Phyllis Williams, a social worker, was, in 2006, the first descendant of Edward and Jane Gillette to become known to the Getting Word project, after she contacted the local African American genealogical society. She had been researching her Gillette ancestors without knowing of their connection to Monticello. In the summer of 2007 she came to Charlottesville, with her sister Jeniece Johnson and her cousin Donald Gillette, to attend a gathering of the Monticello community. She continues to explore family history and to draw other relatives into the quest: “The more I learned, the more curious I became and the more curious I became, the more I shared, and the more I shared, then they became curious.”
Israel Gillette Jefferson, the son of Edward and Jane Gillette, worked as a boy in the Monticello house, the kitchen, and the textile shop. From age thirteen, he was also a postilion, riding one of the four horses that pulled Jefferson’s landau carriage. He was sold after Jefferson’s death to Thomas Walker Gilmer, who became Secretary of the Navy. The earnings of his second wife, a free seamstress, Elizabeth Farrow Randolph, helped him purchase his freedom from Gilmer.
- Podcast: The Life of Israel Gillette Jefferson (12/4/2020)
At the suggestion of the clerk who wrote out his free papers in 1844, he adopted the surname Jefferson. He and his wife then moved to Ohio, where he first worked as a waiter on an Ohio River steamboat and then bought a farm in Pike County. The Jeffersons were active members of Eden Baptist Church, where Israel Jefferson was deacon and treasurer.
In 1873 Israel Jefferson’s recollections of his life at Monticello and in Ohio were published in a Pike County newspaper.
Donald Gillette, a retired millwright and union official, came to Charlottesville in 2007 with his wife, Margaret, and his cousins Phyllis Williams and Jeniece Johnson. Phyllis Williams had, in 2006, been the first descendant of Edward and Jane Gillette to make contact with the Getting Word project. She had been researching her Gillette ancestors without knowing of their connection to Monticello. Don Gillette’s father, Harry Gillette, had left Albemarle County after the death of his father Moses Gillette. He never spoke about his Virginia past, although father and son did at one time visit the family graveyard northwest of Charlottesville.
Moses Gillette was the son of Moses Gillette, a cooper at Monticello, and his wife Martha. The elder Moses made pails and firkins in his own time to sell to the Monticello household. He was sold after Jefferson’s death to a local miller. After emancipation in 1865, he moved to southern Ohio to live near his brother Israel Gillette Jefferson.
The younger Moses remained in Albemarle County, buying ten acres of land across the Rivanna River from the Hydraulic Mills. He married three times and cared for a broad range of family members, raising more than twenty children. His descendants were unaware of the family’s connection to Monticello until 2006 and were pleased to learn of their ancestors’ contributions to it. They also spoke of the reluctance of the older generation to discuss the past: “We came from one of those families that didn’t talk a lot.”