Peter Hemings worked as an enslaved cook, brewer, and tailor. He was the son of Elizabeth Hemings and Jefferson's father-in-law, John Wayles. In 1774, Jefferson inherited him from Wayles’s estate. Hemings grew up on the Monticello mountaintop and married Betsey, and enslaved woman owned by Jefferson's son-in-law Thomas Mann Randolph’s; the couple had at least five children. Hemings's older brother James Hemings accompanied Jefferson to Paris where he learned the art of French cookery. James passed on his skills to Hemings who succeeded his brother as Monticello cook from 1796 until 1809; Jefferson notified his overseer at the end of his presidency that, “the two cooks [Edith Hern Fossett and Fanny Gillette Hern] which are here [Washington, DC] will take the place of Peter Hemings.” Hemings and his family moved from a room "next the kitchen" in the main house's South Wing to a “loghouse … on the Mulberry Row.”

In 1813, Captain Joseph Miller, a British brewmaster, successfully taught Hemings how to malt and brew beer; Jefferson wrote that, “Peter’s brewing of the last season I am in hopes will prove excellent…the only cask of it we have tried proves so.”  Jefferson never freed Hemings, but by 1830 he was working as a free tailor in Charlottesville.

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).

Article on Peter Hemings in the Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia »