Wormley Hughes

Dates Alive: 1780-1858

Family: Granger, Hemings, Hughes

Occupation: Gardener; Stable manager; Nailmaker; Household servant

Wormley Hughes was the oldest son of Betty Brown; his father has not been identified.  As a boy, he worked in the Monticello house and the Mulberry Row nailery.  He became head gardener, preparing flower beds and planting seeds, bulbs, and trees.  He also had charge of the valuable carriage and saddle horses in the Monticello stables.  He dug the grave of his master, who had called him “one of the most trusty servants I have.

Wormley Hughes and his wife, Ursula Granger, a niece of Isaac Granger Jefferson, had twelve children.  Hughes was informally freed by Jefferson’s daughter Martha Randolph, while the rest of his family was sold at the 1827 dispersal sale.  Ursula and some of their children were acquired by the Randolphs, for whom Hughes continued to work.  The Randolphs long remembered one of his expressions: “I am in no wise discouraged.”  Wormley and Ursula Hughes’s descendants include several ministers, as well as farmers, gardeners, blacksmiths, teachers, and archivists. 


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“He Could Distinctly Remember”

On a beautiful day in the latter part of February (the opening of the Virginia spring), 1851- the author rode…
“He Could Distinctly Remember”

Wormley Hughes tells a biographer about Jefferson’s horses and adventures on horseback.

“On a beautiful day in the latter part of February (the opening of the Virginia spring), 1851- the author rode up Monticello, having for his cicerone an old manumitted slave, who had for forty-five years belonged to Mr. Jefferson.  Wormley had been first a door-yard servant, and subsequently a gardener.  He had dug the grave of his master and others of his household, and now was the oldest living chronicler of Monticello.  Like most of his color, he had a strong attachment for horses.  After a few minutes’ inquiries, his taciturnity gave way to animation on this favorite theme.  He could distinctly remember, and described the points, height, color, pace, temper, etc., of every horse as far back as Arcturus, which Mr. Jefferson brought home from Washington.  A crag of serpentine jutting into the narrow road, built high on the sides of a steep ravine, was selected by the fiery stranger horse as a shying butt-as if conscious that his rider would feel it dangerous to administer correction in such a spot.  Mr. Jefferson tolerated this once or twice, but on its being repeated, punished the rearing and plunging animal with whip and spur until he was ‘glad to put his fore feet on the rock and stand still.’  Higher up, Wormley pointed out the path, or rather the rough untrodden course on the side of Carter’s Mountain, where Mr. Jefferson rode away when a detachment of Tarleton’s dragoons were sent to capture him, ‘but not till the white coats were climbing the mountain.’  An inspection of the deserted and dilapidated stables, called forth other incidents; and finally we returned so as to pass Moore’s Creek at the ford, where Mr. Jefferson was thrown over his horse’s head into the stream, as there will be subsequent occasion to relate.” (Henry S. Randall, The Life of Thomas Jefferson, 1865, 1: 69-70)

“A Concise And Significant Reply”

We have already introduced to the reader old Wormley, a grey-haired servant of Mr. Jefferson.  We once stood with him…
“A Concise And Significant Reply”

In 1851 Wormley Hughes recalls the stream of Monticello visitors.

“We have already introduced to the reader old Wormley, a grey-haired servant of Mr. Jefferson.  We once stood with him before the dilapidated pile of Monticello.  The carriage-houses, three in number, were at the moment under our eye.  Each would hold a four-horse coach.  We inquired-‘Wormley, how often were these filled, in Mr. Jefferson’s time?’  ‘Every night, sir in summer, and we commonly had two or three carriages under that tree,’ said he, pointing to a large tree.  ‘It took all hands to take care of your visitors?’ we suggested.  ‘Yes, sir, and the whole farm to feed them,’ was the concise and significant reply.” (Henry S. Randall, The Life of Thomas Jefferson, 1865, 3: 332)

“The News Flew Like Wildfire”

Wormley, the aged slave already referred to in this work, was between nine and ten years old when Mr. Jefferson…
“The News Flew Like Wildfire”

In 1851, Wormley Hughes remembers Jefferson’s return to Monticello from France sixty years earlier.

“Wormley, the aged slave already referred to in this work, was between nine and ten years old when Mr. Jefferson returned from France [in 1789], and when we talked with him in 1851, had a distinct recollection of the reception scene described above, and he gave us, partly from recollection and partly from the statements of his fellows, several minor touches of the story.

Two or three days before reaching home, Mr. Jefferson had sent an express directing his overseer to have his house made ready for his reception by a specified day.  The overseer mentioned this, and the news flew like wildfire over the different farms which it is customary to mention collectively as Monticello.  The slaves could hardly attend to their work.  They asked leave to make his return a holiday and of course received permission.  Bright and early were all up on the appointed day, washed clean of the stains of labor, and attired in their ‘Sunday best.’  They first determined to receive him at the foot of the mountain; and the women and children refusing to be left behind, down they marched in a body.  Never dragged on hours so slowly!  Finally, the men began to straggle onward–and the swarm did not settle again until they reached the confines of the estate, perhaps two miles from the house.  By and by a carriage and four horses was seen rapidly approaching. The negroes raised a shout.  The postillions plied their whips, and in a moment more, the carriage was in their midst.  Martha’s description of what ensued is sufficiently accurate until the summit of the notch between Monticello and Carter’s Mountain was attained.  She says, the carriage was almost drawn by hand.  We consider old Wormley’s authority the best on this point!  He pointed out the very spot soon after the carriage had turned off from the highway, when in spite of the entreaties and commands (not however, we imagine, very sternly uttered!) of the ‘old master,’ the horses were detached and the shouting crowd pushed and dragged the heavy vehicle at no snail’s pace up the further ascent, until it reached the lawn in front of the house.”  (Henry S. Randall, The Life of Thomas Jefferson, 1865, 1: 552-553)