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Cattle played important roles at Monticello. They supplied beef, milk, and butter, and their manure was used to fertilize crops. Oxen were used to pull plows and carts, and later on, were butchered for their meat. Generally, Thomas Jefferson did not import cattle, but got them from western Virginia.1 The cattle were raised on plantations in Albemarle and Bedford counties and were butchered either at Bedford or at Monticello. They grazed in pastures and woods, but never in cultivated fields.2
Primary Source References
1775 February 8. "A large plough with 4. oxen ploughed 24. furrows half a mile long 10.I. broad & 6.I. deep in a day, which is about 1¼ acres."3
1793 June 30. (Jefferson to Thomas Mann Randolph). "Such a farm will well maintain 150. cattle, which properly attended to will make manure enough for one feild every year. I suppose 5. ploughs and pair of horses, will do the business of such a farm .... I presume that oxen may be substituted for half the horses."4
1793 August 11. (Jefferson to Thomas Mann Randolph). "I found considerable hopes on the threshing machine expected, as 4. horses suffice to work that, and I had proposed to work my ploughs with oxen."5
1795 December 25. "Recd. of Philip Timberlake for an ox from Poplar forest sold on the road 50/."6
1811 December. (Instructions for Poplar Forest Management). "A pair of well broke oxen, not above middle age is to be set apart for Monticello; and the rest equally divided [between the two farms of Poplar Forest]."7
1811 December 31. (Jefferson to Jeremiah A. Goodman). "[W]e are in very great want of the pair of oxen from Poplar forest, as only 1. pair of those we have are worth a farthing for work. as soon as you can spare the other pair I must get you to send them here. the day I left Poplar Forest I met many carts with a pr of oxen & a horse carrying a hhd of tobo to Lynchbg and with great ease. it occurred to me that instead of making another waggon as I hinted to you, we had much better adopt this mode of carrying our tobo to market, & wheat also. each plantation might equip 2. such carts, so as with the [wa]ggon they might send 5 hhds of tobo or 160. bushels of wheat a day to market."8
1813 July 19. "Drew in his [David Higginbotham's] favor on Gibson & Jefferson for 80.D. to wit for the 25.D. ante 10., the 5. now recd. & 50.D. for Sharp for a pr. of oxen."9
1814 November 11. (Instructions for Poplar Forest Management). "... carry the crop of wheat to the mills ... a cart with 2 oxen & a horse, will do as much at this as a waggon. ... [with] large supplies of hay from clean & well kept meadows, our oxen would be kept in order to do double work, cows give 3. or 4 times the milk, & every thing be fat, without opening the corn house door for a single animal."10
1819 March 29. (Petty Vaughn to Jefferson). "Enclosed I take the liberty of handing you three hastily written papers: ... 3—Respecting Ox Yokes, with an accompanying Model."11
In the period from 1794 to 1796, the Monticello and Shadwell overseers submitted reports on livestock. Hugh Petit noted that the Monticello oxen would need four barrels of corn each month, the beeves would take three barrels per month, and the out cattle at the quarter farms would take on a barrel and a half per month.13 Eli Alexander reported seven oxen and ten cows at Shadwell in January 1795.14 On another occasion, he estimated the cattle's need for corn within one hundred days: "8 oxen when hauling to have 2 gallons each suppose 40 days is 80 bushels of corn." So, presumably the oxen got no corn on their days off.15
- McEwan, Barbara. Thomas Jefferson: Farmer. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1991.
- Look for further sources in Thomas Jefferson's Farm Book at the Massachusetts Historical Society.
- 1. Edmund Bacon, overseer at Monticello from 1806 to 1822, recalled that Jefferson "never imported any cattle while I was with him. We could always get remarkable fine cattle from Western Virginia." Hamilton W. Pierson, Jefferson at Monticello: The Private Life of Thomas Jefferson (New York: Charles Scribner, 1862), 55-56.
- 2. See Betts, Farm Book, 110-11.
- 3. MB, 1:386. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 4. PTJ, 26:423-24. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 5. PTJ, 26:658. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 6. MB, 2:935. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 7. PTJ:RS, 4:379-82. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 8. PTJ:RS, 4:373-74. Transcription available at Founders Online. Goodman was overseer at Poplar Forest in 1812-1815.
- 9. MB, 2:1290. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 10. PTJ:RS, 8:69-72. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 11. PTJ:RS, 14:179-80. Transcription available at Founders Online. This model is lost.
- 12. Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts, Massachusetts Historical Society. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 13. Hugh Petit Memorandum, Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts, Massachusetts Historical Society.
- 14. Memorandum from Alexander, January 10, 1795, in PTJ, 28:243. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 15. Memorandum from Alexander, [ca. December 1794?], in PTJ, 28:235. Transcription available at Founders Online.