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Critta Hemings Bowles

Critta Hemings Bowles (1769-1850) was the daughter of Elizabeth Hemings and John Wayles, Thomas Jefferson's father-in-law. She lived at Monticello from about 1775 until 1827.

Bowles seems to have worked for the Jefferson family as an enslaved domestic. In 1793, when she was living in the stone workmen's house (now known as the Textile Workshop), Jefferson gave orders for her to move out of that building to "the nearest" of the new log cabins on Mulberry Row, as she was "oftenest wanted about the house."1 In 1802, Jefferson's builder wrote that "the floors in the plaistered rooms ought to be washed out: but as Critta is gone there is no person to undertake it."2

Bowles was then temporarily living in Chesterfield County with Jefferson's daughter Maria, who had "borrow'd Crity as a nurse" to her infant son, Francis Wayles Eppes.3 It was Francis Eppes, twenty-five years later, who bought Bowles's freedom for fifty dollars. The manumission deed referred to "Critty, some times called Critty Bowles, the wife of Zachariah Bowles a free man of colour" living in Albemarle County.4 After obtaining her freedom, Critta Bowles lived with her husband on his property until her death in 1850 at the age of 81.

The only references to Zachariah Bowles in Jefferson's records are in the accounts of his steward, Nicholas Lewis. In 1790 and 1791, Zachariah Bowles was paid for occasional labor in the harvest and in raising a barn. He owned his own farm of 96 acres north of Charlottesville and left a life interest in it to his wife at his death in 1835.5 At this time, they had living with them Martha Ann Colbert, a slave belonging to Jefferson's grandson Meriwether Lewis Randolph. She may have been the daughter of Jefferson's enslaved butler Burwell Colbert, Critta Bowles's nephew. Bowles's own will, in 1847, made provision for Martha Colbert, calling her "a female slave, raised by me."6

Critta Hemings Bowles had one son, James, born in 1787. He worked as a carpenter at Monticello until he ran away about 1804, escaping "seveare treatment" he had experienced at the hands of the white overseer, Gabriel Lilly. Jefferson tried to persuade him to return, but James Hemings vanished just before boarding a stage back to Charlottesville from Richmond where he had been found.7 He was probably one of several light-skinned slaves who were allowed to run away. He made a brief reappearance at Monticello in 1815, when Jefferson noted paying him for finding a missing piece of one of his scientific instruments.8

- Lucia Stanton, 1993

Further Sources

Filed In: 
People, Slavery
Related Links:
Monticello Classroom: An Enslaved Craftsman
Plantation Database
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