John D. Wilsey Endorses Getting Jefferson Right

In his second edition of The Jefferson Lies, David Barton provides a lengthy critique of our work in Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third PresidentWe intend to use that material in our own second edition which I hope to publish sometime in 2016. In response to Barton’s new edition, I am going to publish some additional endorsements for Getting Jefferson Right by historians and other scholars.  Today, historian and theologian Dr. John D. Wilsey weighs in:

In Getting Jefferson Right, professors Throckmorton and Coulter offer a thoroughgoing effort to understand our third president in all of his human complexity. In their avoidance of special pleading and their pursuit of scholarly integrity, Throckmorton and Coulter serve both the living and the dead. For the living, they advance the field of early US history and help clarify the lines of Christian orthodoxy. For the dead, they honor Jefferson’s humanity by dealing with him honestly. Honor and soundness are the results of their labors.

John D. Wilsey, assistant professor of history and Christian apologetics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and author of American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion: Reassessing the History of an Idea.

Additional endorsements can be found at

David Barton on Real Life with Jack Hibbs: Did the University of Virginia Have Chaplains?

David Barton was on Calvary Chapel pastor Jack Hibbs’ show Real Life with Jack Hibbs last night. Part one is available on You Tube with apparently more to come. They didn’t get into much until near the end of this segment. At about 22 minutes into the video, Barton accuses others of using history to support an agenda. Then he illustrates how he revises the work of PhDs in history with original sources by citing his involvement in a 2011 book with Daryl Cornett, William Henard, and John Sassi titled, Christian America? Perspectives on our Religious Heritage. In that book, Daryl Cornett said about the University of Virginia:

At the University of Virginia there was no Christian curriculum and the school had no chaplain.

Barton cited that claim to Jack Hibbs. Watch:

Barton claims to have refuted Cornett by going to an original source. While it is true that the University of Virginia eventually created a chaplain position, this was not the case from the beginning of the school. Originally, UVA did not employ chaplains. Barton doesn’t tell you that scholars are concerned with the founding of the school and no academic historian I am aware of disputes that the school eventually added chaplains.

Barton tells Jack Hibbs that the claim about chaplains and the UVA is made in connection to Jefferson (who died in 1826). In addition, Barton says he has a newspaper from “that era” which contains an ad by the chaplain of UVA. However, what Barton does not tell Jack Hibbs is that Jefferson was long dead before that newspaper article was published in 1837. By not placing the events in proper context, Barton misleads the audience to think the existence of chaplains at UVA came when Thomas Jefferson was alive. Not so.

The claim about chaplains at UVA is also in Barton’s pulled-from-print book The Jefferson Lies and was one Michael Coulter and I addressed in our book Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President. To fully address Barton’s claim and our response to it, I have taken that section from our work on the 2nd edition of the book and made it into a pdf file for review.

Barton’s claim to correct academic historians is stunning. From the pdf, let me take just a bit of what Barton does to James Madison. From Getting Jefferson Right:

Another aspect of the chaplain story bears comment. Barton takes portions of a letter written by James Madison and selectively portrays the quote as an announcement about chaplains. Here again is what Barton quotes [from The Jefferson Lies] from Madison:

By 1829, when the nondenominational reputation of the university had been fully established, James Madison (who became rector of the university after Jefferson’s death in 1826) announced “that [permanent] provision for religious instruction and observance among the students would be made by…services of clergymen.”

Rather than a public announcement or a policy change, Madison wrote those words in a May 1, 1828 letter to Chapman Johnson, one of the members of the university Board of Visitors. The actual quote depicts a completely different meaning than Barton implies. Here is the entire section of the letter, from which Barton lifts his quote. Barton leaves out the words from Madison which are required to understand the meaning. Another unwarranted change Barton makes is to add the word “permanent.” What Barton omitted is in italics below:

I have indulged more particularly the hope, that provision for religious instruction and observances among the Students, would be made by themselves or their Parents & Guardians, each contributing to a fund to be applied, in remunerating the services of Clergymen, of denominations, corresponding with the preference of the contributors. Small contributions would suffice, and the arrangement would become more & more efficient & adequate, as the Students become more numerous; whilst being altogether voluntary, it would interfere neither with the characteristic peculiarity of the University, the consecrated principle of the law, nor the spirit of the Country.

