Robert Scott

Dates Alive: 1803-1899

Family: Hemings, Scott

Occupation: Musician

Robert Scott was born free, the son of Sarah Bell and Jesse Scott, a free man of color whose mother was a Pamunkey Indian. The Scott trio (Robert, his brother James, and his father) were well known musicians who traveled all over Virginia playing at dances at private homes, mountain resorts, and the University of Virginia

Scott married Nancy Colbert, probably the daughter of Burwell and Critta Colbert of Monticello. He was able to purchase her and some of their nine children out of slavery. In 1857 Robert Scott, who had more than three-quarters white ancestry, successfully petitioned the court to be declared “not negro”–an intermediate status between white and black or “mulatto.”

Robert Scott lived in the Bell-Scott house on Charlottesville’s main street for almost ninety years. He was a rich source of recollections about Jefferson and, at his death, was described as “a man who in the course of a long life never failed to command the respect of his fellow citizens.”


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“He Measured Half An Inch More Than I Did”

At Monticello I myself never played - that was a privilege Mr. Jefferson allowed to my father only; but I went…
“He Measured Half An Inch More Than I Did”

In old age, Robert Scott reminisces about Thomas Jefferson, who died when Scott was twenty-three.

At Monticello I myself never played – that was a privilege Mr. Jefferson allowed to my father only; but I went there very often, and saw and talked with him nearly every day. He always had a kind word to say whenever I met him; indeed, he was a universal favorite. He was rather a thin man, and his legs looked very small arrayed in stockings and knee-breeches, but he stood perfectly solid and straight on them till his last illness. He was never a complainer, and only alluded to his great age in a laughing way. I recollect he and I once stood up together to compare our heights, and we found he measured half an inch more than I did, and I am six feet two inches. When the university was being built he rode on horse-back to it, sometimes every day, and then again only two or three times a week. He would start from home at nine and stay at the university till two, when he would return home to dinner, and after dinner go back and stay till dark, looking after the workmen and directing the operations. When he remained at home all day he would frequently look through a telescope at the building, which was his pet scheme towards the end of his life. I was present at its opening in 1825. He was very anxious about its future when he died, and directed by his will that his monument should bear the words, Father of the University of Virginia. (“Virginian Reminiscences of Jefferson,” Harper’s Weekly, 19 Nov. 1904)