Blacksmith William Stewart came from Philadelphia in 1801 seeking work at Monticello. In a letter of introduction from James Traquair to Thomas Jefferson, Traquair said of Stewart, "I hope he will answer every expectation, – few can work better than him."1 The first entry in Thomas Jefferson's memorandum book indicating payment to Stewart is dated September 26, 1801, "Paid Steward the smith on account 30.25."2
Stewart continued to work at Monticello through 1807, despite personality difficulties which began to appear within his first year of employment. A letter from George Jefferson, Jefferson's business agent in Richmond, dated November 16, 1801, begins, "The mad-man Stewart is again here. he has called on me for $:105 – which I was obliged to let him have, or I supposed suffer him to go to Jail."3 Jefferson replied, "I note & approve what you did as to Stewart. he is the best workman in America, but the most eccentric one: quite manageable were I at home, but doubtful as I am not."4
In his memoirs, Edmund Bacon, Jefferson's overseer of sixteen years, gives more insight into the problems with Stewart: "He was a fine workman, but he would have his sprees – would get drunk. Mr. Jefferson kept him a good many years longer than he would have done because he wanted him to teach some of his own hands."5 It was in November 1807 that Jefferson instructed Bacon, "Stewart must be immediately dismissed. If he will do those jobs I mentioned before he goes, he may stay to do them, & have provisions while about them. Joe may work in the way you proposed, so that the whole concern may be together."6 The "Joe" mentioned by Jefferson is most probably Joe Fossett, a slave owned by Jefferson who became Monticello's blacksmith. According to Bacon, Fossett trained under Stewart: "Joe Fossett made the ironwork. He was a very fine workman; could do anything it was necessary to do with steel or iron. He learned his trade of Stewart."7 Jefferson's patience with his "eccentric" blacksmith was repaid in the skills passed on to his slave, Joe Fossett.
During William Stewart's years at Monticello, the blacksmith's house was located on the third roundabout below the south orchard.8 Stewart's wife, called Mary, died November 5, 1805, and is buried in the Monticello graveyard. The epitaph on her gravestone reads: Angelic spirit and thou to heaven art fled; Thy body only sleeps among the dead.
- Gaye Wilson, 4/98
1. Traquair to Jefferson, May 30, 1801, in PTJ, 34:211. Transcription available at Founders Online.