Peggy Trotter Dammond Preacely

Peggy Preacely, a writer, filmmaker, and public health worker, learned her family history from her mother, Ellen Craft Dammond, the “griot of the family,” who recognized that “there were wonderful stories that needed to be kept alive in the family.” Her mother was a niece of William Monroe Trotter as well as a descendant of the famous fugitive slaves William and Ellen Craft

Mother and daughter both participated in the civil rights movement. Ellen Dammond worked with Dorothy Height and Polly Cowan in the Wednesdays in Mississippi initiative. Peggy Preacely, who sees herself as carrying on a double family line of “freedom fighters,” joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was jailed for sit-ins in the south. As she said, “I had to do something in my lifetime to make a difference because Uncle Monroe did and the Crafts escaped from slavery.”

Tucker Isaacs

Tucker Isaacs, son of German Jewish merchant David Isaacs and Nancy West, a free woman of color, was remembered by one Charlottesville resident as “a good citizen and much respected.”  He played a central role in the development of the town’s main street, constructing brick buildings on land he owned.

Isaacs and his wife, Ann-Elizabeth Fossett, moved with her parents to Ohio in 1838, returning after several years to Charlottesville, where relatives remained in slavery.  In 1850 Tucker Isaacs was arrested for forging free papers for his enslaved brother-in-law, Peter Fossett.  After the charges were dropped, Isaacs and his family sold their property, returned to Ohio, and bought a 158-acre farm in Ross County, still remembered as a station on the Underground Railroad.  Isaacs once tested a civil rights law in a hostile Ohio community.  His grandson William Monroe Trotter wrote of his “brave devotion to liberty and equality.”

Ann-Elizabeth Fossett Isaacs

Ann-Elizabeth Fossett was the daughter of Joseph Fossett, an enslaved blacksmith, and Edith Hern Fossett, an enslaved cook at Monticello. While her father was freed in Jefferson’s will, Ann-Elizabeth, her mother, and six of her siblings were sold in the 1827 dispersal sale. Through her family’s efforts, Ann-Elizabeth gained her freedom in 1837 and moved with her parents, her husband, Tucker Isaacs, and their children to Ohio. The Isaacs family remained in Ohio only a few years, returning to Charlottesville, where a number of their family members remained, some still in slavery. 

In 1850, Ann-Elizabeth Isaacs and her family returned to Ohio, settling on a 158-acre farm in Ross County. Their home is still remembered as a station on the Underground Railroad and their descendants—most notably William Monroe Trotter—continued the fight for freedom and racial equality. As descendant Virginia Craft Rose said in her interview, “Whatever you feel strongly about, fight for it because that’s part of your heritage.”

Peter Fossett

Peter Fossett, the son of Joseph Fossett and Edith Hern Fossett was sold, along with his mother and siblings, at the 1827 dispersal sale following Jefferson’s death.  When his father, who had been freed in Jefferson’s will, earned enough money to purchase him, Peter’s new owner refused to sell him. Peter Fossett twice tried to run away, without success. Finally, in 1850, he was purchased out of slavery through the efforts of his free family members.

He joined his parents and siblings in Cincinnati, where he became one of the city’s most prominent caterers, a conductor on the Underground Railroad, and a renowned Baptist minister. In an interview in 1898, he spoke of his struggles to learn to read and write by stealth and how writing skills allowed him to forge free papers to help fellow slaves to escape. He and his wife, Sarah Mayrant Fossett, were active in a number of civic organizations as well as in the church they founded.

Edith Hern Fossett

Edith Hern Fossett was the daughter of David Hern, a enslaved carpenter, and Isabel, an enslaved domestic servant. For six years of Jefferson’s presidency, Fossett trained under the French chef at the President’s House in Washington, returning to Monticello in 1809 as chief cook. Her recipes were prized by Jefferson’s family members and Monticello visitors described the meals she prepared as “always choice” and “served in half Virginian, half French style, in good taste and abundance.”

Unlike her husband, Joseph Fossett, Edith and their children were not freed in Jefferson’s will but were sold at the dispersal sale in 1827. Joseph Fossett, with the help of family members, was able to free his wife and five children in 1837, prior to their departure for Ohio; they settled in Cincinnati by 1843. Through the continuous efforts of her husband and other family members, before her death Edith Fossett was able to see most of her children thriving in Ohio. Two of them, William and Peter Fossett, became prominent caterers.