History Lectures


Chefs and Slaves: The Cooks in Jefferson’s Kitchens – The culinary skills that produced elite dining in the early 19th century.

Straddling Two Worlds: Cooking in Jefferson’s Kitchen at Monticello – Enslaved chefs Edith Fossett and Frances Hern knew and used two culinary vocabularies.  This talk explores them both; the cabin and the dining room.

Ladies Maids, Butlers, and Chefs: Understanding Skilled Domestic Service in the Slave South – In the manner of his slave holding peers Thomas Jefferson lived surrounded by a domestic house staff whose skills made life in his home run smoothly.  The butler Burwell Colbert managed the practical aspects of the many house guests and the household servants.  Ladies maid and seamstress Sally Hemings understood the proper care of elegant clothing as well as how to properly dress a plantation mistress.  Edith Fossett and Frances Hern spent 16 years in the Monticello kitchen producing meals said to be “half-French, half-Virginian.”  This talk offers a view into that complex world of service.

Food Production

A mess of salad: Provisions Grown in Slave Gardens at Monticello, 1805-1808 –    Based on historic records of provision sales this talk explores the range of community knowledge of food production and the importance of gardening traditions within the African American community.

Planter to Farmer, Field Hand to Farm Hand: Slavery and the Transition from Tobacco to Wheat in the Revolutionary Era – How changes in agriculture created changes for enslaved communities across Virginia.

Hanover Carts and Sweet Corn: African American Women Farmers at the Richmond City Market – Along with historic photographs this talk traces the history of the black women who helped make Hanover a name associated with fine produce and flowers in the early 20th century.


The Real Margaret Garner – A look at the tragedy of the real woman who inspired myth, fiction and opera.

Zora, Langston and Mule Bone: A Brief History of a Creative Collaboration – It took 70 years before Mule Bone was produced on Broadway; why?

Midwives, Mothers and Lyesoap; Childbearing and Sanitation in the Antebellum South –A discussion of the world of health, sanitation, and childbirth for black and white women.