Daily Life: 1806-1807

 

THE YEAR 1806

Dumbwaiter attributed to John Hemmings.Winter: After his day's work in the joinery on Mulberry Row, skilled woodworker John Hemmings returned to an empty cabin.  His wife, Priscilla, was at the President's House in Washington, caring for Jefferson's grandchildren.

In February, Jerry hitched his mules to a cart and took the road to Washington, where he loaded up with trees and shrubs for the Monticello grounds.

Spring: Hired men spent each working day hauling, digging, and blasting rock for a new road from the Rivanna River to the top of the mountain.  In May they resumed making a level 1,000-foot terrace for the vegetable garden. Jefferson told his overseer that John the gardener "best knows how to finish off the levelling."

Ursula Hughes, Fanny Hern, and Cretia Hern left their labor in the fields for three weeks to work as house servants during Jefferson's spring vacation at Monticello.

Summer: There was an extraordinary degree of sickness in the Monticello slave quarters this summer. Jefferson blamed the stagnant water (covered by a "green coat" of algae) in the Rivanna River, which had become just a trickle because of a prolonged drought.

Blacksmith Joseph Fossett slipped away from Monticello, taking the road north to Washington, DC.  His wife, Edith, had been working in the president's kitchen for almost four years.  The runaway was caught coming out of the door of the White House, jailed for a short time, and then taken back to Monticello.
 

"Campeachy," or "siesta," chair attributed to John Hemmings

Autumn: Edmund Bacon, then in his early twenties, began his long service as Monticello overseer.  Bacon's "hands" were to cut wood for charcoal, mend fences, and complete the milldam. Even the nailers left their forges to assist in this work.  The great merchant mill began to grind wheat by the end of October.

Nailmaker and blacksmith Moses Hern wanted Jefferson to buy his wife, Mary, a slave on a plantation six miles away.  The president responded that he could not "spare the money" at this time.  Five months later, after enlisting the intercession of Mary's owner, Hern was successful.
His brother David Hern brought two Barbary broad-tailed rams from Washington in his mule cart, along with hickory nuts, willow oak acorns, and peach stones, which Wormley Hughes was to plant in the nursery. Phill began to make leather shoes in time for distribution at the end of the year.  Barnaby Gillette and Shepherd worked with him "to perfect themselves in shoemaking."

On December 20, Jerry and his wagon left Monticello for Poplar Forest, with a bull and a ram in tow, and accompanied by four nailers (James and Phill Hubbard, Bedford Davy, and Bedford John) who were allowed to make the ninety-mile walk to Poplar Forest to see their families for the Christmas holiday.

THE YEAR 1807

Desk attributed to John Hemmings.Winter: Isaac, Charles, Ben, Shepherd, Abram, Davy, John, Shoemaker Phill, and nine enslaved men hired by the year formed the "gang" of laborers engaged in cutting wood for charcoal, building fences, and doing a great deal of digging and hauling in order to complete the canal and the vegetable garden terrace. Fifty-two-year-old David Hern, ordinarily a carpenter, was now miller at the Shadwell toll mill, considered by Jefferson "the best for this purpose."

In the nailery near overseer Edmund Bacon's house, Moses Hern, Wormley Hughes, James Hubbard, Barnaby Gillette, young David Hern, Bedford John, Bedford Davy, Phill Hubbard, and Bartlett&—all in their twenties&—worked at two fires making nails.
 

Spring: During Jefferson's spring vacation there was a massive planting of trees, shrubs, grapevines, bulbs, and flower roots, as well as vegetables, by gardeners Wormley Hughes, John, and Goliah, and their assistants. Jefferson's granddaughter Ellen remembered the laying out of the oval flower beds around the house this spring, with Wormley Hughes, "armed with spade and hoe," assisting Jefferson, who "carried the measuring-line."
An earthquake was "felt & heard very sensibly" at Monticello at dawn on May 1.
 

Summer: Elizabeth Hemings died this year “probably during the summer“ on the mountain where six of her children, fifteen grandchildren, and several great-grandchildren lived in bondage.

After torrential rains, the Rivanna River rose in what was long remembered as "the great flood of 1807," sweeping away the dam, putting the Shadwell mills out of business for two months, and requiring the repetition of major digging and hauling tasks.
In September the Great Comet of 1807 became visible in the sky.
 

Autumn: Jefferson allotted a special whiskey ration to the men working in the water in the canal and around the mills. 
Joseph Fossett's second child, Maria, was born far away in Washington, where his wife, Edith, was training with a French chef in the kitchen of the President's House. When Jefferson fired the hard-drinking blacksmith, William Stewart, a month later, Fossett took charge of the Monticello blacksmith shop.

In December two hired enslaved men ran away, back to their homes in Spotsylvania County. Overseer Edmund Bacon made the sixty-mile journey there but "could not get hold of them."

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