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Fish was a staple provision for Thomas Jefferson's household and for enslaved laborers on his plantation. In the warmer months, fish was purchased locally or caught from the Rivanna River or from local ponds by enslaved laborers. Barreled or salted fish was purchased from Richmond during the winter. To hold and breed fish, Jefferson had his enslaved workforce construct fish ponds at various locations, including the West Lawn at Monticello and at Tufton farm.

Primary Source References

1794 August 14. "Pd. Colo. Bell 19.77 D. which was intended to replace the 6.D. borrowed ante July 24. and 13.5 D. he paid for bringing up 9. barrels of herring for me."1

1796 July 25. "Drew on Charles Johnston & co. in favor of Darmsdadt for £27. to pay for 12. barrels of herrings."2

1801 June 26. "Gave ord. on J. Barnes for 52.D. for 13. Bar. herrings in favr. Sam. Carr."3

1803 June 1. "Gave Sam. Carr ord. on J. Barnes for 73.5 D. for 18. barrels herrings from Colo. Lile."4

1804 May 22. "Gave order on J. Barnes in favr. Hollis for 35.D. for 10. barrels herring gobbed."5

1805 March 23. "Having concluded to make a fish pond on the branch below the brick-yard, I proceeded with the Spirit level, and having driven a stake in the valley between 2. points of rock making in on each side the level being placed 4. f 5 1/2 I. above the ground, struck at 21 yds distance above ... 2d. 4. f. 4 I. above the ground, struck at 32 yds distance above ... 3d 4. f. 3 1/2 I. above the ground, struck at 13 yds distance above ... 4th. 4 f. 6 1/2 I. above the ground, struck at 21 yds distance above ... 5th. 4 f. 6 I. above the ground, struck at 23 yds distance above ... so that a dam at the 1st. 22. 1 1/2 high wd. flow the water back 110 yds, or leaving out the 1st. & making the dam at the 2d. stake 4. 5 1/2 21 a dam of the height of ... 17.8 would flow the water back ... 89 yards or two dams of 8 f 10 I. would do the same. They would be about 50. yds long."6

1805 May 23. "I observe that the nearer the spring the smoother the ground, and that making the upper pond flow up to the spring & the lower up to the upper dam, two ponds may easily be got."7

1808 August 16-1809 December 13. "The fish pond near the S. pavilion is an Ellipsis 5. yds. wide, 10. yds. long = 40. sq. yds, very nearly 1. yard deep = 40. cub. yds. contents."8

1812 April. "The two fish ponds on the Colle branch were 40. days work to grub, clean, and make the dams."9

1812 April 20. "Gave James 5.D. to procure carp at Ashlin's for the pond."10

1812 April 20. (Jefferson to John Ashlin). "I have just made me a fishpond and am desirous to get some carp fish to stock it. we used formerly when hauling the seyne for shad, to catch some carp also, and I presume therefore that some few are now caught at your place. I send the bearer therefore with a boat, with directions to stay a few days, and procure for me all the carp which shall be caught while he is there. ... if through your interest he can be admitted to join in hauling the seyne & come in for a share of shad so as to bring us some, I will thank you."11

1812 April 23. (Jefferson to James Powell Cocke). "I have just finished a fish pond and wish to get some of the Roanoke chub to stock it. I am told you now possess the pond that was your relation & neighbor mr Cocke's. could you spare me a few to begin with?"12

1812 April 23. (James Powell Cocke to Jefferson). "I am sorry to observe that the geting supply of fish is most uncertain, not having made arrangt to command them. yet If you will send at the risque be assured I will do my indeavour to procure them. I shall shortly set about some method in order to have them at command & would think the fall would be more proper to remoove them as they are now spawning & much more certain to get them."13

1812 April 24. (Jefferson to James Powell Cocke). "I am so anxious to save a year, by taking advantage of the present spawning season, not yet over, that I send the bearer to take the chance of your being able by some means to catch some chubs and the rather as his time is not very valuable: insomuch that if a detention of 2. or 3. days could secure my object, I should think it more than an equivalent for his time. I suppose that if taken with a hook & line and the hook carefully withdrawn from the mouth, it would not hurt them, especially if the beard of the hook were filed off. I have therefore furnished the bearer with a line and hooks of different sizes, and altho' he knows nothing about angling, yet with a little of your kind direction he would immediately understand it, and may employ himself in catching them, until you think he has a sufficiency."14

