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Peter Hemings

Peter Hemings (1770-after 1834) was the ninth child of Elizabeth Hemings, matriarch of the Hemings family at Monticello, and her fifth child by her master at the time, John Wayles Skelton —Thomas Jefferson’s father in-law.

In 1794, Hemings's older brother James Hemings, an enslaved cook who had trained in France, began teaching him to become Monticello's principal enslaved cook, a position that Hemings then occupied from 1796 until 1809.1 From the President's House, Thomas Jefferson sent a longing request for Hemings's muffin recipe: "[D]irect us here how to make muffins in Peter’s method. my cook here cannot succeed at all in them, and they are a great luxury to me."2

The restored Beer Cellar under MonticelloIn 1813, Peter Hemings learned brewing and took charge of the brewing and malting operations at Monticello.3 According to Jefferson, Hemings learned brewing "with entire success" and possessed "great intelligence and diligence both of which are necessary."4 Confident of Hemings's skill as a brewer, Jefferson suggested to James Madison that he send a pupil to Monticello to learn brewing, writing that "our malter and brewer is uncommonly intelligent and capable of giving instruction."5

Peter Hemings and his wife Betsy, who was owned by Jefferson's son-in-law Thomas Mann Randolph, were the parents of at least five children. While he was cook, the family lived in a room next to the kitchen. In 1809, Jefferson instructed that Hemings be given his choice of a house on Mulberry Row, and that the house be fixed up "in an entirely comfortable and decent manner."6

After Thomas Jefferson's death, Hemings was purchased by one of his relatives and given his freedom. By then in his late fifties, he earned a living as a tailor in Charlottesville.7

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