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James Dinsmore

James Dinsmore (c.1771-1830) was the Irish joiner responsible for most of the elegant woodwork in the Monticello house. Dinsmore worked at Monticello from October 1798 to 1809 creating decorative interior woodwork for the main house and training his assistant, Monticello's enslaved joiner John Hemmings. After his departure from Monticello, Dinsmore went on to work on other buildings in Virginia, including the University of Virginia and James Madison's home, Montpelier. Dinsmore also produced an 1809 inventory for Monticello's joinery, which has proven helpful for researchers.1

Video about the Elliptical Arch, which Hemmings worked on with James Dinsmore

Primary Source References

1798 April 5. (Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph). "I have engaged a fine housejoiner here to go on with me."2

1798 May 31. (Jefferson to Martha Jefferson Randolph). "Jupiter should therefore be in readiness to depart on a night's warning, with three horses, as a workman accompanies me from here."3

1798 June 13. "Gave James Dinsmore order on Barnes for 64.55 D. This is for tools purchased of him & sent on to Monticello."4

1798 June 26. (Jefferson to George Jefferson). "This will be handed you by mr James Dinsmore, a housejoiner whom I have engaged to live with me. he goes by water to Richmond and on his arrival there, being a stranger, I have desired him to ask your aid to get him a passage by a waggon or boat to our neighborhood, he has in his charge some articles of mine, of value, which I wish him to keep with him to my house. I wish him not to delay in Richmond. I do not know that he will want any pecuniary aid, as he will recieve here what he may think he will have occasion for. but should he need any small matter & ask for it, be so good as to let him have it on my account. ... P.S. I set out for Monticello tomorrow morning."5

1798 October 24. "Pd. James Dinsmore his exp. from Phila. 30.D."6

1798 December 17. "Pd. Dinsmore for J. H. Buck in full 2.D."7

1798 December 20. (Jefferson to Thomas Mann Randolph). "Mr. Dinsmore asked me to lend him Gibb's Rules for drawing, and I forgot to lay it out for him."8

1799 April 23. "[P]d. Mr. Dinsmore 18.D."9

1799 August 30. "Recd. from Higginbotham's a canteen of whiskey delivd. to Dinsmore."10

1799 September 30. "The whiskey of Aug. 30. is out, so 3 1/2 galls. have lasted Dinsmore & Richardson 31. days which is 1.8 of a gill, or near half a pint a day each, costing at present 6d."11

1799 September and October. "Dinsmore alone made and put up the semicircular arch of the Cabinet ... in 10. days. Dinsmore and Johnny prepared & put up the oval arch in do. (8. feet wide in 12. days). October 25. Tuesday. Dinsmore began to prepare some few things still unprepared in the Library. Nov. 1. All the work being preparted he gegan to put it up, finishd. Nov. 19. employed Dinsmore Nov. 1. 18. 19. otherwise Johnny Nov. 2. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. It took them 13. days work of Dinsmore 9. do. of John Hemmings."12

1799 December 20. "Pd. James Dinsmore 20.D."13

1799 December 21. (Memorandum to Richard Richardson). "In the spring of the year, plaister the rooms as fast as Mr. Dinsmore prepares them."14

1800 May 31. "Pd. Jas. Dinsmore 10.D."15

1800 July 26. "Pd. Dinsmore 10.D."16

1800 November 22. "Gave Jas. Dinsmore ord. on Higginbotham 20.D."17

1801 January 3. (Thomas Mann Randolph to Jefferson). "Dinsmore keeps account of the nail rod and nails."18

1801 January 23. (Jefferson to Thomas Mann Randolph). "I am sincerely concerned for the misfortune to poor Holmes. I have not yet seen his father on the subject, who is a clerk in the register's office here. Lewis must continue under mr Dinsmore, in order to expedite that work." John Holmes died from injuries sustained from a fall off a scaffold.19

1801 February 21. (Jefferson to Daniel Trump). "You have no doubt heard of the unfortunate fate of poor mr Holmes .... the object of the present is to see if you can procure one to supply his place. good humor & sobriety are the two indispensable qualities. skill in his business is now become more important, as I shall be little at home myself. ... whoever goes will find a valuable friend & companion in James Dinsmore whom mr Carstairs procured for me in Philadelphia about 3. or 4. years ago."20

1801 May 22. (James Stuart to Jefferson). "I am under infinite obligations to Jams. Dinsmore for the friendly attention paid by him, to the ramains of our deceased son [John Holmes]."21

