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Joseph Neilson

Hired White Workers

Joseph Neilson worked as a carpenter and joiner at Monticello from 1775 to 1779.  An Irishman, Neilson was “an inside worker, a finisher” and probably worked in the joiner’s shop on Mulberry Row.  He supervised two assistants, carpenters Benjamin Colvard and William Fossett; in 1778 Neilson wrote he was “to work with my apprentices William Fossett & Ben. Calvert [sic] & am to receive one hundred pounds.”  A bachelor, Neilson likely lived in the Mulberry Row workmen’s house with Fossett, stonemason William Rice, and cabinetmaker Thomas Walker.  Neilson kept accounts with Jefferson, who supplied him with rum, whiskey, brandy, candles, groceries from a local purveyor, and spinning and weaving.  Neilson, according to Madison Hemings, fathered two children with the enslaved woman Elizabeth (Betty) Hemings while he lived at Monticello.  They were John Hemmings, born in 1776, who became a talented joiner, and Lucy, born in 1777, who died in infancy.

Carpenter, Joiner

Learn more about John Hemmings’s life history.

Explore the workmen’s house, a structure that served as a dwelling and textile workshop during Jefferson’s lifetime.


Richard A. Colbert's picture
Joseph Neilson's apprentice, Ben Calvert, also went by the names Colvard and Colbert. He was the son of Benjamin Colvard, a cabinet maker, of Charlottesville. Between 1778 and 1779, 16 year-old Ben Colvard/Colbert Jr. was an apprentice for Joseph Neilson at Monticello. Several children of Betty Brown, sister of Sally Hemings, were named Colbert: Burwell, Brown, Melinda and Mary. They were born between 1783 and 1801. Two other children by Betty Brown -- Edwin and Robert -- may or may not be Colbert descendantgs.
Richard Allen C...


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