Submit a link Features Reviews Podcasts Video Forums More ▾

Thomas Jefferson, enthusiastic, brutal slaver

Update: Be sure to read Annette Gordon-Reed's rebuttal to Wiencek's biography.

Marilyn sez, "My historian friend Henry Wiencek was distressed when he found, halfway into his research on Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves a new book about Thomas Jefferson, that generations of historians had been covering up Jefferson's dark side: he wasn't the lenient, soft-hearted, reluctant slave owner that he'd been made out to be. He found he could make money by raising slaves and selling them, and he allowed the littlest boys who worked under miserable conditions in his nail factory to be beaten if they were disobedient. Preview of the book in this month's Smithsonian Magazine."

We can be forgiven if we interrogate Jefferson posthumously about slavery. It is not judging him by today’s standards to do so. Many people of his own time, taking Jefferson at his word and seeing him as the embodiment of the country’s highest ideals, appealed to him. When he evaded and rationalized, his admirers were frustrated and mystified; it felt like praying to a stone. The Virginia abolitionist Moncure Conway, noting Jefferson’s enduring reputation as a would-be emancipator, remarked scornfully, “Never did a man achieve more fame for what he did not do..."

Once, a missing bundle of rod had started a fight in the nailery that got one boy’s skull bashed in and another sold south to terrify the rest of the children—“in terrorem” were Jefferson’s words—“as if he were put out of the way by death.” Perhaps this very bundle was the cause of the fight.

...The critical turning point in Jefferson’s thinking may well have come in 1792. As Jefferson was counting up the agricultural profits and losses of his plantation in a letter to President Washington that year, it occurred to him that there was a phenomenon he had perceived at Monticello but never actually measured. He proceeded to calculate it in a barely legible, scribbled note in the middle of a page, enclosed in brackets. What Jefferson set out clearly for the first time was that he was making a 4 percent profit every year on the birth of black children. The enslaved were yielding him a bonanza, a perpetual human dividend at compound interest. Jefferson wrote, “I allow nothing for losses by death, but, on the contrary, shall presently take credit four per cent. per annum, for their increase over and above keeping up their own numbers.” His plantation was producing inexhaustible human assets. The percentage was predictable.

In another communication from the early 1790s, Jefferson takes the 4 percent formula further and quite bluntly advances the notion that slavery presented an investment strategy for the future. He writes that an acquaintance who had suffered financial reverses “should have been invested in negroes.” He advises that if the friend’s family had any cash left, “every farthing of it [should be] laid out in land and negroes, which besides a present support bring a silent profit of from 5. to 10. per cent in this country by the increase in their value.”

...And this world was crueler than we have been led to believe. A letter has recently come to light describing how Monticello’s young black boys, “the small ones,” age 10, 11 or 12, were whipped to get them to work in Jefferson’s nail factory, whose profits paid the mansion’s grocery bills. This passage about children being lashed had been suppressed—deliberately deleted from the published record in the 1953 edition of Jefferson’s Farm Book, containing 500 pages of plantation papers. That edition of the Farm Book still serves as a standard reference for research into the way Monticello worked.

...It was during the 1950s, when historian Edwin Betts was editing one of Colonel Randolph’s plantation reports for Jefferson’s Farm Book, that he confronted a taboo subject and made his fateful deletion. Randolph reported to Jefferson that the nailery was functioning very well because “the small ones” were being whipped. The youngsters did not take willingly to being forced to show up in the icy midwinter hour before dawn at the master’s nail forge. And so the overseer, Gabriel Lilly, was whipping them “for truancy.”

The Dark Side of Thomas Jefferson [Smithsonian]

Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves [Amazon]

(Thanks, Marilyn!)

Firing a pistol underwater

Destin from Smarter Every Day captured high-speed images of both a revolver and an automatic pistol discharging underwater; the water perfectly captures and renders visible the gas forces at work in the system (and makes for a beautiful picture).

I performed an experiment to see what the differences were between semi-automatic pistols and revolvers. The advantage of shooting under water is that you can see the boundary of the gas flow fields almost perfectly.

Instead of saving for my kids' college, I make videos using the money I would have saved.

High Speed Video of Pistols Underwater - Smarter Every Day 19 (via Kottke)

(Photo: @VuurwapenBlog)

Dinosaur

The correct answer is, of course, Ankylosaurus.

Smith-Corona's voice letters by post: dead media


Here's a weird bit of dead media: a Smith-Corona audio-letter that used a "Letterpack cartridge" (which appears to be a 3.5" floppy disc) to record and play back personal voice-letters sent by post. The apparatus is a fascinating dead branch in design history, something that looks like it might be descended from a desktop intercom box, and distinctly unrelated to the apparatus we put up to our faces and heads in this era.

This can really be seen as an arbitrage point between high long distance tariffs by monopoly telco operators and a willingness to tolerate delays in personal voice communications.

