In 1773 Thomas Jefferson traveled to Cumberland County to attend an estate sale.  His wife, Martha, wanted him to buy “a favorite house woman.”  Jefferson purchased Ursula and her sons, George and Bagwell, a transaction that entailed a second purchase from another plantation owner: Ursula’s husband George.  George and Ursula Granger became two of the most important figures at Monticello.  George Granger was a foreman of farm labor who, in the last few years of his life, was the Monticello overseer, the only enslaved man to occupy this position. Ursula Granger reigned in the dependencies of the Monticello house, as cook and laundress, and was described by Jefferson as uniting “trust and skill.”

As overseer, George Granger’s task was to produce bountiful crops by the work of his fellow slaves, some of them his own family members.  His tobacco crops commanded premium prices in Philadelphia, but the burden of responsibility, with its conflicting loyalties must have been difficult for a sixty-nine-year-old man who labored hard for decades before he took on a supervisory role. George Granger, his wife Ursula, and their son George, a blacksmith and nailery manager, all died within months of each other in 1799 and 1800.

Two of the principal families of Monticello were united when head gardener Wormley Hughes married Bagwell Granger’s daughter Ursula.  Their descendants today thus trace their ancestry to both the Hemings and Granger families.  In his record books, Jefferson referred to the Grangers by their first names only.  The Granger surname became known only in the course of the Getting Word project.  The best known member of the family was until recently identified as Isaac Jefferson.  It seems that Isaac Granger adopted the Jefferson surname after settling in Petersburg in freedom.  His recollections, taken down in the 1840s, provided a vivid picture of life at Monticello.

Isaac Granger Jefferson (1775-1846)//Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library
Tin cup, probably made by Isaac Granger, found in Monticello excavations


“A Concise And Significant Reply”

We have already introduced to the reader old Wormley, a grey-haired servant of Mr. Jefferson.  We once stood with him…
“A Concise And Significant Reply”

In 1851 Wormley Hughes recalls the stream of Monticello visitors.

“We have already introduced to the reader old Wormley, a grey-haired servant of Mr. Jefferson.  We once stood with him before the dilapidated pile of Monticello.  The carriage-houses, three in number, were at the moment under our eye.  Each would hold a four-horse coach.  We inquired-‘Wormley, how often were these filled, in Mr. Jefferson’s time?’  ‘Every night, sir in summer, and we commonly had two or three carriages under that tree,’ said he, pointing to a large tree.  ‘It took all hands to take care of your visitors?’ we suggested.  ‘Yes, sir, and the whole farm to feed them,’ was the concise and significant reply.” (Henry S. Randall, The Life of Thomas Jefferson, 1865, 3: 332)

“The News Flew Like Wildfire”

Wormley, the aged slave already referred to in this work, was between nine and ten years old when Mr. Jefferson…
“The News Flew Like Wildfire”

In 1851, Wormley Hughes remembers Jefferson’s return to Monticello from France sixty years earlier.

“Wormley, the aged slave already referred to in this work, was between nine and ten years old when Mr. Jefferson returned from France [in 1789], and when we talked with him in 1851, had a distinct recollection of the reception scene described above, and he gave us, partly from recollection and partly from the statements of his fellows, several minor touches of the story.