1801 June 15. "Desired J. Barnes to remit 400.D. to Philadelphia subject to the order of Andrew Dinsmore at Kennett near Wilmington Delaware, to be charged to James Dinsmore."22

1801 August 4. "Pd. Dinsmore on account 3. half Joes 24.D."23

1801 August 10. "Recd. from Jas. Dinsmore for nails 2.33."24

1801 August 17. "Charge J. Dinsmore cash recd. for nails from ... 1-17-1."25

1801 November 28. "Inclosed the 30.D. bank notes to James Dinsmore for Wansher."26

1801 December 4. (Jefferson to Thomas Mann Randolph). "In a letter by that post to mr Dinsmore I gave him an account of the tragical end of James Hemmings."27

1802 January 23. (Dinsmore to Jefferson). "[T]he old Woman Junea is dead the rest of the famly all well. ... I am still engaged in the Dineing room."28

1802 February 3. (Jefferson to Thomas Mann Randolph). "Prince Ruspoli, a Roman Noble proposing in a tour which he is taking to Rockbridge, to pass by Monticello ... have his enquiries more satisfactorily answered, than by mr Dinsmore, to whom I have given him a letter, desiring his attendance on him."29

1802 February 12. (James Dinsmore to Jefferson). "I am Still engaged in the dining room. & have got one of the arches up .... to further the work I will Make them [sash for tea room arch] at night as they must be put in before the architrave is put up."30

1802 March 8. (Chart of year's expenses). "Building ... Dinsmore ... Warnscher."31

1802 March 16. (John Wayles Eppes to Jefferson). "They were preparing at the House at Monticello to lay down the floor of the Hall, which Mr. Dinsmore expected to finish by tomorrow Evening."32

1802 April 25. "Inclosed to Jas. Dinsmore for Wanscher 10.D."33

1802 May 16. "... I promised to settle interest on it [i.e., Oldham's back pay] as I do on Dinsmore's."34

1802 September 30. "I am to pay James Dinsmore for John Perry 13.50."35

1802 November 25. (Jefferson to Thomas Mann Randolph). "[M]r Dinsmore on your giving him permission, will engage sawyers to cut them [cherry stocks] up, or perhaps it would be better for mr Lilly to cut and bring the stocks home."36

1802 December 1. (Jefferson to Dinsmore). "[I]f by the removal of the nailboys to mr Lilly’s you should cease to recieve money enough for your current purposes, let me know ...."37

1803 March 31. "Pd. James Dinsmore on account 10.D."38

1803 August 9. "Pd. James Dinsmore on acct. 20.D."39

1803 September 18. "On settlement with James Dinsmore I am in his debt this day 526.21 D. besides his wages from July 1. 1803."40

1803 October 30. (Thomas Jefferson Randolph to Jefferson). "I was at Monticello yesterday and Mr. Dinsmore had almost finished the cornice in the hall and was to set of for Philadelphia to day."41

1803 November 3. "Gave James Dinsmore ord. on J. Barnes for 40.D."42

1804 May 9. "Paid Dinsmore 10.D."43

1804 June 13. (Jefferson to Dinsmore). "After you have finished the Dome room, I would rather you should finish the three bed rooms on the same floor that we may have them plaistered and ready for use."44

1804 August 5. (Richard Richardson to Jefferson). "I Shall Be glad to hear how far advancd you have got your house and what has Become of James Dinsmore."45

1804 August 19. "Pd. James Dinsmore 20.D."46

1804 August 18. (Jefferson to Richard Richardson). "[M]r Dinsmore, after whom you enquire, is still with me & well. the progress in my buildings, after which you enquire also, has been steady. you had finished all the bricklayer’s work before you left it. the house joiner’s & plaisterer’s work within are nearly concluded. the latter will finish in 3. weeks; the former will occupy the present year, & the next will probably finish the outside work."47

1804 September 22. "Paid Mrs. Lewis for bacon furnished Dinsmore £5-17."48

1804 December 23. "Inclosed to James Dinsmore on account 50.D."49

1805 April 14. "Pd. James Dinsmore on acct. 5.D."50

1805 June 6. "Recd. from bk. US ... draughts ... on bk. US. in Baltim. ... J. Spear's orders from ... Jas. Dinsmore 30.D."51

1805 June 26. (Jefferson to Dinsmore). "I inclose you two specimens of cherry, one done with boiled linseed oil, the other with the newspaper composition you referred to. I think the former the best; but am inclined to believe that daily rubbing with wax will soon produce the same effect. I rather think therefore of leaving the floor to time to give it’s proper colour."52

