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Daily Life: 1803-1805


January: Fifteen enslaved men were hired for digging, hauling, and other heavy labor needed to build two grain mills and a canal. John Hemmings and another enslaved woodworker, Lewis, continued their work with hired housejoiners James Dinsmore and James Oldham on the decorative woodwork of the Monticello house. Enslaved wagoners Edward Gillette and Tom Shackleford, joined by hired wagoners, carted 62 wagon loads of ice from the Rivanna River up to the new ice house on the mountaintop.

February: Blacksmith Moses Hern's son Davy was born six miles away.  Hern's wife Mary belonged to another plantation owner [in 1807 Hern persuaded Jefferson to purchase his wife and children].

March: Gardeners Wormley Hughes and John were kept busy planting trees during President Jefferson's three-week vacation at Monticello. A terrifying prospect for parents, an outbreak of measles occurred. Jefferson's grandchildren and the enslaved children who must also have contracted the disease passed safely through it.

May: An almost fatal incident involving two eighteen-year-olds in the nailery resulted in the departure of Cary from Monticello. Angered at having his nailrod hidden as a joke, Cary had attacked Brown Colbert with his hammer. His skull crushed, Colbert fell into a coma, but his life was saved by an emergency operation by the local physician. Jefferson wished to make an example of Cary "in terrorem" to the other nail boys.  After several months in jail, Cary was sold to a region "so distant as never more to be heard of among us."


Winter: On January 15, Jupiter, third son of Jerry and Mary, was born.  Jerry was one of the wagoners taking loads of ice from the river to the ice house on the mountaintop.  It was completely full on January 21.

Also in January, enslaved nailer Kit was put in jail after running away. Three months later Jefferson sold him to John Perry, a local carpenter who paid the £125 purchase price in work on overseer and tenant houses and on the Shadwell toll mill.  

Spring: Seventy-three-year-old Goliah, the head gardener, and his "veteran aids" prepared and planted the vegetable garden.  Goliah was directed to focus on vegetables that would come to table during the months of April, August and September, when Jefferson was in residence.  On April 29 Goliah "stuck sticks to mark the place" of seeds of the Cherokee rose.

John Freeman, a Maryland slave hired by Jefferson to be the dining-room servant at the White House, had accompanied the president as usual to Monticello.  While there Freeman asked for permission to marry Betty Hemings's granddaughter Melinda Colbert. 

Summer: It was probably this summer that an incident occurred in the stone workman's house (now the Weaver's Cottage) on Mulberry RowCritta Hemings's seventeen-year-old son James, who was seriously ill, was sleeping in the room of hired woodworker James Oldham.  Despite Oldham's protestations, overseer Gabriel Lilly insisted that Hemings go to work and "whip'd him three times in one day."  A year later, James Hemings ran away, as Oldham said, because of severe treatment by the overseer.  

In July there was another runaway, one of the men hired by the year.  He was still missing in November.     

Autumn: Enslaved joiners John Hemmings and Lewis worked with Irishman James Dinsmore on shaping 120 panels of cherry and beech for the parquet floor in the Monticello parlor (photograph at left).  This floor has excited the admiration of visitors for two hundred years.

One enslaved man, John, was so disruptive that overseer Gabriel Lilly wanted him sent home.  Jefferson's daughter described John's "art in throwing every thing into confusion, encouraging the hands to rebellion and idleness."


Winter: There were two births in the Hemings family in January. Joseph and Edith Fossett's son James was born in the President's House in Washington, where Edith was a trainee cook.  Madison Hemings, son of Sally Hemings and, probably, Thomas Jefferson, was born at Monticello.

Spring: In March, Richard Barry, a painter and glazier, arrived to begin work on the Monticello house.  The enslaved Monticello butler, Burwell Colbert, became his apprentice, learning the trade that later supported him in freedom.

Two men joined the Monticello enslaved community in May. Jefferson purchased Charles, a farm worker, and Isaac, a wagoner, from an owner in Alexandria.

Summer: Overseer Gabriel Lilly, after six years at Monticello, left to settle in Kentucky.  His slave Lucretia had become of the wife of Monticello's enslaved foreman, James Hern. The Herns were successful in persuading Jefferson to purchase her and their children from Lilly.

A new overseer, John Holmes Freeman, arrived in August. A few days later nailmaker James Hubbard left Monticello for the north, carrying forged free papers he had bought from Lilly's son.
The wagoner Isaac traveled alone to a neighboring county to bring Jefferson's sister Anna Marks back to Monticello for a family wedding.

Autumn: Runaway James Hubbard was brought back to Monticello, after more than three months in Fairfax County jail.  The free papers he had bought with money earned in his free time were immediately recognized as forgeries.

The departure of a hired workman triggered another effort by enslaved people to preserve a union.  Brickmason John Jordan left Monticello with his slaves, including Mary, who had become the wife of nailmaker Brown Colbert.  The Colberts were "unwilling to part," so Jordan offered to purchase the young husband.  Jefferson reluctantly agreed.

The smaller mill at Shadwell (the larger mill is pictured above began to operate when the canal that enslaved men had worked on for so many years was completed.  Moses, a slave hired from Caroline County, was the miller.

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