Contrary to Barton’s claim, Madison did not make an announcement in 1828 that permanent provision for religious worship would be made by clergymen. Instead, he told one of the university board members his hope that parents and students would voluntarily secure clergymen to provide religious services if so desired by the parents and students. Indeed, reading the entire letter, Madison’s view was that such instruction should come in this voluntary manner rather than having it come via the hiring of members of the clergy to teach.vii Such an arrangement would preserve the independence of the school from religious entanglements and disputes while respecting the free exercise of religion. Barton’s selective quotation of a primary source obscures Madison’s meaning and adds a revised one he apparently prefers.

Obviously, Barton is the one doing the revising. Barton said Madison wrote this:

 “that [permanent] provision for religious instruction and observance among the students would be made by…services of clergymen.”

However, James Madison actually wrote this:

I have indulged more particularly the hope, that provision for religious instruction and observances among the Students, would be made by themselves or their Parents & Guardians, each contributing to a fund to be applied, in remunerating the services of Clergymen, of denominations, corresponding with the preference of the contributors. Small contributions would suffice, and the arrangement would become more & more efficient & adequate, as the Students become more numerous; whilst being altogether voluntary, it would interfere neither with the characteristic peculiarity of the University, the consecrated principle of the law, nor the spirit of the Country.

I hope it is obvious that the import of this is not about when UVA had chaplains. It is about credibility and what appears to be an intent to mislead people.

I have images of the Globe newspaper Barton referred to. Barton touts his original documents but I haven’t found anything yet that I can’t get via an historical data base. The letter was in an 1837 edition but wasn’t an ad to get students to come to UVA.

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To read the segment on chaplains at UVA, click Did the University of Virginia Have Chaplains?

Virginia Slave Law: 1782 Act to Authorize the Manumission of Slaves.

This law (scroll to page 39) allowed the emancipation of slaves by an owner either at death through a will or while an owner was alive via a deed of manumission. Many slaves were freed by their owners as the result of this law.

Legal adults of sound mind and body did not need support from the former master but children, those over 45 and others not of sound mind or body needed support from the the former master.

On can read deeds of manumission here and here (an extensive collection by Professor Michael Nicholls).


An act to authorize the manumission of slaves.

I. WHEREAS application hath been made to this present general assembly, that those persons who are disposed to emancipate their slaves may be empowered so to do, and the same hath been judged expedient under certain restrictions: Be it therefore enacted, That it shall hereafter be lawful for any person, by his or her last will and testament, or by any other instrument in writing, under his or her hand and seal, attested and proved in the county court by two witnesses, or acknowledged by the party in the court of the county where he or she resides to emancipate and set free, his or her slaves, or any of them, who shall thereupon be entirely and fully discharged from the performance of any contract entered into during servitude, and enjoy as full freedom as if they had been particularly named and freed by this act.

II. Provided always, and be it further enacted, That all slaves so set free, not being in the judgment of the court, of sound mind and body, or being above the age of forty-five years, or being males under the age of twenty-one, or females under the age of eighteen years, shall respectively be supported and maintained by the person so liberating them, or by his or her estate; and upon neglect or refusal so to do, the court of the county where such neglect or refusal may be, is hereby empowered and required, upon application to them made, to order the sheriff to distrain and sell so much of the person’s estate as shall be sufficient for that purpose. Provided also, That every person by written instrument in his life time, or if by last will and testament, the executors of every person freeing any slave, shall cause to be delivered to him or her, a copy of the instrument of emancipation, attested by the clerk of the court of the county, who shall be paid therefor, by the person emancipating, five shillings, to be collected in the manner of other clerk’s fees. Every person neglecting or refusing to deliver to any slave by him or her set free, such copy, shall forfeit and pay ten pounds, to be recovered with costs in any court of record, one half thereof to the person suing for the same, and the other to the person to whom such copy ought to have been delivered. It shall be lawful for any justice of the peace to commit to the gaol of his county, any emancipated slave travelling out of the county of his or her residence without a copy of the instrument of his or her emancipation, there to remain till such copy is produced and the gaoler’s fees paid.

