You are here
Slaves Who Gained Freedom
Several members of the enslaved community at Monticello became free men and women. Freedom from slavery could be granted, purchased, or earned by means of escape. An individual who was "given his time" achieved an "unofficial" freedom.
Thomas Jefferson granted freedom to seven enslaved men. Two were freed during Jefferson's lifetime and five were freed by the terms of Jefferson's will. All seven were skilled tradesmen, ideally capable of finding employment as freed men.
During Jefferson's lifetime, three enslaved members of the Hemings family were allowed to leave Monticello without pursuit. No known records document the departure of other slaves without pursuit. Additionally, some enslaved individuals successfully escaped from Monticello despite pursuit.
About 200 individuals were sold at estate sales after Jefferson's death. Some of those sold from Monticello eventually acquired freedom.
The lists below provide the names of enslaved members of the Monticello community who are known to have achieved freedom. The dates of the person's life span are provided where available.
Freed by Jefferson during his lifetime
Freed in Jefferson's will (1826-1827)
- Joseph Fossett (1780-1858)
- Burwell Colbert (1783-1850+)
- Madison Hemings (1805-1856)
- John Hemmings (1776-1833)
- Eston Hemings (1808-1856)
Left Monticello, with Jefferson's tacit consent
- James Hemings (son of Critta Hemings Bowles, 1787-?) – left Monticello in 1805
- Beverly Hemings (1798-1822+) – left Monticello in 1822
- Harriet Hemings (1801-1822+) – left Monticello in 1822
Others who gained freedom after leaving Monticello
(Please note that this list does not include those who gained their freedom through the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865.)
- Brown Colbert – freed in order to remove to Liberia
- Mary Colbert – freedom purchased by her family members
- Melinda Colbert – apparently freed by John Wayles Eppes
- Edith Hern Fossett, Ann-Elizabeth Fossett Isaacs (1812-1902), Peter Fossett (1815-1901), William Fossett, and Daniel Fossett – purchased and freed by Joseph Fossett and his family members
- Isabella Fossett – ran away
- Patsey Fossett – ran away in 1827, and living free in Cincinnati by the time of the 1850 Census
- John Freeman – sold to James Madison and later freed
- Peter Hemings (1770-1834+) – sold to a family member and freed
- Sally Hemings – probably "given her time" by Thomas Jefferson's family after Jefferson's death
- Wormley Hughes – "given his time" by Thomas Jefferson's family after Jefferson's death
- Israel Gillette Jefferson – purchased his own freedom with the aid of his wife
- Stanton, Free Some Day.
- "Monticello Slaves Who Gained Freedom." A version of the above article written for elementary and middle-school reading levels. The Monticello Classroom. Thomas Jefferson Foundation.
- Plantation Database. Thomas Jefferson Foundation.
- Look for further sources in the Thomas Jefferson Portal.