The foundation and chimney are all that remain of the Monticello joiner's shop, one of the first buildings to be constructed on Mulberry Row.
In the forty-year course of the construction and reconstruction of the Monticello house, some of the finest architectural woodwork in Virginia was made in the Mulberry Row joiner's shop.
Thomas Jefferson had highly skilled free joiners come to live and work at Monticello. Irishmen like James Dinsmore and John Neilson passed their skills on to their assistants - Jefferson's slaves. One of these enslaved men, John Hemmings, was described by an overseer as "a first rate workman--a very extra workman. He could make anything that was wanted in woodwork." Jefferson considered Dinsmore and Neilson "house joiners of the very first order in their kno[w]lege in architecture, and their practical abilities."
An inventory of tools Dinsmore made in 1809 reveals the specialized nature of the work in the Mulberry Row joiner's shop. He listed over eighty planes for cutting a variety of moldings, each named for shapes they cut - astragal, ogee, ovolo, etc.
Pine and poplar were the main woods used by Monticello's joiners for the architectural woodwork, which was then painted or, in the case of some of the doors, grained to look like mahogany. The parquet floor in the Parlor, the work of James Dinsmore, was of cherry and beech. Most of the joiners were also skilled cabinetmakers, and numerous joiner';s shop-made pieces of mahogany, cherry, and walnut furniture survive. John Hemmings was known to have made chairs, tables, desks, and the body of a landau carriage.
When referring to the housejoinery work of Monticello's free and enslaved craftsmen, Jefferson wrote that "there is nothing superior in the U.S." After 1809, when the house was complete and the white workmen left, African-American artisans like John Hemmings trained young slave apprentices and carried on the exceptional work of the Monticello joiner's shop.
1 screw worth 9/. by [[James Dinsmore|J Dinsmore]]
2 flooring etc. worth 4/ < > by J nelson <0.>
This article is based on Lucia Stanton, Monticello Research Report, July 1995. A joiner was a woodworker who made doors, windows, and decorative finish work, such as cornices and mantels, balustrades, and railings.
Our new app, available for iOS and Android devices, introduces visitors to the individuals who lived and worked on Mulberry Row, once the industrial hub and “Main Street” of Thomas Jefferson’s 5,000-acre plantation. Free wifi is available on site.