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Minerva Granger (1771-1827+) was born at Shadwell in September 1771, the daughter of Squire and Belinda, who then belonged to Jane Randolph Jefferson. Two years later, Minerva and her family were moved to Monticello, having been conveyed to Thomas Jefferson’s ownership.1 She would spend most of her life at Monticello and, after Jefferson’s death, she would be purchased by his grandson.
Minerva Granger grew up to be an enslaved field laborer on Jefferson's quarter farms. As the mother of nine children, and as a grandmother, she experienced the separation of her family through gifting and sale, although efforts were made to reunite some of her family members.
During Jefferson's absence in France in the 1780s, Minerva married Bagwell Granger (1768-1827+), an older brother of enslaved blacksmith Isaac Granger Jefferson. Their first child was born in 1787, when Minerva was sixteen, and was named Ursula, after Bagwell's mother. By 1794, when Jefferson retired to Monticello and began to keep detailed records, Minerva and Bagwell Granger and their three children were living at the Lego farm.
A list of tools prepared by the overseer in 1795 reveals that Granger was assigned three hoes — one hoe for hilling corn, another for weeding the crops, and a third for grubbing the fields in preparation for the passage of the plows. Her husband had an axe and wedges and hilling and weeding hoes, but no hoe for grubbing. Apparently, such work was reserved for women and old men.
A visitor in 1796 described the four farms that comprised the Monticello plantation, each with an overseer and "cultivated by four negroes, four negresses, four oxen, and four horses."2 As far as we know, Jefferson always maintained the custom of using mixed "gangs" of farm laborers. "Taking gangs of half men and half women, as with us," he wrote his son-in-law in 1793, "I guess we must allow a hand for every 5. acres content of each feild ...."3 Although it is not documented for Minerva Granger, some Monticello enslaved women even drove plows.4
Every June, Minerva and Bagwell Granger became part of the wheat harvesting team, which required almost all able-bodied enslaved workers. In 1796, including the eight enslaved women who were to continue with the plowing, the harvesting force consisted of sixty-six enslaved men, women, and children from the ages of nine to sixty-nine. Bagwell Granger and the strongest men mowed with cradle scythes; Minerva Granger and other women, and their children, gathered and bound the sheaves.5 Harvesting the wheat of all four farms sometimes took as many as twelve long days of steady work.
Minerva and Bagwell Granger had nine children from 1787 to 1811, by which time they also had at least six grandchildren. The records shed little light on arrangements for infant care at Monticello. Jefferson was known to encourage his overseers to allow the enslaved women sufficient time to ensure the health of their infants. In 1820 he wrote to John Wayles Eppes: "I consider a woman who brings a child every two years as more profitable than the best man of the farm. what she produces is an addition to the capital, while his labors disappear in mere consumption."6 Nursing mothers were allowed an extra quarter-peck of cornmeal in the weekly ration.
Minerva and Bagwell Granger's youngest children would have spent the days at the quarters, in the care of an older woman, past the age of useful field labor. This may at some point have been their own grandmother, Belinda (1739-1808). Thomas Jefferson Randolph remembered that at each of the farms "a middle aged woman cooked for the laborers and milked a half a dozen cows and made butter. She spun two and half days task of wool in the week. The children were all brought with their nurses to her house every morning to be taken care of while their mothers were out, she employing as help all old enough."7
The year of the 1796 harvest may have been a difficult one for Minerva Granger. She gave birth to her fourth child in March and a new overseer, William Page, had replaced one of the overseers Jefferson had brought from Maryland. Page seems to have been a particularly harsh manager. Jefferson noted in 1798 that Page needed "to be moderated."8 When he later became the Pantops overseer for John Wayles Eppes, it became impossible to hire local enslaved workers because of the "terror of Pages name."9
By the end of 1798, Bagwell and Minerva Granger had been moved to the south side of the river, possibly to Tufton. This may be the time when Jefferson noted that "Davy & Lewis & abram have done the carpenter's work of Bagwell's house in 6. days. getting the stuff & putting it together."10 They then had a very different overseer — Bagwell's own father, "Great George" Granger.