III. And be it further enacted, That in case any slave so liberated shall neglect in any year to pay all taxes and levies imposed or to be imposed by law, the court of the county shall order the sheriff to hire out him or her for so long time as will raise the said taxes and levies. Provided sufficient distress cannot be made upon his or her estate. Saving nevertheless to all and every person and persons, bodies politic or corporate, and their heirs and successors, other than the person or persons claiming under those so emancipating their slaves, all such right and title as they or any of them could or might claim if this act had never been made.

The Emancipation of James Armistead Lafayette

In his World rebuttal to us, David Barton claims that the case of James Armistead  Lafayette proves that we did not take into account slave laws other than the 1782 law allowing owners to emancipate their slaves. The situation of this slave who became a double agent during the Revolutionary War is an interesting story and one which more people should know. However, it does not prove we are wrong about slave emancipation.

In his World article, Barton wrote on page four:

Virginian William Armistead similarly wanted to free his slave, James (the hero of the Battle of Yorktown, credited with being America’s first double agent), but it took a special legislative act and the intervention of Virginia’s adopted favorite son, Marquis de Lafayette, in order to achieve William’s desire to free James.[xxvii] Why didn’t William just emancipate him, as Throckmorton asserts was possible under the 1782 law? Because Throckmorton did not account for the many other state laws that were also part of the Virginia slave code.

Armistead gained the trust of the British by feeding them (mostly false) information about the American army and then brought information about the British to the Marquis de Lafayette. As his petition to the Virginia House of Delegate claims, Armistead gave important service to the Americans and sought freedom based on that service.

In his article, Barton claims that William Armistead wanted to free James. However, Barton offers no evidence for this contention. There is a piece of this story that Barton does not tell you. It was James who approached the Virginia House of Delegates to gain his freedom. The petition (which is below) came from James with the support of Lafayette. Armistead eventually took Lafayette’s name as a tribute to his benefactor.

Apparently, Armistead (who himself was a Delegate in the Virginia House) did not try to stop James’ petition. However, one detail Barton omits is that William Armistead was financially compensated for the loss of James’ services as a slave.  In a private emancipation after 1782, no compensation was guaranteed to the owner. A slave and master could negotiate emancipation if the slave purchased his freedom but a master could also simply free his slave, if that slave was legally an adult under the age of 45 and of sound mind and body.

In the surviving documentation of James’ efforts to gain his freedom, James asked the Virginia House of Delegates for money to compensate his master William for the loss of his services. In other words, even though William was allowed to simply set James free (based on his age and his sound mind and body), freedom did not come to James until the legislature compensated William for his slave.

The primary sources are below. First is the petition which James submitted to the House of Delegates.

James Petitioned the General Assembly, November 30, 1786

To the honorable the Speaker & gentlemen of the genl Assembly,*

The petition of James (a slave belonging to Will: Armistead of New Kent county) humbly sheweth:

That your petitioner perswaded of the just right which all mankind have to Freedom, notwithstanding his own state of bondage, with an honest desire to serve this Country in its defence thereof, did, during the ravages of Lord Cornwallis thro’ this state, by the permission of his master, enter into the service of the Marquiss Lafayette: That during the time of his serving the Marquiss, he often at the peril of his life found means to frequent the British Camp, by which means he kept open a channel of the most useful communications to the army of the state: That at different times your petitioner conveyed inclosures, from the Marquiss into the enemies lines, of the most secret & important kind; the possession of which if discovered on him would have most certainly endangered the life of your petitioner: That he undertook & performed all commands with chearfulness & fidelity, in opposition to the persuasion & example of many thousands of his unfortunate condition. For proof of the above your petitioner begs leave to refer to the certificate of the Marquiss Lafayette hereto annexed, & after taking his case as here stated into consideration he humbly intreats that he may be granted that Freedom, which he flatters himself he has in some degree contributed to establish; & which he hopes always to prove himself worthy of: nor does he desire even this inestimable favor, unless his present master from whom he has experienced everything, which can make tolerable the state of slavery, shall be made adequate compensation for the loss of a valuable workman; which your petitioner humbly requests may be done & your petitioner shall ever pray &c.

