Edward and Jane Gillette, both enslaved field laborers, had twelve children, who worked in the fields, the stables, the kitchen, the textile workshop, and the cooper’s shop. Edward Gillette was also a wagoner and, when Jefferson was in need of a miller, he described Gillette as someone “in whom I have the most perfect confidence.” The Gillettes’ daughter Frances (Fanny), who married enslaved wagoner David Hern, learned French cookery at the President’s House in Washington. Three of their sons (Gill, Israel, and James) drove Jefferson’s landau carriage by riding the horses as postilions. Barnaby, James, and Moses Gillette made flour barrels and tobacco hogsheads, earning money through premiums for productivity and payments for wooden articles they made in their free time.
Israel Gillette, whose recollections were published in 1873, described Jefferson’s death as “an affair of great moment and uncertainty to us slaves.” He and all his family members were sold at auction. With the help of his freeborn wife, Elizabeth, he was able to purchase his freedom and, in 1844, he adopted the Jefferson surname and moved to Ohio. After years as a waiter on an Ohio River steamboat, he bought a small farm in Pike County.
Both Jeffersons were active in the Eden Baptist Church and Israel Jefferson was its deacon and treasurer. In his 1873 recollections, he recalled a conversation he had heard fifty years earlier, when the Marquis de Lafayette came to visit Jefferson at Monticello in 1824. From his position as a postilion on one of the horses drawing Jefferson’s carriage, Israel overheard the “great and good Lafayette” deploring the institution of slavery and the condition of slaves. When recalling this conversation about a situation that “seemed to grieve [Lafayette’s] noble heart,” Israel Jefferson said, “I treasured it up in my heart.”
Israel Jefferson’s brother Moses Gillette, who remained enslaved until 1865, left Virginia to settle near his brother in southern Ohio when he became free after the Civil War. His son, also named Moses, remained in Albemarle County, purchased a farm, and raised a large family. His descendants were unaware of their connection to Monticello until 2006. They spoke of the reluctance of the older generation to discuss the past and were glad to learn of the role their ancestors played in sustaining the plantation community at Monticello.