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Medford's Royall House to host Jefferson historian Wiencek

Posted by Jarret Bencks  May 2, 2013 07:18 PM

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A historian who has closely studied Thomas Jefferson's use of slaves is slated to speak at Medford's Royall House and Slave Quarters later this month.

Henry Wiencek, author of "Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves," will appear at the Royall House for a lecture on May 15 at 7:30 p.m.

Wiencek also wrote about George Washington's use of slaves in "An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America," for which he won the Los Angeles Times book award for history.

The following is a press release from the Royall House on the lecture:

On Wednesday, May 15, 2013, at 7:30 p.m., nationally renowned author and historian Henry Wiencek will give a talk on his book Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves.

In his provocative study, Henry Wiencek argues that the author of the Declaration of Independence shifted his position on slavery for financial reasons, after becoming convinced that the only way to make a success of his debt-ridden plantation was through what he called the “silent profits” gained from those he enslaved. "The very existence of slavery in the era of the American Revolution presents a paradox," writes Wiencek, "and we have largely been content to leave it at that. Jefferson animates the paradox. And by looking closely at Monticello, we can see the process by which he rationalized an abomination to the point where an absolute moral reversal was reached and he made slavery fit into America’s national enterprise." Copies of Master of the Mountain will be available for sale. 

The event will be held at the Royall House & Slave Quarters at 15 George Street, Medford, and is free to Royall House & Slave Quarters members. General admission is $5. Royall House and Slave Quarters brief annual business meeting starts at 6:45 p.m., followed by a refreshment break prior to the lecture. On-street parking is available, and the museum is located on the 96 and 101 MBTA bus routes. Please email director@RoyallHouse.org for more information or visit RoyallHouse.org. 

About the speaker: Henry Wiencek is a prominent American historian, editor, and author whose work has encompassed historically significant architecture, the Founding Fathers, and various topics relating to slavery. In 1999, The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White, a biographical history that chronicles the racially intertwined Hairston clan of North Carolina, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for biography. An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America earned him the Los Angeles Times Book Award for history. He was named the first-ever Washington College Patrick Henry Fellow, inaugurating a program designed to provide writing fellowships for nationally prominent historians. Henry Wiencek was born in Dorchester, attended Boston College High School, and earned an undergraduate degree from Yale University. Mr. Wiencek resides in Charlottesville, Virginia.

About the museum: In the eighteenth century, the Royall House & Slave Quarters was home to the largest slaveholding family in Massachusetts and the enslaved Africans who made their lavish way of life possible. Architecture, furnishings, and archaeological artifacts bear witness to the intertwined stories of wealth and bondage, set against the backdrop of America’s quest for independence. The Slave Quarters is the only remaining such structure in the northern United States, and the Royall House is among the finest colonial-era buildings in New England.

Jarret Bencks can be reached at bencks.globe@gmail.com. Follow him on twitter @JarretBencks.

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