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 Monticello was home to the Coleman and Henderson families for over a century, much longer than for anyone who held title to the property. Beginning in the 1860s, generations of these families greeted visitors at the Monticello gate and gave tours of the house and grounds. They worked first for the Levy family, Monticello’s owners from 1879 to 1923, as cooks, gardeners, ox team drivers, and household employees.

Eliza Coleman was Monticello’s gatekeeper during the Levy era.  According to family tradition, she “came out of that Jefferson tree,” but her connection to Monticello’s enslaved families is not yet known.  Her husband, Thomas Coleman, was the former slave of Joel Wheeler, who managed Monticello during and after the Civil War.  Many Coleman descendants continue to live in Albemarle County.  Eliza Coleman’s great-great-grandson Paul Harris was elected to Thomas Jefferson’s former seat in the House of Delegates in 1997 and again in 1999.

The Coleman family is linked by marriage to another family with long Monticello associations, from gatekeeper Willis Shelton to his grandson Willis Henderson, who was born at Monticello during the Levy ownership and worked for the family as a cook, waiter, and house guide. After the early deaths of his parents Lizzie and William Shelton (both of whom were buried at Monticello), he and his sister Mary Elizabeth Henderson were taken to live in New York City with Jefferson Monroe Levy’s sister, Amelia Levy Mayhoff.  Henderson preferred Virginia to New York, and eventually returned to work at Monticello, staying on when the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation assumed ownership of the property in 1923. He greeted visitors there through the 1960s, including Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.  

Meet members of the Coleman-Henderson families


    My mother's family, the Baileys, were at Monticello with Joel Wheeler. Joel Wheeler's adopted son was James Bailey. Joel Wheeler was the farm manager of Benjamin Randolph, a grandson of Thomas Jefferson, at Carter's bridge before he was hired by Uriah Levy in 1860. Its known that at least one of Joel Wheeler's slaves, Malvina, married Beverly Watson owned by Ben Randolph. Beverly's mother was Cary Massie, the first wife of Ferrell Gaines while Ferrell had a second wife Jenette. The Monticello data base shows that Thomas Jefferson owned a couple named Charles & Sally who had daughters, Cary Ann & Jenette. I think the sisters were the first and second wives of Ferrell Gains. "Ferrell" was owned by Lucy Marks, a sister of Jefferson, was given to Martha Jefferson, then willed to Dr. Ben Randolph. Was the Coleman family related back to an ancestor at Monticello during Jefferson's time. If they are it could be through Thomas Coleman and a connection on Benjamin Randolph's farm.
    Sam Towler's picture
    Sam Towler
    This is interesting.
    Joe User's picture
    Joe User


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