Wormley Hughes

Wormley Hughes (1781-1858) [1] was born at Monticello in March 1781, the son of Betty Hemings's daughter Bett, also known as Betty Brown.

He worked in the nailery from the age of thirteen (1794) until at least 1809. He also, as a boy, worked in the house, although his precise duties are not known. Biographer Henry S. Randall referred to him as a "door-yard servant."

Wormley, who took the surname Hughes, was trained as a gardener, probably by Robert Bailey, the Scottish gardener who worked at Monticello from 1794 through 1796. References to Hughes' gardening activities are frequent in Jefferson's records: he planted seeds, bulbs, and trees sent back from Washington; prepared and planted flower beds, and took up bulbs for the winter; and spread dung in the vegetable garden. Thomas Jefferson's granddaughter Ellen remembered that Wormley, "armed with spade and hoe," assisted Jefferson in laying out the Monticello flower beds. He also dug the ha!ha! and cleared several roads on the mountaintop. In 1801 he blasted rock for the construction of the Shadwell canal.

In addition to his work in the gardens, Hughes apparently succeeded Jupiter as hostler in the Monticello stables, with responsibility for the care of the horses and stable equipment. His love of horses was recorded by Randall. During Jefferson's retirement years, Hughes often drove a carriage or cart, taking Jefferson's sister Anna to and from Monticello or transporting valuable goods. In 1810, when Hughes drove Jefferson's young grandson home from Monticello to Eppington, Jefferson wrote that "I shall dispatch Francis tomorrow morning in the care of one of the most trusty servants I have." Other references in letters indicate that he was always accorded a high level of trust.

Wormley Hughes was married to Ursula (b. 1787), daughter of Bagwell and Minerva and niece of Isaac Jefferson. They had thirteen known children. Ursula Hughes was both a farm laborer and a cook; she had received a year of training with French chef Honoré Julien at the President's House in Washington.

Hughes dug the grave of his master in July 1826. He was informally freed by Martha Randolph, apparently at Jefferson's recommendation. At the January 1827 sale of Jefferson's estate, his wife Ursula and eight of their children were sold to different purchasers, including University of Virginia professor George Blaettermann. Most were reunited at Edgehill, the plantation of Jefferson's grandson Thomas J. Randolph.

Hughes continued to work for members of the Monticello family. Although he was listed in the 1850 census in the household of his half-brother Burwell Colbert, in 1856 he was living in the household of Jefferson's great-granddaughter Caryanne Randolph Ruffin. He died in the summer of 1858.

Footnotes

1. This article is based on Lucia Stanton, Monticello Research Report, May 1995.

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