When Wormley Hughes, Monticello’s enslaved head gardener, married Ursula Granger, a enslaved cook and farm laborer, two of Monticello’s most important families were connected. Hughes was a Hemings and his wife was the granddaughter of the man called Great George, the only enslaved person to serve as Monticello overseer. hile Wormley Hughes was given unofficial freedom after Jefferson’s death, Ursula and their children were sold at the 1827 auction. Because of their persistent appeals to Jefferson’s grandson Thomas Jefferson Randolph, many of their family members were united at Randolph’s plantation, Edgehill–although still in slavery. Others were taken far from Virginia. Three of Wormley and Ursula Hughes’s daughters ended their lives in Missouri and Mississippi.
Their sons George, Robert, and Burwell Hughes, however, were together at Edgehill when freedom came in April 1865. A month earlier Union troops under Gen. Philip Sheridan had swarmed through Albemarle County, picking up many young enslaved men in their progress. One was Wormley Hughes, fourteen-year-old son of Robert and Sidney Hughes, who was “broken hearted” when he left. The descendants of this Wormley Hughes only discovered their connection to Monticello in 1996.
After Emancipation Robert and George Hughes, respectively blacksmith and farm manager at Edgehill, worked to cement the bonds of family and community through the acquisition of farm land and the establishment of a church. On an acre of land given them by Thomas J. Randolph, the Hugheses and Lewis Hern and other deacons founded Union Run Baptist Church, which flourishes to this day. Rev. Robert Hughes was its minister for thirty years.
In 1997 Getting Word participants, including Rev. Robert Hughes’s descendant Timothy Hughes witnessed the rediscovery of the founding minister’s grave marker. The first word revealed on the stone was “Memory.”
A monument of an altogether different nature survives for another descendant of Wormley Hughes. Fountain Hughes is one of a handful of former slaves whose voices have been preserved in sound recordings. In his 1949 interview, now in the Library of Congress, Hughes compared the transition from slavery to freedom to being “turned out like a lot of cattle.” In the 1880s he found his way to Baltimore, where he garnered attention for his longevity—by some accounts he lived to be 109. In 2011 his great-granddaughter Shallie Marshall became a Getting Word participant and shared a photograph of her “Pap” standing in his garden—a fitting tribute to his Monticello ancestor.