Learn more about the lives and stories of the Colbert family at our related family history website.
Brown Colbert, a nailer, was the son of Betty Brown and the grandson of Elizabeth Hemings. In August 1801, Jefferson recorded his name as one of those inoculated against smallpox. Nearly two years later he was brutally attacked in the nailery by Cary, a fellow teenaged nailer, who was punished and sold far from Monticello. Remarkably, Colbert fully recovered from the serious injury that had placed him in a coma. In 1806, Jefferson reluctantly agreed to sell the 20-year-old Colbert to John Jordan, a hired white brickmason, who owned Colbert’s young wife. Colbert, described as “a pious man & first rate blacksmith,” lived in Lexington in Rockbridge County, still owned by John Jordan, until his manumission by private subscription of the Rockbridge Colonization Society. Colbert and his family sailed for Liberia on the Roanoke in February 1833; all of them died from disease within months of their arrival in Africa.
This account is compiled from Lucia Stanton, “Those Who Labor for My Happiness:” Slavery at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello (University of Virginia Press and Thomas Jefferson Foundation, 2012).
Discover the history of six enslaved families who lived and worked at Monticello.