Here they continued an industrious life that is reflected in various records from 1790. For Minerva Granger, the workday did not end when the master's work was completed by dusk. She had to care for and feed her children, wash and mend clothing, tend a poultry yard, and work in her vegetable garden. Minerva and her husband appear in various accounts selling a variety of products to Jefferson and his household: eggs, cucumbers, cymlin squash, watermelons, hops, and even tobacco during Jefferson's absence in France, as well as the fruits of Bagwell Granger's trapping and fishing expeditions.
When Jefferson leased Tufton and some Monticello fields in 1801, Bagwell and Minerva Granger were leased as well. For eight years, John H. Craven was their master.11 Also in 1801, their daughter Ursula was taken by Jefferson to Washington for training in French cookery. Ursula Granger returned to Monticello in 1802, working in the kitchen when Jefferson was resident there and going back to the fields when he returned to Washington.
Jefferson took Tufton, and the enslaved workers leased with it, back into his own hands in 1809 when he retired. In 1817, he leased most of his farming fields to his grandson Thomas Jefferson Randolph, along with sixty enslaved individuals, including Bagwell and Minerva Granger and some of their children. At Jefferson's death in 1826, they were living at Tufton. Bagwell Granger was given an assessed value of $50 and Minerva Granger, then only fifty-five, was declared worth "nothing." At the January 1827 sale of slaves and furnishings, Thomas Jefferson Randolph bought Bagwell and Minerva Granger (for $120) as well as their four youngest children; he bought their daughter Virginia and her family from the estate in 1829 (Jefferson had given him their daughter Bec in 1812). Their oldest child, Ursula, was sold to University of Virginia professor George Blaetterman at the 1827 sale.
Minerva Granger's Children
Ursula (b. January 5, 1787)
Mary (b. October 29, 1788)
Virginia (b. May 8, 1793)
Esther (b. March 19, 1796)
Bec (b. 1797)
Nanny (b. April 10, 1799 or 1800)
Willis (b. January 6, 1806)
Archy (b. February 3, 1808)
Jordan (b. September 1810 or 1811)
- Lucia Stanton, 1993
- Thomas Jefferson Foundation. Getting Word African American Oral History Project. "Granger Family."
- Stanton, Lucia. "Those Who Labor for My Happiness": Slavery at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2012.
- 1. Deed from Jane Randolph Jefferson for the Conveyance of Slaves, September 29, 1773, in PTJ, 27:675-77. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 2. François-Alexandre-Frédéric, Duc de La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, Travels through the United States of North America, the Country of the Iroquois, and Upper Canada, in the Years 1795, 1796, and 1797 (London: R. Phillips, 1800), 3:144. See also Peterson, Visitors, 25.
- 3. Jefferson to Thomas Mann Randolph, July 28, 1793, in PTJ, 26:578. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 4. See Farm Book, 1774-1824, page 46, by Thomas Jefferson [electronic edition], Thomas Jefferson Papers: An Electronic Archive (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2003).
- 5. Ibid.
- 6. Jefferson to Eppes, June 30, 1820, The Thomas Jefferson Papers, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 7. Thomas Jefferson Randolph, "Recollections of Thomas Jefferson," n.d., Papers of Thomas Jefferson and the Randolph Family, Accession #9828, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library, quoted in Stanton, Free Some Day, 42.
- 8. Jefferson to Thomas Mann Randolph, January 25, 1798, in PTJ, 30:56. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 9. Eppes to Jefferson, February 10, 1803, in PTJ, 39:489. Transcription available at Founders Online.
- 10. Thomas Jefferson, Farm Book, 1774-1824, page 67, [electronic edition], Thomas Jefferson Papers: An Electronic Archive (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2003).
- 11. Indenture with John H. Craven for the Lease of Fields and Slaves at Tufton and Monticello, September 23, 1800, in PTJ, 32:163-66. Transcription available at Founders Online.