Moving Away: In Search of Security
In 1837 there were signs that the issue of leaving Virginia altogether was being vigorously discussed by members of various families. Joseph Fossett's September manumission of his wife, children, and grandchildren, who would by Virginia law be obliged to leave the state within a year, indicates an intent to emigrate. A month later Eston Hemings sold out his interest in his residence on Main Street and left for Ohio. His brother Madison had preceded him the previous year, settling in a rural community of former Virginia slaves located on the border of Pike and Ross counties. Eston and Julia Ann Hemings chose to live in the town of Chillicothe, the Ross county seat. There Hemings pursued a dual career as a carpenter and musician. Described as a "master of the violin," his fiddling so lively that "there was only one thing to do, and that was -- dance," he led a band popular throughout southern Ohio.
The actual date of the Fossett family's departure for Ohio is harder to determine. When Joseph and Edith Fossett left for the northwest only the four youngest of their ten children accompanied them. Still locked in bondage were James, Patsy, Isabella, and Peter, who recalled, sixty years later, that his master John R. Jones had "promised my father to let him have me when he could raise the money, but in 1833 he refused to let him have me on any conditions." In Cincinnati by at least 1843, Joseph Fossett pursued the blacksmithing trade with his sons and lived on a city lot he bought for $500. The next year, he sold his Charlottesville lot for the same amount. What seems apparent is that between 1837 and 1843 the Fossetts were often on the road, shuttling between Virginia and Ohio in a continuing effort to reconstitute their family. Their son Peter could not join them until 1850, when family members banded together to purchase his freedom. Peter Fossett forged a free pass for his sister Isabella, who escaped to Boston and had joined her family by 1860.