1812 April 26. "[G]ave James a 2d. time to buy live carp for the pond 5.D."15

1812 April 26. (Jefferson to Matthew Wills). "I return you many thanks for the fish you have been so kind as to send me, and still more for your aid in procuring the carp, and you will further oblige me by presenting my thanks to Capt Holman & mr Ashlin. I have found too late, on enquiry, that the cask sent was an old and foul one, and I have no doubt that must have been the cause of the death of the fish. the carp, altho' it cannot live the shortest time out of the water, yet is understood to bear transportation in water the best of any fish whatever. the obtaining breeders for my pond being too interesting to be abandoned, I have had a proper smack made, such as is regularly used for transporting fish, to be towed after the boat, and have dispatched the bearer with it without delay, as the season is passing away. I have therefore again to sollicit your patronage, as well as Captain Holman's in obtaining a supply of carp. I think a dozen would be enough, and would therefore wish him to come away as soon as he can get that number."16

1813 May 5 or 6. "[P]ut 2. chubs from Cartersville into the fish pond. lower one.17

1813 May 18. (James Powell Cocke to Jefferson). "Untill within a few days past we have not been able to procure the chub fish, If you will send on thursday next a ceareful hand prepaired for there conveyance, I have little doubt but the nesessary supply for your pond can be made which will give pleasure to your friend ... P.S. Growth of the chub, at 1 year old 8 to 9 Ins long, at 2–11 to 12—3–15 to 16—the weight not assertained but suppose the latter at 3 to 3½ lbs."18

1813 May 22. (Jefferson to James Powell Cocke). "I send off a careful man with a cart and cask this morning. I am very thankful for this kindness having been very unsuccesful in my endeavors to get a stock for my pond. I sent a boat & a couple of hands about three weeks ago to Cartersville, where mr Harrison was so kind as to exert himself to get some. he procured 9. but they were taken with the hook & line, and 7. of them died soon. 2. only got here alive, one of them much wounded, & both having the appearance of being of the same sex; so that I had little expectation of a stock from them."19

1813 May 23. "[P]ut 5. more [chubs] from Jas. P. Cocke into ... [fishpond]."20

1813 May 25. "Gave Ned's James to buy fish 2.D."21

1813 May 25. (Jefferson to Randolph Jefferson). "Supposing the shad season not to be quite over, and that in hauling for them they catch some carp, I send the bearer with a cart and cask to procure for me as many living carp as he can to stock my fishpond. I should not regard his staying a day or two extra, if it would give a reasonable hope of furnishing a supply. he is furnished with money to pay for the carp, for which I have always given the same price as for shad. should he not be able to lay out the whole in carp he may bring us 3. or 4. shad if he can get them."22

1813 May 26. (Randolph Jefferson to Jefferson). "[T]hey cetch no shad a tall at this time so that I have sent James up to warren to try and procure some carp for you and have wrote to mrBrown a bout them if it is in his power to git any to fernish your boy with what you derected him to bring in the barril alive I have understood they cetch a number there every night in the mill race ... I hope mr Brown will fernish you with the carp if they cetch any."23

1813 June 21. (Randolph Jefferson to Jefferson). "I wrote very pressingly to capt Brown by your boy in respect to the carp for you but found it was all in vane from what James tells me he got non."24

1814 April 27. "James (Isbel's) to procure some living carp for the pond 5.D."25

1814 May 3. "[P]ut living carp into the 2d. fishpond."26

1814 July 29. "[T]his fresh carried away the dam of my chub-pond. see ante 1813.May 5.& 23. and ran so deep over the dam of the carp pond that those ante May 3. probably went off."27

1817 May 6. "Wrote to Joseph Darmsdat for 12. bar. herrings & 1. of shad and desired him to call on Mr. Gibson for the amount of these & of the last year’s like supply, not paid for."28

1819 May 3. (Jefferson to John Hartwell Cocke). "It is really scandalous, after so liberal a supply of fish from you to ask a second donation. yet I am forced to it by the stupidity of the servant who in my absence was entrusted with the mission. instead of never stopping till he got home, night overtook him on the road, he encamped, and the water being unchanged thro’ the night, he found the fish all dead on his awakening in the morning. my ponds being all in readiness, and the spawning season hastening away, I am obliged to renounce all modesty and ask your aid a second time. the servant now sent can be relied on never to stop till he delivers them into the pond."29

1819 May 6. "[P]ut 2 carp into the 2d. fishpond and 4. chubs into the 3d. The 1st. or uppermost pond is for eels. The carp and chub came from Genl. Cocke's. ... eels put into the 1st. pond as we catch them are 4+2+2+7+3+1."30

1819 May 25. "Wrote to Joseph Darmsdat for 12 bar. herrings & 1. of shad, & desired him to apply to P. Gibson for payment of that as well as 88.85 last years supply."31

1820 May 27. "[P]ut 3. carp into the carp pond & 4. chub into the chub pond. from Genr. Cocke."32

1821 April 1. (Jefferson to John Hartwell Cocke). "I return you many thanks for the carp."33


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