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Indentured Servants

Only two indentured servants are known to have worked at Monticello while under the terms of their indentures (Thomas Walker and William Rice). Two other men worked for Thomas Jefferson after completion of their contracted service (Antonio Giannini and Giovannini da Prato). In these four  cases, the term “indentured servant” is used in accordance with its most familiar definition: individuals from outside the colonies who contracted to work for — usually — four or five years in return for passage to America, or who were convicts transported to America as punishment for crimes or indebtedness.

An indenture is an agreement or contract between two parties. More particularly, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it was a contract by which an apprentice was bound to serve a master, who undertook to teach him a trade, or by which someone bound himself to service in return for money or passage to the colonies. Indentured servitude in Virginia was a kind of temporary slavery. While still serving their time, servants were under the total authority of their masters and they could be bought and sold like slaves. They “took up their indentures” when they became free.

In Virginia there was another kind of servitude that involved indentures. The illegitimate mixed-race children of poor women — both African-American and white — were usually bound out by the parish church wardens to serve a master until they reached a certain age (31 until 1765, and then 21, for males, and 18, for females). Two men of this description worked at Monticello — Isaac Jackson and George Manly, the latter after he became free.

There is no record of anyone serving under an indenture at Monticello after 1778. Jefferson did, however, propose this form of labor — in the opposite direction — in 1802, when he suggested that enlaved individuals found guilty of insurrection in the Virginia slave conspiracies of 1800 and 1802 (Gabriel’s Rebellion) be resettled in Africa instead of being executed. Jefferson suggested a kind of indentured servitude to help defray the expenses of resettlement: “[I]f the regulations of the place [Sierra Leone] would permit these emigrants to dispose of themselves, as the Germans & others do who come to this country poor, by giving their labour for a certain term to some one who will pay their passage; .... a serious difficulty would be removed.”1

Chronology and Primary Source References

1769 July 16. George Dudley became the first brickmaker at Monticello, possibly the same George Dudley who had been an indentured servant of Thomas Jefferson’s grandfather Isham Randolph. This Dudley gained his freedom in 1736 by making bricks for Randolph.2

1769 September 26. Jefferson hired Isaac Jackson from Charles Kennedy until 1773, when Jackson became free. Jackson continued to work at Monticello at unspecified tasks until 1778. Since he was an African-American and was freed at the age of 31, he was probably not an indentured servant as such, but the illegitimate mixed-race child of an indigent woman.3

1771. Jefferson tried to obtain a Scottish gardener, indentured for five years. There is no record such a person ever came to Monticello.4

1773 May 21. George Manly, the son of a free woman of color, worked at Monticello from this date to about 1775, at unspecified tasks. Jefferson was his attorney in 1772 in a successful suit to secure his freedom. In accordance with Virginia law, Manly had been bound out to the age of 31, and kept in bondage three years past the time.5

1773 October 5. Jefferson bought from Peter Marks “a convict servant” named Thomas Walker, who made furniture at Monticello until he became free in 1778, when Jefferson wrote in his memorandum book, “Gave Walker his indentures.”6

1774. Jefferson agreed to hire Ralph Ham, “an indented servant,” as a blacksmith. The agreement was canceled and the blacksmith never came to Monticello.7

1775 December 15. In Philadelphia, Jefferson bought the remaining term of service of William Rice, a stonecutter. Rice was almost certainly an indentured servant. He worked at Monticello until 1780, from 1778 as a free man. He probably trained the enslaved man called Jupiter in stonecutting; together with another enslaved stonecutter, called Charles, they cut the stone for the columns of the East Portico.8

1778-1784. Two Italian gardeners, Antonio Giannini and Giovannini da Prato, worked at Monticello in this period. Both had been brought from Italy to Virginia as indentured servants by Jefferson’s neighbor Philip Mazzei and had fulfilled their contracts by the time Jefferson hired them.9

- Lucia Stanton

Further Sources


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