Joseph Fossett

Dates Alive: 1780 - 1858

Family: Fossett, Hemings, Hern

Occupation: Blacksmith

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.


Related People

Hear Their Stories

“My Father Made An Agreement”

Born and reared as free, not knowing that I was a slave, then suddenly, at the death of Jefferson, put…
“My Father Made An Agreement”

Peter Fossett relates his struggles to escape slavery and join his family in Ohio.

“Born and reared as free, not knowing that I was a slave, then suddenly, at the death of Jefferson, put upon an auction block and sold to strangers.  I then commenced an eventful life.  I was sold to Col. John R. Jones.  My father was freed by the Legislature of Virginia.  At the request of Mr. Jefferson, my father made an agreement with Mr. Jones that when he was able to raise the amount that Col. Jones paid for me he would give me back to my father, and he also promised to let me learn the blacksmith trade with my father as soon as I was old enough.  My father then made a bargain with two sons of Col. Jones–William Jones and James Lawrence Jones–to teach me.  They attended the University of Virginia….

Col. Jones, when he bought me, promised my father to let him have me when he could raise the money, but in 1833 he refused to let him have me on any conditions.  Mrs. Jones declared that she would sooner part with one of her own children….

My parents were here in Ohio and I wanted to be with them and be free, so I resolved to get free or die in the attempt.  I started the second time, was caught, handcuffed, and taken back and carried to Richmond and put in jail.  For the second time I was put up on the auction block and sold like a horse.  But friends from among my master’s best friends bought me in and sent me to my father in Cincinnati, and I am here to-day.” (Peter Fossett, New York World, 30 Jan. 1898)

 Excerpts:  Ebony, Nov. 1954.