Ohio

In his 1873 memors, Israel Gillette Jefferson wrote, “When I came to Ohio I considered myself wholly free, and not till then.”  Seven people (all Hemings family members) were freed by the terms of Jefferson’s will or received unofficial freedom from his heirs.  Others, among them Israel Jefferson and the children of Joseph Fossett, obtained their freedom by purchase.  Almost all of these free people left the land of slavery in the 1830s and 1840s for the free state of Ohio.  The Fossetts and Israel Jefferson chose to settle in Cincinnati, the nation’s largest inland metropolis, while Madison and Eston Hemings went to more rural Ross and Pike counties, where many free people of color from central Virginia had already settled. 

 

Emmitt House, built by Madison Hemings, Waverly, OhioEmmit House, in Waverly, Ohio, stands as a testament to the skills passed down from Monticello’s joinery through John Hemmings.  Hemmings, who made much of Monticello’s decorative interior woodwork and numerous pieces of furniture, trained his nephews Madison and Eston Hemings in his craft.  Madison Hemings helped to construct the Emmitt House and other buildings in southern Ohio, while Eston worked in Ohio as a carpenter and musician.  Peter Fossett carried on the tradition of his mother, Monticello cook Edith Fossett, through his prominent Cincinnati catering business. His granddaughter Bessie Kelley Curtis was still operating the business in the 1950s.  Tucker Isaacs, Joseph Fossett’s son-in-law, used the profit from the sale of his land on Charlottesville’s main street to purchase a large farm in Ross County, Ohio.

Excerpts

Israel Gillette Jefferson

Israel Gillette Jefferson

1800–ca. 1879
(text)
“The last I heard of them”

Israel Jefferson speaks of the fate of his enslaved children and describes how he gained his freedom.

“During the interval of Mr. Jefferson’s death and the sale to Mr. Gilmer, I married Mary Ann Colter, a slave, by whom I had four children—Taliola, (a daughter) Banebo, (a son) Susan and John.  As they were born slaves they took the usual course of most others in the same condition in life.  I do not know where they now are, if living; but the last I heard of them they were in Florida and Virginia.  My wife died, and while a servant of Mr. Gilmer, I married my present wife, widow Elizabeth Randolph, who was then mother to ten children.  Her maiden name was Elizabeth Farrow.  Her mother was a white woman named Martha Thacker.  Consequently, Elizabeth, (my present wife) was free-born.  She supposes that she was born about 1793 or ‘94.  Of her ten children, only two are living—Julia, her first born, and wife of Charles Barnett, who lives on an adjoining farm, and Elizabeth, wife of Henry Lewis, who reside within one mile of us.

 

My wife and I have lived together about thirty-five years.  We came to Cincinnati, Ohio, where we were again married in conformity to the laws of this State.  At the time we were first married I was in bondage; my wife was free.  When my first wife died I made up my mind I would never live with another slave woman.  When Governor Gilmer was elected a representative in Congress, he desired to have me go on to Washington with him.  But I demurred.  I did not refuse, of course, but I laid before him my objections with such earnestness that he looked me in the face with his piercing eye, as if balancing in his mind whether to be soft or severed, and said,

            ‘Israel, you have served me well; you are a faithful servant; now what will you give me for your freedom?’

            ‘I reckon I give you what you paid years ago—$500,’ I replied.

            ‘How much will you give to bind the bargain?’ he asked.

            ‘Three hundred dollars,’ was my ready answer.

            ‘When will you pay the remainder?’

            ‘In one and two years.’

 

And on these terms the bargain concluded and I was, for the first time, my own man, and almost free, but not quite, for it was against the laws of Virginia for a freed slave to reside in the State beyond a year and a day.  Nor were the colored people not in slavery free; they were nominally so.  When I came to Ohio I considered myself wholly free, and not till then.

 

And here let me say, that my good master, Governor Gilmer, was killed by the explosion of the gun Peacemaker, on board the Princeton, in 1842 or 1843, and had I gone to Washington with him it would have been my duty to keep very close to his person, and probably I would have been killed also, as others were.

