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Hern Family

Land deed for Union Run Baptist Church, 1867It was a marriage license for 1871 that revealed the family name of a couple Jefferson listed in his Farm Book as just Davy and Isabel. Their daughter Lily, making her marriage vows at the age of eighty, told the recording clerk that her parents were David and Isabel Hern. David Hern, his wife Isabel, and their children and grandchildren raised Jefferson's crops, drove his wagons, cooked his meals, cared for his children, built his barns, directed his laborers, and made nails, barrels, plows and plow chains. Their daughter Edith Hern Fossett became Monticello's enslaved head cook, after training with a French chef at the President's House in Washington. Their son James Hern was an enslaved foreman of farm labor, who was noted for raising the "best lot of pork" on the plantation.

James Hern and his brother Moses Hern, an enslaved blacksmith, demonstrated the strength of marriage and family bonds in the Monticello community. Both had wives who belonged to other slaveholders. For years Moses Hern made the weekly six-mile walk from Monticello to see his wife, Mary, and his sons. After persistent petitioning, he and his brother persuaded Jefferson to purchase their wives and children.  Moses and Mary Hern's son David Hern and grandson Lewis Hern also had what were called “abroad” marriages.  Lewis Hern was finally able to live with his wife, Georgeanna, and his children after Emancipation came in 1865.

Martha Hearns Williams (later Boston)Lewis Hern’s belief in the importance of religion, education, and property is revealed in his post-Civil War actions.  With several others from Monticello families, he was a founding deacon of Union Run Baptist Church in Albemarle County and one of the first freedmen able to purchase land. In 1870 he joined forces with George Hughes to purchase one hundred acres. In the same year, the census shows that he was one of the relatively few rural residents of the county to send his children to school.  The importance of education and the ties to the land, the Hughes family, and Union Run Church have continued in succeeding generations. Hern descendants, who now spell their name Hearns, include many teachers as well as school principals.


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