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Family Histories: A Beginning

"I was born at Monticello...." -- Peter Fossett, 1898, and Henry Martin, 1914

Over the decades, hundreds could have spoken those words. Below are profiles of a few of those born into slavery at Monticello.


Isaac (Granger) Jefferson (1775-c.1850) was the son of Great George, a foreman of labor and overseer at Monticello, and Ursula, a pastry cook and laundress. Isaac Jefferson, whose family name was probably Granger, worked at Monticello as a nailmaker, tinsmith, and blacksmith. He became free in the 1820s and was still practicing his blacksmithing trade at age seventy-two, when his recollections of life at Monticello were preserved.


Lucy Cottrell was the daughter of Dorothea (Dolly) Cottrell, a house servant at Monticello who, after 1826, became the property of George Blaetterman, a professor at the University of Virginia. About 1850 Dolly and Lucy Cottrell went to Maysville, Kentucky, with the professor's widow, who freed them five years later. In this daguerreotype Lucy Cottrell is holding Charlotte, daughter of Blaetterman's foster son.


Ann-Elizabeth Fossett (1812-1902) was the fourth child of Joseph Fossett, head blacksmith at Monticello, and his wife, Edith Hern Fossett, the Monticello cook. Ann-Elizabeth, her mother, and seven of her siblings were sold in the January auction following Jefferson's death. Through her family's efforts, she became free in 1837 and moved with her husband, Tucker Isaacs, and their children to southern Ohio in 1850.


Peter Fossett (1815-1901) was the fifth child of Joseph and Edith Fossett. At age eleven, he, too, was sold at the Monticello auction and remained in slavery until 1850, when his freedom was purchased by family members. He joined his parents in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he became a prominent caterer, community leader, and minister.


Robert Hughes (1824-1895) was the tenth child of Wormley and Ursula Hughes, and thus the great-grandson of Elizabeth (Betty) Hemings and the great-nephew of Isaac Jefferson. After Thomas Jefferson's death, Robert Hughes remained in slavery on the plantation of Jefferson's grandson until the end of the Civil War. He became a blacksmith and the founding minister of Union Run Baptist Church.


Henry Martin (1826-1915) was born at Monticello on the day of Jefferson's death. He worked in slavery and freedom at the University of Virginia, where he rang the bell in the Rotunda every day for decades.  A man of remarkable character and a devout Baptist, he was the subject of many articles in University publications.


Sally Cottrell Cole (c1800-1875) lived at Monticello for almost twenty years as personal servant to Jefferson's granddaughter Ellen Randolph. In 1826 Thomas Key, a professor at the University of Virginia, purchased her and took measures to free her. She worked as a seamstress and domestic servant. In 1848 she married a free man of color, Reuben Cole.


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