Burwell Colbert was an enslaved domestic worker at Monticello. He was the son of Betty Brown and the grandson of Elizabeth (Betty) Hemings. Colbert began his working life, at the age of ten, in the Mulberry Row nail-making shop, and later acquired skills in painting and window glazing. His work included painting the balusters and Chinese railing on the roof and the landau carriage built by his uncle John Hemmings, and his cousin Joseph Fossett. Jefferson's high regard for Colbert was evident. He was the only worker in the nailery "absolutely exempted from the whip" and only one of two slaves to receive an annual "gratuity" of twenty dollars.
During Jefferson's retirement, Burwell Colbert was "the main, principal servant" at Monticello, responsible for the running of the household. As butler, he directed the work of enslaved housemaids, waiters, and porters. He was also Jefferson's personal servant, whose duties included laying out Jefferson's clothes and attending to his personal needs.
Colbert married his first cousin Critta, the daughter of Nance Hemings. Burwell and Critta Colbert, who died in 1819, had eight children. Colbert was granted his freedom in Jefferson's will along with $300 to purchase the tools necessary to continue his trade as a painter and glazier. Because Critta Colbert had belonged to Jefferson's daughter and son-in-law, their children remained in slavery. In freedom, Colbert worked at the University of Virginia and at the houses of some of Jefferson's friends. In 1834, he married Elizabeth Battles, a free woman of color; they had three daughters.
Our new app, available for iOS and Android devices, introduces visitors to the individuals who lived and worked on Mulberry Row, once the industrial hub and “Main Street” of Thomas Jefferson’s 5,000-acre plantation. Free wifi is available on site.