1805 August 4. "Pd. James Dinsmore for Mrs. Lewis & Fitz 5.16."53

1805 September 25. "Pd. James Dinsmore 10.D."54

1805 September 27. "Pd. James Dinsmore 10.D."55

1805 November 14. (Jefferson to John Jordan). "I will ask the favor of you to settle the amount of the work done at Monticello with mr Dinsmore according to the principles of our agreement. such a settlement certified by him will be accepted."56

1806 January 3. (Dinsmore to Jefferson). "The Subscriber hath Measured the Brick work done by John Jordan, for Thomas Jefferson at Monticell and finds it to contain twenty Eight thousand Eight hundred & Eighty Bricks."57

1806 January 31. (Jefferson to James Ogilvie). "The key [to library] is at present in the hands of mr Dinsmore."58

1806 March 15. "Pd. Mr. Dinsmore from Monto. 30.D."59

1806 April 19. "Drew on bank U.S. ... in favr. Luke Tiernan & co. for J. Spier of Charlottesville by an order of James Dinsmore for 50.D."60

1806 December 9. "Assumed to John Speer on order of James Dinsmore 43."61

1807 January 11. "Inclosed to Edmund Bacon ... for ... Dinsmore 20."62

1807 April 15. "[P]d. James Dinsmore 20.D."63

1807 May 13. (Jefferson to Edmund Bacon). "Joe works with mr Stewart, John Hemmings & Lewis with mr Dinsmore .... Mr. Dinsmore is to be furnished with bread grain from the mill. the proportion of corn & wheat is left to his own discretion. he provides his own provisions ...."64

1807 June 26. (Dinsmore to Jefferson). "We have finished the dome Cornice & are going on with the Ballustrade ... It may probably be necessary now to inform you that I do not wish you to consider me as engaged for any particular time after the expiration of the present year, and also that I shall expect thirty dollars per month for the time that I continue with you."65

1807 August 10. "Pd. James Dinsmore 20.D."66

1807 December 11. (Dinsmore to Jefferson). "[W]e have finished the Shutters of the Hall & parlour, & are now getting the front shutters for the dineing room ready. I purpose finishing the front shutters & hanging the sashes of the whole house the first work without you wish me to go on with some thing else in preferance—I am afraid we will make a tedious Busness of the ballusters if we have to depend on old Abram to get locust, I think it would be better to get Mr Perry to hew it—."67

1808 January 30. (Dinsmore to Jefferson). "[W]e have finished the Shutters & Sashes of the Hall Parlour & Dineing room, and are now engaged at the venetion work adjoining the green house ... we must make the Sashes for P forrest so soon as it is dry that Mr. Barry may get them Glaized before he quits here."68

1808 February 23. (Jefferson to Hugh Chisholm). "I shall be anxious that the South pavilion be in readiness when I come home in April, because I have as many trunks of books now arrived at Monticello as will fill it, and which must be opened when I come home. I wish you to take every possible care not to injure the floor; for this purpose 2 courses of waste plank should be laid on it, breaking joints so that no lumps of brick may get in to scratch it. I hope mr Dinsmore will have his part ready, towit, doors, sashes, chairboards &c."69

1808 April 15. (Bacon to Jefferson). "[H]aving so many wirk men to Keep imployed. Backens my wirk [leveling the garden] more than I would wish as Mr. Chisholm have 3 hands and Mr. Dinsmore one all winter and at present to Turn the Lathe which stops one Cart."70

1808 May 12. "Pd. James Dinsmore 100.D."71

1808 June 7. (Jefferson to Bacon). "You will furnish mr Maddox, while working on the stable with assisdance, hauling, lime, sand so that I may only have to pay him for laying the stone. I presume mr Dinsmore will let him be of his mess while here. if objected to however, do for him what you can best. ... Whiskey is wanted for the house, some for mr Dinsmore."72

1808 June 24. (Dinsmore to Jefferson). "I Could dispose of five hundred Dollars to very good advantage if I had it by the 8th of augst."73

1808 August 8. "Paid James Dinsmore 500.D."74

1808 September 8. (Jefferson to Hugh Chisholm). "[M]r Dinsmore goes to work for him [James Madison] about Christmas."75

1808 September 23. (Jefferson to Madison). "Dinsmore has suggested a very handsome improvement of your house, & I think the easiest by which you can make a fine room. it is to throw the middle room between your two passages out into a bow on the South side, taking a little from the passages to give it breadth, and with or without a portico there as you please. it will be somewhat in the manner of my parlour."76

1808 November 7. "Inclosed to Edmund Bacon ... [for] James Dinsmore 50 ... Directed Gibson & Jefferson to pay 450.D. into the bank of Richmond for James Dinsmore in part of my balance to him."77