Citation: Legislative Petition for James, Slave Belonging to William Armistead, 30 November 1786, Box 179, Folder 10, Library of Virginia, Richmond Virginia.

The Delegates acted favorably on this petition by passing the following law:


An act to emancipate James, a negro slave, the property of William Armistead, gentleman.

I. WHEREAS it is represented that James, a negro slave, the property of William Armistead, gentleman, of the county of New Kent, did, with the permission of his master, in the year one thousand seven hundred and eighty-one, enter into the service of the Marquis la Fayette, and at the peril of his life found means to frequent the British camp, and thereby faithfully executed important commissions entrusted to him by the marquis; and the said James hath made application to this assembly to set him free, and to make his said master adequate compensation for his value, which it is judged reasonable and right to do.

II. Be it therefore enacted, That the said James shall, from and after the passing of this act, enjoy as full freedom as if he had been born free; any law to the contrary thereof, notwithstanding.

III. And be it further enacted, That the executive shall, as soon as may be, appoint a proper person, and the said William Armistead another, who shall ascertain and fix the value of the said James, and to certify such valuation to the auditor of accounts, who shall issue his warrant to the treasurer for the same, to be paid out of the general fund.

The Statues at Large; Being A Collection of all the Laws of Virginia, Hening (1823), Vol. XII, pp. 380-381, “An act to emancipate James, a negro slave, the property of William Armistead, gentleman,” October, 1786.

Note the means of compensation for William. James’ value was appraised by appraisers of William’s and the executive’s choosing. Eventually, William was paid $250 for James.

Barton’s question: “Why didn’t William just emancipate him?” is a good one but does not require the answer Barton hopes. We can find no evidence that William wanted to free James but was prevented by law from doing so. Instead the evidence points to a different scenario. James’ freedom was purchased from William by the Virginia House due to James’ meritorious service. James said in his petition that he did not want freedom unless his master was compensated. Whether that was really William’s condition for allowing the petition or James really felt that way is not known. What is known is that William could have freed James but did not until he was compensated.

Jefferson and Slavery: A Response to David Barton on the Glenn Beck Show, Part Three

UPDATE: David Barton made many of the same defenses in his World Magazine article dated January 22, 2013. Barton concluded:

Simply put, Jefferson did not have the financial resources necessary to free his 260 slaves.

In these three articles about Jefferson and slavery we anticipate and address the rebuttal Barton offered in his World article. Barton claims that Jefferson didn’t have the money to free his slaves. However, Jefferson had enough money to buy and sell slaves over the course of his life while other owners were freeing their slaves. Barton changed his argument a bit in the World article putting more emphasize on Jefferson’s financial status. Jefferson’s spending deserves a book but suffice to say that Jefferson spent money freely on fine goods and continual renovations to Monticello. The truth is that Jefferson had financial resources (slaves, lands, goods, etc.) very few other Virginians had. His choices about how to use them is at issue.


In parts one and two of this response to David Barton’s appearance on Glenn Beck’s show, we looked at Barton’s defense of The Jefferson Lies on the subject of Jefferson’s record on slavery. In this post, we look at the remaining claims regarding slavery made by Barton last week. Here again is the video:

Barton claimed that Jefferson inherited 187 slaves when he was 14 years. On the clip at about 4:37, Barton says:

He [Jefferson] inherited 187 slaves when he’s 14 years old. So why didn’t he just release them? Because Virginia law says if you’re an adolescent, you cannot free any slave you’ve been given, you cannot emancipate any slave. So now he’s got 187 slaves he’s not been allowed to free.

It is true that Jefferson inherited slaves at age 14, but Barton gets the number of slaves wrong. Jefferson inherited 20 slaves at that time. In Getting Jefferson Right, we address this matter and get our information right from Jefferson’s Farm Book.

