McClure and J. Jefferson Looney. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda Series, 2008–2018.

Peden, William, ed. Notes on the State of Virginia. By Thomas Jefferson. Chapel Hill: Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the University of North Carolina Press, 1996.

Shackelford, George Green. Jefferson’s Adoptive Son: The Life of William Short, 1759–1848. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1993.

Shackelford, George Green. “William Short, Thomas Jefferson’s Adoptive Son, 1759–1848.” PhD diss., University of Virginia, 1955.

Stanton, Lucia. “Those Who Labor for My Happiness”: Slavery at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2012.

Thomas Jefferson Papers, 1606 to 1827. Library of Congress.

Waldstreicher, David, ed. Notes on the State of Virginia by Thomas Jefferson with Related Documents. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002.


An early version of this paper was presented at the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies, Charlottesville, Virginia, on May 17, 2011. The author would like to thank the moderator, Peter S. Onuf, and fellow panelists Annette Gordon-Reed, Billy A. Wayson, Randall J. Winston, and Nicholas P. Wood for their comments. A poster version, “Notes on the Future of Virginia: An Experiment in Visualized Discourse Analysis,” was presented at the American Historical Association annual meeting in Chicago on Jan. 7, 2012 (see abstract). The author would also like to thank Bill Ferster, interactive visualization specialist at the University of Virginia, for designing the user interface for the web companion to this paper, “Notes on the Future of Virginia: The Jefferson-Short Letter, 1787–1826.” Finally, thanks to Stewart Gamage and the University of Virginia Foundation for supporting my research on William Short and the Indian Camp property as part of a 2010–11 research appointment.

  1. The literature on Jefferson, race, and slavery is voluminous. For book-length studies, see Miller, The Wolf by the Ears; Finkelman, Slavery and the Founders, and Stanton, “Those Who Labor for My Happiness.” For a discussion of Jefferson’s changing image in popular culture and scholarship, with particular attention to his views on race and slavery, see French and Ayers, “The Strange Career of Thomas Jefferson.” On Jefferson’s Notes as anti-slavery jeremiad and dark prophecy, see French, The Rebellious Slave, 7–21. On Jefferson’s post-nati emancipation and colonization scheme, see Onuf, “‘To Declare Them a Free and Independant People’,” 1–46. 

  2. For quoted passages, see Query XIV, “Laws,” in Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia (Philadelphia: Prichard & Hall, 1788), in Documenting the American South, For more on the pamphlet’s publication history, see “Notes on the State of Virginia [Manuscript],” Massachusetts Historical Society, For print editions with scholarly annotation, see Peden, Notes; and Waldstretcher, Notes

  3. Jefferson’s relationship to Short is explored in Shackelford, Jefferson’s Adoptive Son. Shackelford’s book, a slightly revised version of his 1955 dissertation, is a valuable source of biographical details, but makes no reference to the correspondence on race and slavery examined in this project. 

  4. Benjamin Banneker and Thomas Jefferson, letters, 19 and 30 August 1791, in Waldstreicher, Notes, 208–213. Jefferson made similar professions of open-mindedness in exchanges with other Enlightenment-era contemporaries, such as the French abolitionist Henri Gregoire: “Be assured,” he wrote to Gregoire in 1809, “that no person living wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a complete refutation of the doubts I have myself entertained and expressed on the grade of understanding allotted to them by nature, and to find that in this respect they are on a par with ourselves.” Thomas Jefferson to Henri Gregoire, 25 February 1809, in Ford, The Works of Thomas Jefferson,

  5. In an 1809 letter to Joel Barlow, written in confidence, Jefferson wrote that the Banneker possessed “a mind of very common stature indeed” and questioned whether Banneker had the “aid” of a white neighbor and friend, the Quaker abolitionist Ellicott, in creating his famous almanac. Jordan, White Over Black, 449–457. 

  6. “Connected to Jefferson by marriage (Short was the nephew of Henry and Robert Skipwith, each of whom had married half-sisters of Martha Jefferson), Short may have attended Jefferson’s wedding in 1772. He visited Monticello several times before Martha Jefferson died in 1782, and he accompanied the Jefferson family to Poplar Forest in 1781 when the family escaped Tarleton’s troops.” Bowman, “William Short”; The term “adoptive son” is taken from Shackelford, Jefferson’s Adoptive Son

  7. Shackelford, “William Short,” 171–172. 

  8. William Short to Thomas Jefferson, 2 October 1788, Papers of Thomas Jefferson,

  9. Short to Jefferson, 28 October, 1788, Papers of Thomas Jefferson,

  10. Short held diplomatic posts as Chargé d’Affaires in Paris (1789–1792) U.S. Minister at the Hague, Netherlands (1792–1793), and Joint Commissioner/Minister Resident in Madrid, Spain (1793–1795). In 1795, Jefferson sought to lure Short back to Virginia by purchasing Indian Camp, a 1,334-acre property near Monticello, on behalf of his friend and “adoptive son.” Short, however, saw the property as an investment only and declined to live there. When Short returned to the United States in 1810, he settled in Philadelphia and resided there for the rest of his long life. For full biographical details, see Shackelford, Jefferson’s Adoptive Son

  11. Short to Jefferson, 27 February 1798, Papers of Thomas Jefferson,

  12. Short to Jefferson, 18 December 1800, Papers of Thomas Jefferson,

  13. Short, Gordon-Reed notes, had lived and worked with Jefferson in Paris and witnessed his daily interactions with two members of the Hemings family, Sally and James. “Short had personally observed Jefferson living with two intelligent and attractive mixed-race African Americans working alongside with and being paid like free white workers—and the earth had continued to turn. Whatever he knew of [a sexual relationship between] Sally Hemings and Jefferson, Short had first-hand knowledge of Jefferson’s general affection for her family. Why could not Jefferson’s experiences be replicated all over the United States?” Gordon-Reed, Hemingses of Monticello, 536–539. 

  14. Gordon-Reed, Hemingses of Monticello, 537. 

  15. Only transcribed letters from scholarly editions of Jefferson papers were included; no effort was made to conduct original research in archival manuscripts for this beta version of the project. The bulk of the letters were accessible through the Library of Congress’s American Memory Project, the University of Virginia Press’s Rotunda Series, and the Swem Library at the College of William & Mary. A small subset of the featured letters appeared in bound print volumes only, most notably Princeton University’s The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series

  16. Future iterations of the project, currently in development, will update the project to a more robust, mobile-friendly, HTML5 version of VisualEyes and revamp the interpretive display to include (a) relevant documents from outside the Jefferson-Short corpus and (b) themed exhibits that explore the agency of marginalized groups (free blacks, slaves, women, tenant farmers, sharecroppers, etc.) referenced in the correspondence. 

  17. French and Ferster, “Notes on the Future of Virginia.” 

  18. Short to Jefferson, 27 February 1798, Papers of Thomas Jefferson,

  19. For a discussion of research on the white tenant farmers, see George, “Surveying the Past,” 16–23; Cannon, “Early Archaeology at Morven,”

  20. Short to Jefferson, 9 October, 1823, Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress,

  21. Jefferson to Short, 18 January 1826, Jefferson Papers, Founders Online, National Archives,

  22. Short to John Hartwell Cocke, 8 January 1829, Cocke Family Papers, Accession #640, Box 58, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library. 


Scot French, Department of History, University of Central Florida,, ORC ID logo0000-0002-1894-1058