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The Descendants of David and Isabel Hern

Union Run Baptist ChurchDavid Hern (1755-after 1827), his wife Isabel (1758-1819), and their children and grandchildren raised Jefferson's crops, drove his wagons, cooked his meals, cared for his children, built his barns, directed his laborers, and made nails, barrels, plows and plow chains. Their daughter Edith Hern Fossett became Monticello's head cook, after training with a French chef at the President's House in Washington. Their son James was a foreman of farm labor, who was noted for raising the "best lot of pork" on the plantation.

James Hern (1776-after 1823) and his brother Moses Hern (1779-after 1832), a blacksmith, were able, with persistent petitioning, to persuade Jefferson to purchase their wives, who belonged to other owners. Moses and Mary Hern's son Lewis Hearns was a founding deacon of Union Run Baptist Church and one of the first freedmen able to purchase property after the Civil War. Many of their children and grandchildren were teachers and school principals as well as active church members. Their descendants include:

Martha Hearns Williams (1909-2005), schoolteacher and Getting Word participant, (below, with her husband, Edward B. Williams.)

Martha Hearns Williams (1909-2005), schoolteacher and Getting Word participant, with her husband, Edward B. Williams

Cynthia Stratton and Zeta Hearns Ridley Nichols, Getting Word participants (below)

Discovering More About the Hern Family

It was a marriage license for 1871 that revealed the family name of a couple Jefferson listed in his Farm Book as just Davy and Isabel.  Their daughter Lily, making her marriage vows at the age of eighty to Sancho Davis, another former Monticello slave, told the recording clerk that her parents were David and Isabel Hern.  The Herns, inherited by Jefferson from his father-in-law John Wayles, lived at Monticello for over fifty years.  David Hern was a highly skilled woodworker, who made gates, plows, and wheelbarrows, repaired threshing machines, and built cabins and farm buildings.  His wife, both a house servant and a farmworker, was Jefferson's choice to accompany his daughter Mary across the Atlantic Ocean in 1787.  Isabel Hern, ill after the birth of her daughter Edith, was unable to make the journey and Sally Hemings went to France in her place.

The Herns had twelve children: James, Moses, Patty, David, Edith, Aggy, Lily, Amy, Thruston, Indridge (a girl), Thrimston, and Lovilo.  They became farm laborers, carpenters, wagoners, and blacksmiths.  Edith Hern, who was trained in French cookery in the President's House in Washington, was head cook at Monticello and married Joseph Fossett, a member of the Hemings family.  James and Moses Hern married outside the Monticello plantation and it was only after their persistent appeals that Jefferson purchased their wives, Cretia and Mary, so they would not be separated.  David Hern, Jr., often drove his mule cart alone to and from the federal city of Washington, carrying letters and boxes to President Jefferson or transporting trees, geese, and imported hogs back to Monticello.

Thirty-five members of the Hern family were among the 130 enslaved African Americans at Monticello at the time of Jefferson's death in 1826.  A number of them remained in bondage at Edgehill, the neighboring estate of Jefferson's grandson Thomas Jefferson Randolph.  In 1832, blacksmith Moses Hern, who had been transferred to Jefferson's Poplar Forest plantation near Lynchburg, ran away from his new owner, who advertised that "he will try to get to Charlottesville, where a great many of his family lives."  The Getting Word project has interviewed a number of descendants of David and Isabel Hern, some of whom still live near Monticello. The family name is now usually spelled Hearns.

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