Two or three days before reaching home, Mr. Jefferson had sent an express directing his overseer to have his house made ready for his reception by a specified day.  The overseer mentioned this, and the news flew like wildfire over the different farms which it is customary to mention collectively as Monticello.  The slaves could hardly attend to their work.  They asked leave to make his return a holiday and of course received permission.  Bright and early were all up on the appointed day, washed clean of the stains of labor, and attired in their ‘Sunday best.’  They first determined to receive him at the foot of the mountain; and the women and children refusing to be left behind, down they marched in a body.  Never dragged on hours so slowly!  Finally, the men began to straggle onward–and the swarm did not settle again until they reached the confines of the estate, perhaps two miles from the house.  By and by a carriage and four horses was seen rapidly approaching. The negroes raised a shout.  The postillions plied their whips, and in a moment more, the carriage was in their midst.  Martha’s description of what ensued is sufficiently accurate until the summit of the notch between Monticello and Carter’s Mountain was attained.  She says, the carriage was almost drawn by hand.  We consider old Wormley’s authority the best on this point!  He pointed out the very spot soon after the carriage had turned off from the highway, when in spite of the entreaties and commands (not however, we imagine, very sternly uttered!) of the ‘old master,’ the horses were detached and the shouting crowd pushed and dragged the heavy vehicle at no snail’s pace up the further ascent, until it reached the lawn in front of the house.”  (Henry S. Randall, The Life of Thomas Jefferson, 1865, 1: 552-553)

“Sarah Jane Was Very Firm In Her Demands”

The rail road hands returning with so much money plays the wild with us; Sarah Jane is dissatisfied with Harriets…
“Sarah Jane Was Very Firm In Her Demands”

In 1871 George Hughes and his wife ask for higher wages from the Randolphs.

“The rail road hands returning with so much money plays the wild with us; Sarah Jane is dissatisfied with Harriets [daughter Harriet Hughes] wages ($4) & was very firm in her demands for more yesterday morn: & last night, George came in & told his master Lewis had engaged to give him $130. certain, & 30. more if he pleased him, but that he could’nt stay for $160 this year, whereupon the Old Gent [Thomas J. Randolph] rose in his wrath, & told him if he could do better to go elsewhere, that he would not give him $130. & he might take his family & move off; they [finally] took time to think of it but your father has heard of a first rate manager in Buckingham, that Tom thinks he may get, & he is pretty much determined to try him.  I mean, if possible, to keep quiet – do’nt begin to know what I shall do without Sarah Jane but try to have faith that Providence will provide.” (Jane N. Randolph, Edgehill, to Ellen Randolph Harrison, 6 Jan. 1871, University of Virginia Library: 1397)

“He Could Distinctly Remember”

On a beautiful day in the latter part of February (the opening of the Virginia spring), 1851- the author rode…
“He Could Distinctly Remember”

Wormley Hughes tells a biographer about Jefferson’s horses and adventures on horseback.

“On a beautiful day in the latter part of February (the opening of the Virginia spring), 1851- the author rode up Monticello, having for his cicerone an old manumitted slave, who had for forty-five years belonged to Mr. Jefferson.  Wormley had been first a door-yard servant, and subsequently a gardener.  He had dug the grave of his master and others of his household, and now was the oldest living chronicler of Monticello.  Like most of his color, he had a strong attachment for horses.  After a few minutes’ inquiries, his taciturnity gave way to animation on this favorite theme.  He could distinctly remember, and described the points, height, color, pace, temper, etc., of every horse as far back as Arcturus, which Mr. Jefferson brought home from Washington.  A crag of serpentine jutting into the narrow road, built high on the sides of a steep ravine, was selected by the fiery stranger horse as a shying butt-as if conscious that his rider would feel it dangerous to administer correction in such a spot.  Mr. Jefferson tolerated this once or twice, but on its being repeated, punished the rearing and plunging animal with whip and spur until he was ‘glad to put his fore feet on the rock and stand still.’  Higher up, Wormley pointed out the path, or rather the rough untrodden course on the side of Carter’s Mountain, where Mr. Jefferson rode away when a detachment of Tarleton’s dragoons were sent to capture him, ‘but not till the white coats were climbing the mountain.’  An inspection of the deserted and dilapidated stables, called forth other incidents; and finally we returned so as to pass Moore’s Creek at the ford, where Mr. Jefferson was thrown over his horse’s head into the stream, as there will be subsequent occasion to relate.” (Henry S. Randall, The Life of Thomas Jefferson, 1865, 1: 69-70)