 

I was bought in the name of my wife.  We remained in Virginia several years on sufferance.  At last we made up our minds to leave the confines of slavery and emigrate to a free State.  We went to Charlottesville Court House, in Albermarle county, for my free papers.  When there, the clerk, Mr. Garrett, asked me what surname I would take.  I hesitated, and he suggested that it should be Jefferson, because I was born at Monticello and had been a good and faithful servant to Thomas Jefferson.  Besides, he said, it would give me more dignity to be called after so eminent a man.  So I consented to adopt the surname of Jefferson, and have been known by it ever since.” (Israel Jefferson, Pike County Republican, 25 Dec. 1873)

 

Israel Gillette Jefferson

Israel Gillette Jefferson

1800–ca. 1879
(text)
“The great changes which time brings about”

Israel Jefferson describes his work in Ohio and his visit to Thomas Jefferson’s grandson after the Civil War.

“When I came to Cincinnati, I was employed as a waiter in a private house, at ten dollars a month for the first month.  From that time on I received $20, till I went on board a steamboat, where I got higher wages still.  In time, I found myself in receipt of $50 per month, regularly, and sometimes even more.  I resided in Cincinnati about fourteen years, and from thence came on to the farm I am now on, in Pebble township, on Brushy Fork of Pee Pee creek.  Have been here about sixteen years.

“Since my residence in Ohio I have several times visited Monticello.  My last visit was in the fall of 1866.  Near there I found the same Jefferson Randolph, whose service as administrator I left more than forty years ago, at Monticello.  He had grown old, and was outwardly surrounded by the evidences of former ease and opulence gone to decay.  He was in poverty.  He had lost, he told me, $80,000 in money by joining the South in rebellion against the government.  Except his real estate, the rebellion stripped him of everything, save one old, blind mule.  He said that if he had taken the advice of his sister, Mrs. Cooleridge [Ellen Coolidge], gone to New York, and remained there during the war, he could have saved the bulk of his property.  But he was a rebel at heart, and chose to go with his people.  Consequently, he was served as others had been—he had lost all his servants and nearly all his personal property of every kind.  I went back to Virginia to find the proud and haughty Randolph in poverty, at Edge Hill, within four miles of Monticello, where he was bred and born.  Indeed, I then realized, more than ever before, the great changes which time brings about in the affairs and circumstances of life.” (Israel Jefferson, Pike County Republican, 25 Dec. 1873)

 

(text)
“They struck up ‘Money Musk’”

A Chillicothe resident remembers Eston Hemings and his band.

 I wonder if the music is as good now as it used to be?  I was at the great Charity Ball - as a looker on - given in this city a few weeks ago, where the music was furnished by the celebrated Barracks Band, but somehow or other it didn’t affect me at all like Heming’s used to at the balls we are speaking of.  When he with his violin, Graham Bell with his clarionet and Wambaw with the bass viol cut loose, there was only one thing to do, and that was - dance.  When they struck up ‘Money Musk’, or ‘Wesson’s Slaughter House,’ he was a chump indeed who could sit by and look on without clinching onto a pretty girl and joining the merry throng.  And there was no chance for a mistake in the girl, either, for they were all pretty - at least they looked so then.  Why is it that in the matter of looks the girls of to-day compare so unfavorable with the ones of that day?  Do spectacles make the difference?  Eston Hemings, the Ben Hunter of that day, was a fine looking man, very slightly colored, of large size and said to have been a natural son of Thomas Jefferson, but I never went very much on that story, although I have seen a life of Jefferson in which the name of Hemings is given as one of the household, and I have no doubt that his mother was a slave of Mr. Jefferson’s.  He built, I think, and lived in the brick house on Paint street occupied a few years ago by Mr. William Stanly.  His wife was a fine looking woman and either of them would have had little difficulty in passing as white people, but a nigger was a nigger in those days and that settled it.  He was in demand in all the neighboring towns in the winter season, and Circleville, Lancaster, Portsmouth and Columbus frequently sought his services.  When he left Chillicothe it was for the West, and I recollect hearing that one of his sons was at one time a member of the Legislature of a western state. (Angus Waddle, Chillicothe Leader, 26 Jan. 1887, Beverly Gray Collection)

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