President Roosevelt's Bar Fight and More Quirky and Creepy Presidential Facts
President Roosevelt’s Bar Fight and More Quirky and Creepy Presidential Facts

President Roosevelt’s Bar Fight and More Quirky and Creepy Presidential Facts

Khalid Elhassan - November 15, 2021

President Roosevelt’s Bar Fight and More Quirky and Creepy Presidential Facts
Thomas Jefferson had a clock with only the hour hand. Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello

3. The Slave Quarters at Monticello

Thomas Jefferson had a clock installed on an exterior Monticello wall that only had an hour hand. Jefferson, who believed that blacks were racially inferior and “as incapable as children,” figured that hour increments were all that the slaves could understand or needed to know. He built cabins for the house slaves about a hundred yards from the mansion. The blacks who worked the fields were housed at a further distance from his abode. That way, they and the slavery in which they toiled were out of his sight in both the literal and figurative senses.

Jefferson’s slaves originally lived in two-room cabins, with one family per room and a single shared doorway to the outside. From the 1790s onwards, the slaves were housed in single-room cabins, each with its own door. By the dismal standards of American slavery at the time, the lives of Jefferson’s slaves at Monticello were less terrible than average (whatever that means in the context of slavery). Their lot was still bad, but not as bad as the lot of most other slaves with most other masters. As seen below, Jefferson’s relationship with his slaves went beyond matters of forced labor.

President Roosevelt’s Bar Fight and More Quirky and Creepy Presidential Facts
This cartoon sketch, circa 1804, is the only known contemporary image of Sally Hemings. American Antiquarian

2. The President and the Concubine

Grover Cleveland was not the only American president who engaged in what would count as clear cut violent criminality today. Thomas Jefferson had a creepy relationship with his slave, Sally Hemings (1773 – 1835) – although to call what went on between the two a “relationship” would not be accurate. Today, it would be considered straightforward assault. Hemings was an enslaved woman, kept in bondage by a brutal system in which violence, including deadly violence, was used to coerce its victims and secure their compliance.

She had little choice about whether or not to submit to Jefferson’s demands. No more choice than a modern kidnapped victim who finds herself chained for years in some psychopath’s basement. Even if she had not been a slave, there would still have been something super creepy about the age disparity between Hemings and the master of Monticello. Jefferson was forty four when he took Sally for his concubine. She was all of thirteen or fourteen. Even if she had been a willing participant, it would be considered statutory rape today; children that young simply lack the maturity to consent.

President Roosevelt’s Bar Fight and More Quirky and Creepy Presidential Facts
The third president’s statue in the Jefferson Memorial, Washington, DC. Wikimedia

1. The Ickiest Presidential Scandal

To make things creepier yet, Thomas Jefferson’s child concubine was also his dead wife’s sister and lookalike. Sally Hemings was the daughter of a slave woman and John Wayles, Jefferson’s father in law. That made her the biological half-sister of Jefferson’s wife, Martha Wayles Jefferson (1748 – 1782). Sally, who was nine-years-old when her half-sister died, looked a lot like the deceased Martha, and the resemblance only increased as she grew up. Jefferson missed his dead wife, so when her lookalike sister was thirteen or fourteen, he began to sleep with her.

Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings would make for an epic scandal if it had happened today, as it hits just about every icky button there is. Pedophilia? Check. Incest? Check. Violence, coercion, and assault? Check, check, and check. To add yet another dark layer to it all, Jefferson fathered six children upon Sally, and kept them as his slaves. He eventually got around to freeing his children, but he never freed his concubine: Hemings was still Jefferson’s slave when he died in 1826.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Auto Blog – LBJ’s Amphibious Car Caught Friends and Dignitaries by Surprise

Bear, James A. Jr. – Jefferson at Monticello (1967)

Bernstein, Richard B. – Thomas Jefferson: The Revolution of Ideas (2004)

Cheat Sheet – Shocking Scandals of Former US Presidents

Cracked – 4 Practical Jokes You Won’t Believe US Presidents Pulled

Daily Beast – Grover Cleveland’s Scandal: The Most Despicable in American History

Davis, Burke – Old Hickory: A Life of Andrew Jackson (1977)

Gawker – LBJ Was Obsessed With His Dick

Gizmodo – Which President Greenlit a Trip to the Center of the Earth?

Graff, Henry F. – Grover Cleveland (2002)

Guardian, The, January 22nd, 2018 – Why Lyndon Johnson, a Truly Awful Man, is My Political Hero

History Collection – 20 Myths From American History We’re Here to Debunk

IFL Science – John Quincy Adams Approved a Mission to Earth’s Interior to Meet the Mole People That Live Within

Jacobin, August 28th, 2012 – Lincoln and Marx

Kaplan, Fred – John Quincy Adams: American Visionary (2014)

Live Journal – Andrew Jackson, Man of Honor

Miller, Nathan – Theodore Roosevelt: A Life (1992)

Monticello – Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemming: A Brief Account

National Park Service – Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Vehicles

National Park Service – Roosevelt’s Bar Fight

Politico, November 19th, 2013 – in the Senate: Bobby Baker’s Salacious Secret History of Capitol Hill

Sandburg, Carl – Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years (1926)

Thayer, William Roscoe – Theodore Roosevelt: An Intimate Biography (1919)

ThoughtCo. – Was Abraham Lincoln Really a Wrestler?

Tugwell, Rexford Guy – Grover Cleveland: A Biography of the President Whose Uncompromising Honesty and Integrity Failed America (1968)

Washington Post, July 3rd, 2014 – The First Celebrity First Lady: Frances Cleveland

Washington Post, July 7th, 2017 – Sally Hemings Wasn’t Thomas Jefferson’s Mistress, She Was His Property

Wikipedia – Richard Lawrence (Failed Assassin)