"To Labour for Another"

Remains of the Joinery at Monticello's Mulberry RowThomas Jefferson made a habit of inspecting his plantation in the afternoon to monitor the work of the 150 slaves who worked at Monticello and his outlying farms. Always interested in measurements and record-keeping, Jefferson made extensive notations about his slaves and their duties in his Farm Book and Memorandum Books. For instance, he noted the rations his overseer distributed, the number of yards he purchased for clothing, the daily task required by particular slaves, and the cost of items purchased for use in the kitchen.

Mulberry Row

Some of Jefferson's slaves lived and worked along Mulberry Row, a 1,000-foot-long road located on the mountaintop, just south of the main house. Named for the mulberry trees planted along it (and replanted in 1995), the road was the center of plantation activity at Monticello from the 1770s until Jefferson's death in 1826. The known buildings located along the street were stone and log dwellings, storage buildings, a stable, a combination smokehouse and dairy, a blacksmith shop that for some years also housed a nailery, a joinery, a carpenter's shop, and a sawmill.

Humming with Activity

Daguerrotype of Isaac Jefferson (MSS 2041) taken by John Plumbe, Jr. c. 1845. Image courtesy the Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library.During Jefferson's time, Mulberry Row would have been humming with activity, with over thirty people at work in its shops and yards. While linens boiled in the wash house and milkpans clattered in the dairy, the hammers of fourteen nailmakers rang on anvils near the roaring forge of the blacksmith. Wood chips and shavings were scattered by the axes and planes of the carpenters and joiners, and two sawyers worked a pit saw slowly through a cherry log. Mule-drawn carts rattled up and down this plantation "street" bringing barrels of water, firewood for the kitchens, and charcoal for the forges. As daylight faded, the shops grew silent and the dwellings on Mulberry Row were animated by the return of Monticello's workers, both black and white.

Jefferson and Slavery

Jefferson's words and deeds are contradictory on the issue of slavery. Although he drafted the words "all men are created equal," and worked to limit the stranglehold of slavery on the new country, he personally found no political or economic remedies for the problem, and trusted that future generations would find a solution. "But as it is," Jefferson wrote, "we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other."

 

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Image Credits

  • Joinery on Mulberry Row.
  • Isaac Jefferson Daguerrotype, c. 1847. Courtesy of Tracy W. McGregor Library, Special Collections Department, University of Virginia Library.

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