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How long was the work and did Monticello's slaves have holidays?

There are no direct references to the work day for Monticello farm laborers. As was true throughout the south, they probably worked from dawn to dusk, with shorter or longer days according to the season. The work day of house servants was unpredictable, as they were "on call." Certain tradesmen doing work that could be measured were "tasked." Each day a nailer might have to make ten pounds of tenpenny nails or a cooper had to finish four flour barrels. Wagoners had to transport a certain number of logs and weavers had to produce, in summer, seven and a half yards of linen shirting. There is evidence that Jefferson designed the tasks to fill the daylight hours. In his chart of work for the spinners and weavers, their task grows with the light from January to June so that their winter work day was nine hours long, while in high summer it lasted fourteen hours.

The enslaved workers at Monticello could pursue their own activities in the evenings and on Sundays and some holidays. Many plantation owners gave their slaves Saturday afternoon off as well. Nothing has yet been found to indicate this was true at Monticello. The usual holidays on slave plantations in Virginia were Christmas, Easter, and Whitsun. There are numerous references to the Christmas holiday (usually several days long) in Jefferson's records.

Did slave children work?

Boys and girls under ten assisted in the care of the very young enslaved children or did light jobs in and around the main house. From the age of ten, they began to work&—in the fields, in the nailery and textile shop, or in the house&—according to their capabilities. In 1796, for instance, eight of the fourteen nailmakers were aged ten to twelve. At the age of sixteen, enslaved boys and girls were considered full-fledged workers, becoming farm laborers or learning trades.

Did Jefferson pay his slaves?

The only Monticello slave to receive something approximating a wage was Great George, who was paid $65 a year (about half the wage of a white overseer) when he served as Monticello overseer. Jefferson paid enslaved persons for work outside their normal work day ("in their own time") and for performing unusually difficult or unpleasant tasks like cleaning the chimneys or the privies. Particularly trusted slaves in important positions —such as Burwell Colbert the butler and woodworker John Hemmings — received annual "gratuities" of $15 or $20. Jefferson gave men in management positions—Little George in the nailery and Joseph Fossett in the blacksmith shop—a percentage of the profits of their operations.

To some skilled workmen (coopers and charcoalburners) Jefferson gave special premiums for productivity and efficiency. Young workers, like the boys in the nailery, were encouraged to be more industrious by non-financial incentives, such as special clothing and meat rations.

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Leni the Cook's picture
Free Some Day, Lucia Stanton, pg 29. "The weekly food rations for each adult consisted only of a peck of cornmeal, a half-pound of pork or pickled beef, and four salted fish-- a diet that was standard plantation fare in Virginia, although Jefferson's provisions of meat was smaller than many of his contemporaries."
Leni the Cook
674908099@facebook's picture
I am an undergraduate student at Berea College. I attended a talk: Chefs and Slaves: The Cooks in Jefferson's Kitchen with Leni Sorenson in which she provided us a list detailing what a slaves food rations would look like. Could you please post that list here or somewhere else on the site you deem appropriate and let me know where it is? Thanks!


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