In the words of a descendant, Eliza Tolliver Coleman lived “up on the mountain all of her life.” Members of her extended family lived and worked at Monticello over the course of a century—far longer than any of the property’s owners. According to family tradition, Eliza Coleman “came out of that Thomas Jefferson tree,” but her exact connection to Monticello’s enslaved families is not yet known. She married Thomas Coleman (1845-post 1910), a former slave of Joel Wheeler, manager of Monticello during and after the Civil War. They had eight children.
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Maxcine Sterling and four other descendants of Monticello gatekeeper Eliza Tolliver Coleman were interviewed together in 1995. All live in the Washington, DC, area and work (or worked) in various departments of the federal government. They shared their memories of Eliza Coleman’s daughters Lucy Coleman Barnaby Page and Grace Coleman Harris and recalled summers spent at the Monticello gatehouse. Members of the extended Coleman family lived at Monticello for more than a century—far longer than any of the property’s owners.
Betty Ann Fitch is part of an extended family that worked and lived at Monticello for more than a century. She earned her master’s degree in English and became a teacher. She was particularly close to her grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Henderson Fitch, who was orphaned at age four and taken in by the Levy-Mayhoff family, the owners of Monticello. Mary Elizabeth Henderson lived with and worked for the Mayhoffs for more than twenty years, spending long periods in New York City as well as Monticello. She married Thomas Jefferson Fitch, the Monticello coachman and chauffeur. Betty Ann Fitch i
Bessie Dorsey was a descendant of Wormley and Ursula Hughes through their grandson Philip Evans Hughes (1853-1925). Mrs. Dorsey lived most of her life in Washington, DC, raising and providing an education to her son, George Harrod, who went on to hold several prominent positions in the federal government. Her relatives have relied on her memories in their exploration of their family history.
Mabel Hall Pittman Middleton, writer and teacher, grew up in Lexington, Virginia. After serving in the Women’s Army Corps in World War II and graduating from Fisk University, she taught English in Mississippi. She obtained her doctorate from Southern Illinois University and chaired the English Department at Jackson State University. She was appointed to the Mississippi Humanities Council in 2000.
Dr. Middleton, who married and had three children, heard from her family of her connection to Monticello but did not hear of her ancestor Brown Colbert’s emigration to Liberia.
Born in Greenbrier County, Virginia, Lewis Woodson moved with his family to Chillicothe, Ohio, about 1821. He became a teacher and a minister of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church. In 1831 Woodson, his wife, Caroline Robinson, and their children relocated to Pittsburgh, where he started the first school for black children in the city and worked as a barber.
Brown Colbert lived his first twenty years at Monticello, where he worked as an enslaved domestic servant and a nailmaker. In 1805, he asked to be sold to a free workman leaving Monticello, so that he and his wife would not be separated. Jefferson reluctantly agreed and the Colberts lived in slavery in Lexington, Virginia, until 1833, when they took a momentous step.
Fountain Hughes spent his boyhood in slavery on the Hydraulic Mills property of the Burnley family near Charlottesville. After the Civil War, in which his father was killed while with the Confederate Army, his mother, Mary Hughes, had to hire Fountain out for a dollar a month. In the 1880s he purchased horses and a carriage and worked as a hack driver, but soon sought greater opportunities in Baltimore, MD. There he worked for several decades for the Shirley family as a farmer and gardener.
Virginia Rose was the daughter of Elizabeth Letitia (Bessie) Trotter and Henry Kempton Craft, a Harvard graduate, electrical engineer, teacher, and YMCA executive. He was the grandson of William and Ellen Craft, famous for their daring escape from slavery in 1848. Bessie Trotter, who attended the New England Conservatory of Music, was the sister of the prominent civil rights leader William Monroe Trotter.