Of the five men freed in Jefferson's will, three (Joseph Fossett and Madison and Eston Hemings) chose to leave Virginia in the late 1830s. Laws relating to free people of color were becoming increasingly restrictive. For Israel Gillette Jefferson, who purchased his freedom in the 1840s, life for a free black in Virginia was only nominal freedom. Soon he and his wife “made up our minds to leave the confines of slavery and emigrate to a free State,” Ohio. Most of Monticello's former residents were locked in slavery until 1865. After they became free, members of the Hemings, Hughes, and Hern families remained in Albemarle County and built strong families and communities, acquiring land, building schools, and founding churches.
Robert and George Hughes and Lewis Hern were among the deacons who acquired the land on which to build Union Run Baptist Church, which still thrives today. Hughes descendant Calvin Jefferson recalls learning about his ancestor. “I called up my cousin and I asked her, was Robert a minister? Her response was, I’ll never forget, ‘Yes, baby, he founded the church in Virginia.’ She told me that twenty years ago, so she knew that Robert had a church in Virginia. From there I just went back down looking for the church.”
For members of the Hemings family, the acquisition of real estate in Charlottesville provided security and the means to purchase family members out of bondage and relocate their families to the free state of Ohio. George Pettiford, a descendant of Madison Hemings, traveled from Ohio to see his ancestor’s home. “To top everything off is Monticello. When you go down there it's just, you know, you're just—in your mind you just go back.”
"They told me I needed to talk to Aunt Bessie"
Calvin Jefferson describes finally learning of his Hughes ancestors and their connection to Monticello from his cousin, Bessie Baskerville Dorsey.
Theme: Oral History Transmission