In 1773 Thomas Jefferson traveled to Cumberland County to attend an estate sale. His wife, Martha, wanted him to buy “a favorite house woman.” Jefferson purchased Ursula and her sons, George and Bagwell, a transaction that entailed a second purchase from another plantation owner: Ursula’s husband George. George and Ursula Granger became two of the most important figures at Monticello. George Granger was a foreman of farm labor who, in the last few years of his life, was the Monticello overseer, the only enslaved man to occupy this position. Ursula Granger reigned in the dependencies of the Monticello house, as cook and laundress, and was described by Jefferson as uniting “trust and skill.”
As overseer, George Granger’s task was to produce bountiful crops by the work of his fellow slaves, some of them his own family members. His tobacco crops commanded premium prices in Philadelphia, but the burden of responsibility, with its conflicting loyalties must have been difficult for a sixty-nine-year-old man who labored hard for decades before he took on a supervisory role. George Granger, his wife Ursula, and their son George, a blacksmith and nailery manager, all died within months of each other in 1799 and 1800.
Two of the principal families of Monticello were united when head gardener Wormley Hughes married Bagwell Granger’s daughter Ursula. Their descendants today thus trace their ancestry to both the Hemings and Granger families. In his record books, Jefferson referred to the Grangers by their first names only. The Granger surname became known only in the course of the Getting Word project. The best known member of the family was until recently identified as Isaac Jefferson. It seems that Isaac Granger adopted the Jefferson surname after settling in Petersburg in freedom. His recollections, taken down in the 1840s, provided a vivid picture of life at Monticello.