The Narratives of History in “Killadelphia”: Part IV

Matthew Teutsch
5 min readAug 14, 2022

Over the past few posts, I’ve examined Jupiter’s backstory in Rodney Barnes and Jason Shaw Alexander’s Killadelphia, specifically looking at the ways that Jupiter’s story illuminates the violence, trauma, and dehumanization of chattel slavery in the United States. Jupiter introduces us, as well, to Sally Hemings, the enslaved woman that Thomas Jefferson raped and sexually assaulted, notably after the death of his wife Martha Wayles. John Wayles, Martha’s father, may have been, according to Madison Hemings, Sally and some of her siblings’ father, thus making Sally Martha’s half-sister. This fact could partly explain, alongside the economic exploitation, Jefferson targeting Sally for his sexual indulgences because she may have looked, in some ways, like Martha. Today, I want to look at Sally in Killadelphia, specifically at Abigail Adams’ relationship with Sally and Abigail’s perspective of their relationship.

When Abigail spurs Jupiter on to murder Jefferson, she walks around the grounds of Monticello and encounters Sally taking a nighttime stroll. When Abigail introduces us to Sally, we see Sally standing on the grounds, looking up at the sky. Abigail, at a distance behind Sally, haunts the panel. We see her in silhouette, her eyes the only part of face we see at that distance. Abigail describes seeing Sally as “a gift from the universe.” Abigail’s initial reference to Sally as “a gift” mirrors, in ways, Jefferson’s view of Sally as being an indulgence for his pleasure. Abigail begins by presenting Sally as someone who can benefit her and her feelings, thus centering herself and her whiteness in the process.

This line continues when Abigail starts conversing with Sally too. She walks up to Sally, telling her “Good evening,” and Sally greets Abigail before commenting on the beauty of the moon. Sally looks at the sky as Abigail, again in the background, stares at Sally. Sally asks Abigail, “Isn’t it beautiful?” The next panel only shows Abigail’s face as she responds, “Yes it is. May I ask your name?” Off panel, Sally apologizes and tells Abigail her name. What makes this panel important, in relation to Abigail’s narration on first seeing Sally, is that we do not know, based on where Abigail looks, who or what “it” refers to. Since Abigail does not look at the sky, but looks horizontally, presumably towards…

Matthew Teutsch

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