Where are they now? Smith-Corona

Greek Pastafarian arrested for "Cyber Crimes"


A reader writes, "On September 24, Greece's Cyber Crimes division arrested a 27 year old man on charges of blasphemy, for his website that mocks a well-known Greek monk Elder Paisios, using the name Elder Pastitsios (the even better-known Greek pasta dish). The link is to a Greek blog, which shows a religious procession through the streets of Athens last Friday led by local Pastafarians in protest of the arrest, during which pastitso was distributed to the crowds as a holy blessing. It's being widely reported that the arrest was instigated not by the Greek Orthodox church, but by the neo-Nazi group Golden Dawn, who currently hold seats in Parliament. The Twitter hashtag for the story is #FreeGeronPastitsios."

Αναλυτικό ρεπορτάζ από τη λιτανεία και περιφορά του παστιτσίου στα Εξάρχεια

Princess Vader goes to Disneyland


This little girl reportedly visited Disneyland with her parents in her adorable princess Vader Hallowe'en costume, taking it for a test drive. Rsharich, the redditor who posted the pic, doesn't mention how the day went, but I assume it was, you know, epic.

Friends took their daughter dressed like this, all day, to Disneyland (i.imgur.com)

Great Graphic Novels: The Cereal Killings by James Sturm

GreatgraphicnovelsLast month I asked my friends to write about books they loved (you can read all the essays here). This month, I invited them to write about their favorite graphic novels, and they selected some excellent titles. I hope you enjoy them! (Read all the Great Graphic Novel essays here.) -- Mark

The Cereal Killings by James Sturm

James Sturm is probably best known as the founder of the Center for Cartoon Studies, a school dedicated to creating comics and as the artist and writer of Eisner -- winning comics like The Golem’s Mighty Swing. But it was his first Fantagraphics title, The Cereal Killings, that knocked me out.

Sturm created a parallel fantasy world populated by the beings that worked as kid cereal mascots. Sturm re-imagined beloved cereal mascots as anthropomorphized animal/humans who gather at the local bar to reminisce on the good old days of the cereal business. There’s Burt, a chain-smoking loudmouth rabbit, Snip, the ruthless elphin president of KelCog Cereal Company, and Carbunkle, the middle-aged agent who pitches new cereal ideas and represents his old friends. If you can picture a pugnacious fifty-year old Trix rabbit, an insulin-crashing Cuckoo Bird, and a DiggEm Frog with food issues, all with real-life problems of failing careers, petty jealousies and corporate intrigue, you’ve got the picture.

Sturm cuts between the present-day story line of a “cereal killer” with flashbacks of the “cerealebrities” in their early glory days. His art has a personal, expressive line that works well to communicate the rough edges and tough breaks in the lives of the aging mascots. Slick cereal box art and tv commercial storyboards are used as an effective foil and contrast with the gritty realities of martial stress, alcoholism, and death.

Says Sturm: “These characters function both as cultural icons and as individuals, real men and women with all the dreams, frailties and hungers that shape all our lives.”

And the business aspects of kid’s cereals are woven throughout: new brands are proposed, designs for premiums are evaluated, and healthiness of kid cereals is questioned. Here’s Schmedly the elephant with Carbunkle at the bar:

(By the way, think the story is exaggerating the “controversy” of a Crunch Berry? I refer you to a recent lawsuit: On May 21, a judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California dismissed a complaint filed by a woman who said she had purchased "Cap'n Crunch with Crunch Berries" because she believed it contained real fruit. You can’t write this stuff!)

Each issue of The Cereal Killings has a familiar comic book format with additional short stories; mock cereal ads, full-page portraits, and letters to the editor. Great stuff! The comic ran for nine issues, ending in 1995.

Does Sturm ultimately pull it off, this parable of redemption in a cereal bowl? The fantastical conclusion uses dream imagery and leaves the final interpretation to the reader. I found it to be an engaging tale in an imaginative world.

Fox News broadcasts a live suicide

Yesterday, Fox News aired live footage of a man in Phoenix shooting himself in the head. According to the Times of India Fox got so excited about following a carjacking suspect in a high-speed chase that they forgot to cut the feed (which ran on a five-second delay) when he got out of his car, ran a short distance, pulled out a pistol, put it to his temple, and committed suicide.

"He's looking kind of erratic, isn't he?... It's always possible the guy could be on something," said Smith in a running commentary, unaware of what was about to happen.

Turning into some bushes, the suspect then pulled out a handgun, put it to his right temple and collapsed.

On air, Smith shouted "get off it! get off it!" in a plea to his studio colleagues to halt the live feed.

In the hours that followed, YouTube scrambled to delete the video almost as quickly as its users were posting it, saying it violated its terms of service.

US carjacking suspect shoots self in head... live on TV

Boppo the Bad Breath Clown (vintage ad)

Image Link. A cheerful, totally non-creepy ad from days of yore, scanned and uploaded to the Boing Boing Flickr Pool by reader v.valenti.

Free/open math textbook written in three days

Here is a free/open upper secondary mathematics textbook written in a single daythree days by a group of Finnish math teachers, working together in a "booksprint." Related news: California's passed a bill establishing 50 "open source" (CC-BY) textbooks for core lower-division college courses (though, as a poster on Slashdot notes, this still has to be funded in the California budget, which is a place where many good ideas go to die). (via Hacker News)