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Joseph Fossett

Enslaved Workers

Massachusetts Historical Society

Joseph Fossett was the son of Mary Hemings, Elizabeth Hemings’s oldest child.  In 1794, Fossett was one of the more efficient of the nine nailboys working in the new nailery on Mulberry Row.  He also worked in the main house, where he made fires, carried firewood and water, ran errands, or waited at table.  While a part-time nailer , he learned the blacksmithing trade from George Granger, Jr. in 1796.  Fossett became a foreman in the nailery in 1800, and then received more training from the new hired white blacksmith, William Stewart.  When Stewart was dismissed, Fossett succeeded him. Overseer Edmund Bacon described Fossett as “a very fine workman; could do anything it was necessary to do with steel or iron.” Fossett married 15-year-old Edith (Edy) Hern in 1802, just before she was sent to the Washington, D.C. to learn French cooking.  In July 1806, Jefferson considered Fossett a runaway  when he journeyed to see his wife; they were finally reunited in 1809 when Jefferson left office.  Fossett was freed in Jefferson’s will but Edith and their children were sold at the dispersal sale to different buyers.  It took at least 10 years for Fossett to buy back his family. They moved to southern Ohio by 1842.  

This account is compiled from Lucia Stanton, “Those Who Labor for My Happiness:” Slavery at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello (University of Virginia Press and Thomas Jefferson Foundation, 2012).

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Getting Word

The Fossett Descendents

Learn more about the lives and stories of the Fossett family at our related family history website.

Jefferson: Slavery at Monticello

Enslaved Families of Monticello

Discover the history of six enslaved families who lived and worked at Monticello.  Visit our exhibition in partnership with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.


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