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Critta Hemings Bowles

Critta Hemings Bowles (1769-1850)1 was the daughter of Elizabeth Hemings and John Wayles, Jefferson's father-in-law. She lived at Monticello from about 1775 until 1827.

Bowles seems to have been an enslaved domestic worker. In 1793, when she was living in the stone workmen's house (now known as the Textile Workshop), Jefferson gave orders for her to move out of that building to "the nearest" of the new log cabins on Mulberry Row, as shew was "oftenest wanted about the house."

In 1802, Jefferson's builder wrote that "the floors in the plastered rooms ought to be washed out as Critta is gone there is no person to undertake it."  At that time, Bowles was absent in Chesterfield County, living temporarily with Jefferson's daughter Maria, who had borrowed her as nurse to her infant son, Francis Wayles Eppes. It was Francis Eppes, twenty-five years later, who bought Bowles's freedom for fifty dollars. The manumission deed referred to "Critty, sometimes called Critty Bowles, the wife of Zachariah Bowles, a free man of colour" living in Albemarle County. After obtaining her freedom, Critta Bowles lived with her husband on his property until her death in 1850 at the age of 81.

The only references to Zachariah Bowles in Jefferson's records are in the accounts of his steward, Nicholas Lewis. In 1790 and 1791, Zachariah Bowles was paid for occasional labor in the harvest and in raising a barn. He owned his own farm of 96 acres north of Charlottesville and left a life interest in it to his wife at his death in 1835.2. At this time, they had living with them Martha Ann Colbert, a slave belonging to Jefferson's grandson Meriwether Lewis Randolph. She may have been the daughter of Jefferson's enslaved butler Burwell Colbert, Critta Bowles's nephew. Bowles's own will, in 1847, made provision for Martha Colbert, calling her "a female slave, raised by me."

Critta Hemings Bowles had one son, James, born in 1787. He worked as a carpenter at Monticello until he ran away about 1804, escaping “severe treatment” he had experienced at the hands of the white overseer, Gabriel Lilly. Jefferson tried to persuade him to return, but James Hemings vanished just before boarding a stage back Charlottesville from Richmond where he had been found.3 He was probably one of several cases of light-skinned slaves that were allowed to run away. He made a brief reappearance at Monticello in 1815, when Jefferson noted paying him for finding a missing piece of one of his scientific instruments.

Further Sources

  • 1. This article is based on Lucia Stanton, Monticello Research Report, 1993.
  • 2. Zachariah Bowles's will mentioned his sister Patsy Butler and his nephews Peter and Stephen Bowles.
  • 3. Stanton, Those Who Labor for My Happiness, 178.
Filed In: 
People, Slavery
Related Links:
Monticello Classroom: An Enslaved Craftsman
Plantation Database
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