Joseph Fossett

Monticello blacksmith Joseph Fossett, freed by Jefferson in his will, had to struggle to reunite his family after they were sold at the dispersal sale in 1827. With the support of his free relatives, including his mother, Mary Hemings Bell, he had achieved the freedom of his wife, Edith Hern Fossett, and five of their ten children by 1837. They then moved to Ohio, settling in Cincinnati by 1843.In this thriving city on the dividing line between slavery and freedom, the Fossetts did not turn their backs on those still in bondage. Joseph Fossett and his sons William, Daniel, and Jesse pursued the blacksmithing trade and the whole family actively participated in helping fugitive slaves traveling the Underground Railroad. Almost all of the Fossett children reached Ohio before their parents’ deaths. It took until 1850 in the case of their son Peter Fossett, who became a renowned minister. 

Joseph and Edith Fossett’s descendants include artists, attorneys, caterers, civil servants, and musicians. In every generation Fossetts fought for freedom and equality, the most famous among them being William Monroe Trotter.

William Cunningham

William Cunningham, who worked for many years for the Meade Corporation, was living at the time of his interview in the house in which he was born, across the street from the house lived in by his great-grandparents Tucker and Ann-Elizabeth Isaacs.  He participated in the Getting Word project to honor his mother, Ann Elizabeth Isaacs Cunningham, who attended Boston Music School and was a church organist.  He and his wife, Mae Catherine Wingo, raised six children.  When asked how he felt about Thomas Jefferson, he replied “I would like to know more about Mary Hemings than hear all the talk about him.”

Ellen Craft Dammond

Ellen Dammond, who was a social worker and personnel supervisor, was descended from both the Fossetts of Monticello and the famous fugitive slaves William and Ellen Craft. The prominent equal rights activist William Monroe Trotter was her uncle. She felt strongly about preserving and passing on the history of the struggles for freedom and equality, and introduced a 1970s film on the Crafts. Both she and her daughter, Peggy Preacely, were active participants in the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Ellen Dammond worked with Dorothy Height and Polly Cowan in the Wednesdays in Mississippi project. The 2006 Getting Word interview includes a 1995 recording of Ellen Dammond and her sister, Virginia Craft Rose, remembering their family and its history.

The William and Ellen Craft Story

Find out about the Craft ancestors, William and Ellen, an enslaved couple from Macon, Georgia, who made a daring escape to freedom.

Stephen De Windt

Stephen De Windt moved with his family from the San Francisco Bay area to Pasadena when he was twelve.  He attended Pasadena City College and Arizona State University.  After a career in the airline industry, he became an actor—a “background artist”—in Hollywood.

De Windt heard a great deal about his talented great-great-aunt Pauline Powell Burns from the women in his family.  Fascinated by his family history, he made a number of donations to the collections of the African American Museum and Library at Oakland.  He was not fully aware of his connection to the Fossetts of Monticello until 2006.  When he heard their story, his response was, “They stepped up to the plate.”

Pauline Powell Burns

Pauline Powell Burns, a great-granddaughter of Joseph and Edith Fossett, was born and raised in Oakland, California.  Her grandmother, Isabella Fossett, was sold away from Monticello and her family at the age of eight, but succeeded in escaping to Boston in the 1840s, using a free pass forged by her brother Peter Fossett.  Always at risk of re-enslavement because of the Fugitive Slave Act, Isabella joined the rest of her family in Cincinnati by 1860. 

After Isabella’s death in 1872, her daughter, Josephine Turner, moved to Oakland with her husband, William W. Powell, a porter on the new transcontinental railroad.  Their daughter Pauline demonstrated artistic and musical talent at a young age and pursued years of study of both painting and piano.  She gave numerous public recitals in the Bay Area and was hailed as “the bright musical star of her state.” An exhibit of her paintings in 1890 was said to be the first by an African-American artist in California.  She and her husband, Edward E. Burns, both cultural leaders in their community, left no descendants.