Middle School, High School
CVlautzenheiser – 2014 Barringer Fellow, Monticello Teacher Institute
Thomas Jefferson experimented with over 300 varieties of vegetables and fruits in his “laboratory” garden at Monticello, but he rarely cultivated the crops himself. Jefferson relied on the toil and sweat of slave labor to carry out his own experimentation on the “little mountain.” Picture yourself as an enslaved person at Monticello in the early 19th century. How could you look toward the garden for inspiration with an eventual goal that may have included your own political freedom? Which crops (fruits, vegetables, flowers) grown in the Monticello gardens best represent the ideas of freedom and liberty?
Students will manipulate the broader concepts of liberty and freedom through the eyes of enslaved peoples at the Monticello plantation; specifically in the gardens, vineyards and orchards of Jefferson’s working “laboratories.” How can students use the political concepts to encounter slavery as a mechanism for scientific improvement of the field of agriculture? Does the institution of slavery sour the results of Jefferson’s progressive, agricultural endeavors? How might the results have changed had Jefferson toiled with his slaves more regularly, OR had used empowered, free individuals rather than enslaved peoples?
This lesson activity is appropriate for post-instruction of broad political concepts such as liberty, emancipation, manumission, etc. Additionally, I would suggest that instructors teach the Declaration of Independence, and have already delivered basic biographical information about Jefferson BEFORE conducting this challenge opportunity for students. Finally, showcasing some photographs of the Jefferson garden spaces at Monticello using www.monticello.org, or a collection of photographs of the actual gardens (http://archive.monticello.org/luna/servlet – Monticello photograph collection) could help with introduction of initial project concepts.
Technology adaptations: Instructors that are limited with student technology usage could replace the template space (t-shirt design opportunity) with blank notecards for students to utilize (1 side drawings, 1 side explanations.) The fruits, vegetables, flowers could be used as symbols or as part of a collage for representation.
Regardless of activity students need to answer the following in their work:
1. What 3-4 fruit/flower/vegetable crops at Monticello would best represent the ideas of freedom/liberty/emancipation for enslaved peoples that tended them?
2. Justify your selection with your own thoughts regarding the crop planting, maintenance, harvesting, etc., as well as the broader concepts of liberty or freedom.
Extension: Have students consider the ramifications of Jefferson’s own life and ideology had he not been merely a garden planner & cultivator of processes, and was actually a gardener that worked WITH his enslaved peoples rather than expecting results FROM them. Additionally, how might Jefferson’s garden experiments differed if he had not owned slaves, but actually employed his gardeners and empowered them to help with his scientific discoveries & detailed results?