Discoveries about the Family of Isaac Jefferson
Because of the recent blessing of on-line censuses, we believe we have discovered the true surname of one of Monticello’s best known families. In the 1950s Luther P. Jackson searched the records in Petersburg, Virginia, in vain for the man known as Isaac Jefferson, whose recollections were recorded in that city in 1847. Isaac Jefferson’s famous image in his blacksmith’s apron was first published, along with his recollections, by Rayford Logan in 1951. He was the son of Great George and Ursula, two of the most important figures at Monticello, and had two brothers, George and Bagwell.
But what if Jefferson was not his real surname? Now, suddenly, it was possible to search the censuses by given as well as last name. In the 1840 Petersburg census, we found only three free African Americans named Isaac. One of them–-of the appropriate age–-was Isaac Granger, living with his wife, daughter, and two grandchildren.
We had never before seen the Granger surname in Jefferson’s records, but we ran across it again when studying the Albemarle County census for 1870, the first one after emancipation. A sixty-two-year-old man named Archy Granger immediately caught our attention. He was living with his wife and children on the Edgehill plantation, which belonged to Jefferson's grandson Thomas J. Randolph. He perfectly matched in age Bagwell and Minerva’s son Archy, who had been bought by Randolph after Jefferson’s death. Randolph family letters reveal that in 1870 Archy Granger and his wife, Mary, worked for Randolph’s sister Septimia Meikleham on her small farm at Edgehill. He did general farm labor like tending livestock and building sheds; his wife was described as “a good milker.” When Mrs. Meikleham noticed that her pigs were “half starved,” while Granger’s were “fat & sleek with their tails curled over their backs,” she considered “getting rid” of the entire Granger family. They were still at Edgehill several months later.
Further research is necessary to confirm with absolute certainty the identity of Isaac Granger as the man called Isaac Jefferson by the recorder of his recollections, the Rev. Charles Campbell. If so, then this is probably another case of white men applying the Jefferson surname to former Monticello slaves in disregard of their true family names. Israel Gillette, born at Monticello in 1800, went to the courthouse in 1844 after purchasing his own freedom. Before he had a chance to say that his name was Gillette, the clerk proposed that he take the name of the eminent man he had served as waiter, cook, and postilion. Because his free papers bore the Jefferson name, he was known as Israel Jefferson in Virginia and Ohio until his death. It is not yet known whether Isaac Granger used two surnames or whether Campbell was alone in calling him Isaac Jefferson.