To get the proper accounting, we turn to the primary source of Jefferson’s notes in his Farm Book. In it, Jefferson delineated three categories of slaves he owned as of January 14, 1774. Jefferson titled the entire section, “A Roll of the proper slaves of Thomas Jefferson. Jan. 14. 1774” and then listed forty-one slaves that came through inheritance from his father along with those slaves who were purchased or born before his inheritance from his mother [20 slaves plus 21 who were added via birth and purchase]. He then listed eleven “slaves conveyed by my mother to me under the power given her in my father’s will as an indemnification for the debts I had paid for her.”  Finally, he listed the “roll of the slaves of John Wayles which were allotted to T. J. in right of his wife on a division or the estate. Jan. 14. 1774.” Here Jefferson listed the 135 slaves he received by inheritance from his father-in-law, John Wayles.* Adding these lists together, Jefferson owned 187 slaves by age thirty.

It may seem like a small point but for some reason Barton persists in saying Jefferson inherited the 187 when he was 14. Jefferson’s Farm Book (which you can see here; the total of 187 in 1774 is on page 18 at the bottom) says otherwise. While it is true that Jefferson was unable to free slaves when his father died in 1757, this was in part due to the fact that the only reason at that time allowed for emancipation was meritorious service on the part of a slave. The law allowing owners to emancipate slaves was not passed until 1782 (click here to see the text of the act to authorize the manumission of slaves).Barton then says on Beck’s show that someone told him that Jefferson could not free his slaves because they were collateral for his debts. While it is true that the Virginia legislature added a specific requirement in 1792 that freed slaves were required to work off any debts of the emancipator, this requirement actually could have made it an advantage for Jefferson to free his slaves. While the slaves would have had emancipation postponed until Jefferson’s debts were paid, they would have been free afterwards with Jefferson’s debt paid.  In other words, Virginia law allowed such emancipations but with rules in place to protect creditors.

Also, on the program, Barton states that we failed to discuss other laws that  were related to slavery. On the program, he said that there were a “whole bunch of laws that Jefferson had to deal with.” He then speaks of laws passed in 1778, 1791, 1793, 1795, 1798 and 1802. We are not the only ones not to refer to all of those laws. In The Jefferson Lies, Barton only cites the 1782 and 1806 laws regarding emancipation. We cite the 1782, 1806 and 1816 laws in Getting Jefferson Right.

On the program, Barton didn’t identify what the particular content of those laws were and how they related to slavery, or in what way that those laws might have prevented Jefferson him from freeing even some of his slaves. Our review of those laws do not support Barton’s contention. Male slaves younger than 21, female slaves younger than 18, all slaves older than 45 and slaves not of sound mind and body needed the financial support of their emancipator. All others did not. These parameters were still in place when Virginia amended slave laws in 1819. The bottom line is that we would like to see the Virginia statute or court case that Mr. Barton relies on to make his claim. In his book, the reference he cites concerns Massachusetts law, not Virginia.

Manumission deeds are available for review online. A review of these finds that some emancipators provided deeds for minor children with a promise of freedom at adulthood. Some slaves purchased their freedom. We encourage readers to read through some of the deeds of manumission. See the end of this post for links.

A couple of final points: When Glenn Beck introduced the segment, he said, “They say Jefferson was not against slavery.” I don’t know who “they” are, but we do not make that claim. Jefferson clearly did oppose slavery in principle and he took steps to eliminate the slave trade. However, his personal slave trade continued. In principle, Jefferson favored emancipation connected to deportation away from white society, rather than immediate abolition of the practice.

Last, those reviewing the evidence should ask why Barton omitted a section of Virginia law which would have undercut his basic argument. He mentioned it on the Beck show but did not give any explanation for the omission. Simply listing dates without specifics does nothing to address why Barton did not tell listeners that emancipation of slaves was legal, was done by many slave holders in the period between 1782 and 1806, and that Jefferson emancipated two slaves while he was alive.

Next we move to the segment on the Jefferson Bible.

Links to deeds of manumission:

Lists of slaves freed after 1782 in eight Virginia counties

Searchable links to those same eight counties

Manumissions in Isle of Wight County, VA

James Hemings manumission papers signed by Thomas Jefferson

Francis Drake deed of manumission

Deed of manumission drawn up by Robert Carter for his 452 slaves

Farm Book, 1774-1824, pages 9-13, by Thomas Jefferson [electronic edition]. Thomas Jefferson Papers: An Electronic Archive. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2003.