1808 November 18. (Martha Jefferson Randolph to Jefferson). "I gave the keys of the wine cellar in to Dinsmore's hands who promissed to superintend the botling of the wine."78

1808 December 1. (Dinsmore to Jefferson). "I had a letter from my Brother by last post dated oppelousas, (Orleans Territory) informing me that if I had any intention of moveing to that Countrey (which I had heretofore been mentioning to him) that now was the time to purchase lands."79

1808 December 11. (Jefferson to Dinsmore). "[O]n the subject of the investment of your money in lands at the Opelousas, on which you ask my advice, I must desire it to be recieved in sacred confidence."80

1809 January 19. (Dinsmore to Jefferson). "We are now employed at the Cornice for the Piazza."81

1809 January 23. "[Drew on Gibson & Jefferson] ... to deposit in the bk. of Richmond for Jas. Dinsmore 500."82

1809 January 30. "Inclosed to James Dinsmore an order on the bk. Richmond for the 500.D. above mentd. Jan. 23."83

1809 February 24. (Dinsmore to Jefferson). "I am now hanging the Bells .... We have nearly finished the Cornice haveing only a few peices of the egg & dart Moulding to Carve. ... You will please to mention to Mr. Madison that we expect to move to his place some time in the latter end of March."84

1809 April 17. "Settled with James Dinsmore & the balance of 618.40 D. agreed to be due him & to bear interest from this date."85

1809 April 19. (Jefferson to Madison). "Dinsmore and Neilson set out yesterday for Montpelier."86

1809 December 29. (Isaac A. Coles to Jefferson). "The Grisly bearskin is one that was received here, after your return to Monticello, & you will get it from Mr Dinsmore in Orange, to whose care it has been entrusted."87

1810 September 26. (Jefferson to Dinsmore). "Johnny Hemings is just entering on a job of sash doors for the house at Poplar Forest, and tells me he cannot proceed without his sash planes & the templet belonging to them in your possession."88

1812 February 3. (Jefferson to Albert Gallatin). "You are to consider me in this letter as a witness & not a sollicitor. it is written at the request of a mr James Dinsmore who lived in my family 10. years as a housejoiner, did all the housejoinery of my house, being one of the ablest of his calling, and one of the best men I have ever known. while I lived in Washington he applied to me for a Surveyor’s place for his brother John Dinsmore in the Western country. I recommended him to mr Briggs, who employed him ... I am disposed from a knolege of his brother, to expect he is a good man also."89

1813 February 7. "On the 1st. inst. I put into E. Bacon's hands ... 4£ for Jas. Dinsmore for 1000.f. plank furnished."90

1813 August 2. "Drew on do. [Gibson & Jefferson] in favr. Saml. & James Leitch for 1000.D. to wit principal of my note to Jas. Dinsmore assd. them 618.40 interest from 1809. Apr. 7. to 1813. July 31. 159."91

1813 December 30. "Note of the 20.D. ante Nov. 17. pd. to E. Bacon, he paid to ... James Dinsmore. plank. 75."92

1815 March 4. (Jefferson to Thomas Munroe). "[Y]ou will therefore I presume be glad of the offer of good workmen from every quarter. two such propose to offer themselves from hence, James Dinsmore and John Nielson. the former I brought from Philadelphia in 1798. and he lived with me 10. years. a more faithful, sober, discreet, honest and respectable man I have never known. he is at present half owner of a valuable manufacturing mill in this neighborhood. ... both are house joiners of the first order. they have done the whole of that work in my house, to which I can affirm there is nothing superior in the US. after they had finished with me they worked 2. or 3. year's for the President, to whom therefore they are well known. ... the most difficult job you have is the dome of the Representatives, and I doubt if there be any men more equal to it than these. Dinsmore built the one to my house, which tho' much smaller, is precisely on the same principles .... I strongly recommend these men to you, and if you employ them I shall have the double gratification of having served men worthy of trust, and of putting a public trust into worthy hands."93

1818 May 26. (John Perry to Jefferson). "Mr. Dinsmore who will hand you this has promised to begin work on the pavillion I have undertaken to do for the College—I hope by this arrangement that we shall be yet able to have it done in time or So near that it will not make So much difference—Mr. Dinsmore will make everry arrangement with you respecting the manner in which the work will be done."94

1819 April 5. "James Dinsmore has paid for me to J. Pollock for leather 38.46½ and now pays the balance 4.D. in cash for pork he purchased of me."95

Further Sources

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