The Narratives of History in “Killadelphia”: Part III

Matthew Teutsch
5 min readAug 12, 2022

Writing to John Wayles Eppes in 1820, Thomas Jefferson spoke about about the exploitation of those he enslaved, especially in relation to the profits that he acquired off of the backs of their labor. He told Eppes, “I know no error more consuming to an estate that that of stocking farms with men almost exclusively. I consider a woman who brings a child every two years as more profitable than the best man of the farm. What she produces in an addition to the capital, while his labors disappear in mere consumption.” Since upon birth the state of the child would follow that of the mother, Jefferson saw enslaved women birthing children every two years as profitable because he could increase his wealth through either their labor or through selling them, thus separating the families. While not explicitly quoting Jefferson from above, Rodney Barnes and Jason Shawn Alexander in Killadelphia address this inhumane, greedy system through the histories of two of individuals Jefferson enslaved: Jupiter Evans and Sally Hemings. Both Jupiter and Sally experience their families being torn apart, and Sally directly confronts the sexual violence underpinning Jefferson’s statement to Eppes and the system of chattel slavery.

Jupiter relates, as I have written about previously, how Jefferson sold his parents away and still thought that he and Jupiter could remain “friends.” Later, Jupiter marries an enslaved woman named Suck. We see them smiling as they jump the broom, and Jupiter relates that their relationship served as “a sliver of joy in a darkened corner of hell.” They have a baby, and Alexander depicts Suck cradling a crying a baby to her chest as Jupiter narrates, “For the first time in my life I was happy.” We don’t see much of Jupiter’s happiness. In fact, we really only see one panel depicting him smiling with joy in this moment, and we only see about four panels with Suck. Jupiter knows that his happiness is fleeting and, as he puts it, “a dangerous thing.”

When Jupiter allows himself to be happy, the pain, hurt, and trauma of enslavement, particularly when Jefferson sells his wife and child away, impact him even more. The justified anger he felt when…

Matthew Teutsch

Here, you will find reflections on African American, American, and Southern Literature, American popular culture and politics, and pedagogy.