Moses Hern, a nailer and blacksmith, was a son of David and Isabel Hern, who were inherited by Jefferson from his father-in-law, John Wayles. In the harvest of 1796, Moses Hern was one of three adolescent boys to load sheaves of wheat on carts.  He married “abroad;” his wife, Mary, was owned by Jefferson’s nephew, Randolph Lewis, and lived on a plantation six miles from Monticello. Hern repeatedly asked Jefferson to purchase his wife. “It was always my intention to buy her whenever I could spare the money if she could be got for a reasonable price,” Jefferson wrote in 1806.  He finally agreed to buy Mary in 1807, stating his “… desire to make all practicable sacrifices to keep man and wife together who have imprudently married out of their respective families.” The Herns were parted again when Jefferson gave Hern to grandson Thomas J. Randolph in 1819. Five years later, Mary and some of their 10 children were sent to Poplar Forest.  The 1827 dispersal sale separated them; Hern apparently ran away from his new owner in Campbell County.

This account is compiled from Lucia Stanton, “Those Who Labor for My Happiness:” Slavery at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello (University of Virginia Press and Thomas Jefferson Foundation, 2012).

Getting Word

Learn more about the lives and stories of the Hern family at our related family history website.