Fulfilling the Declaration

Through the ordeal of slavery, the hope of Reconstruction, and the despair of the Jim Crow decades, Monticello’s enslaved families and their descendants kept their eyes on the future as they transmitted skills, talents, values, and a rich culture to their children and grandchildren. They were sustained by their religious faith, their belief in the importance of education, their drive to succeed, and, most importantly, the powerful bonds of family.

Family

The members of Monticello’s African American community fought hard to keep their families together, defying slavery, a system that inherently divided them.

Education

Parents made sacrifices to educate their children, and descendants today, many of them teachers, recall how their elders stressed the importance of education.

Religion

The church was and remains a cornerstone in descendants’s lives, meeting spiritual and social needs in troubled times and circumstances.

Achievement

Descendants of Monticello’s enslaved community achieved many “firsts” in government, in the military, and in the workplace.

Stories

“Let Us Provide To Adorn Their Minds”

Advantages are opening for educational purposes among us, but we must prepare our minds to avail ourselves of these advantages;…
“Let Us Provide To Adorn Their Minds”

Lewis Woodson writes about the importance of education.

Advantages are opening for educational purposes among us, but we must prepare our minds to avail ourselves of these advantages; and if we cannot adorn our children’s bodies with costly attire, let us provide to adorn their minds with that jewel that will elevate, ennoble, and rescue the bodies of our long injured race from the shackles of bondage, and their minds from the trammels of ignorance and vice.  (Lewis Woodson, 1856, in History of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 404)

“Such Is The Story That Comes Down To Me”

I never knew of but one white man who bore the name of Hemings; he was an Englishman and my…
“Such Is The Story That Comes Down To Me”

Madison Hemings speaks in 1873 of his grandmother Elizabeth Hemings.

“I never knew of but one white man who bore the name of Hemings; he was an Englishman and my greatgrandfather.  He was captain of an English trading vessel which sailed between England and Williamsburg, Va., then quite a port.  My grandmother was a fullblooded African, and possibly a native of that country.  She was the property of John Wales, a Welchman [incorrect; she then belonged to the Eppes family].  Capt. Hemings happened to be in the port of Williamsburg at the time my grandmother was born, and acknowledging her fatherhood he tried to purchase her of Mr. Wales, who would not part with the child, though he was offered an extraordinarily large price for her.  She was named Elizabeth Hemings.  Being thwarted in the purchase, and determining to own his flesh and blood he resolved to take the child by force or stealth, but the knowledge of his intention coming to John Wales’ ears, through leaky fellow servants of the mother, she and the child were taken into the “great house” under their master’s immediate care.  I have been informed that it was not the extra value of that child over other slave children that induced Mr. Wales to refuse to sell it, for slave masters then, as in later days, had no compunctions of conscience which restrained them from parting mother and child of however tender age, but he was restrained by the fact that just about that time amalgamation began, and the child was so great a curiosity that its owner desired to raise it himself that he might see its outcome.  Capt. Hemings soon afterwards sailed from Williamsburg, never to return.  Such is the story that comes down to me.”

“Elizabeth Hemings grew to womanhood in the family of John Wales, whose wife dying she (Elizabeth) was taken by the widower Wales as his concubine, by whom she had six children—three sons and three daughters, viz: Robert, James, Peter, Critty, Sally and Thena.  These children went by the name of Hemings….”\

“My very earliest recollections are of my grandmother Elizabeth Hemings.  That was when I was about three years old.  She was sick and upon her death bed.  I was eating a piece of bread and asked her if she would have some.  She replied: ‘No; granny don’t want bread any more.’  She shortly afterwards breathed her last.  I have only a faint recollection of her.” (Madison Hemings, 13 Mar. 1873, Pike County Republican [Waverly, Ohio])

“I Resolved To Get Free Or Die In The Attempt”

ONCE THE SLAVE OF THOMAS JEFFERSON.  The Rev. Mr. Fossett, of Cincinnati, Recalls the Days When Men Came from the…
“I Resolved To Get Free Or Die In The Attempt”

Peter Fossett remembers Monticello and tells his life story in 1898.

“ONCE THE SLAVE OF THOMAS JEFFERSON.  The Rev. Mr. Fossett, of Cincinnati, Recalls the Days When Men Came from the Ends of the Earth to Consult `the Sage of Monticello’ — Reminiscences of Jefferson, Lafayette, Madison and Monroe.

(Special to the Sunday World.) Cincinnati, Jan. 29.

THE REV. PETER F. FOSSETT, of this city, is probably the last surviving slave of Thomas Jefferson.  Mr. Fossett is a very intelligent colored man.  He is eighty-three years old and lives at No. 313 Stone street in a comfortable, well furnished and well provided home.  It was there that a Sunday World reporter found the kindly old gentleman to-day, well preserved in mind and body, spending the winter of his days in comfort and happiness.  He is held in great regard by colored people and is loved by all the white ministers of Cincinnati, who know him well and esteem him highly.

Recently Mr. Fossett was invited to deliver an address before the Cincinnati Baptist Ministers’ Association and in his speech he told the story of his early days, giving many reminiscences of the great founder of the Democratic party.  In conversation with the Sunday World reporter he went into greater detail and chatted entertainingly about his life in `Old Virginny.’

I was born,’ he said, `at Monticello, Jefferson’s beautiful Virginia home, on June 6, 1815, just before Waterloo.  Jefferson was an ideal master.  He was a democrat in practice as well as theory, was opposed to the slave trade, tried to keep it out of the Territories beyond the Ohio river and was in favor of freeing the slaves in Virginia.  In 1787 he introduced that famous “Jefferson proviso” in Congress, prohibiting slavery in all the Northwestern Territory, comprising the States of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri.  He had made all arrangements to free his slaves at his death by making three prizes of his property, &c.

I well remember the visit of Gen. Lafayette to Monticello.  The whole place was in gala array in his honor.  He was met at Red Gate and escorted to Monticello by the Jefferson Guards and the Virginia Militia.  The latter consisted of all the school boys in the county, who had been drilled for the occasion, armed with sharp pointed sticks tipped with pikes.  The meeting between Jefferson and Lafayette was most affectionate.  They fell into each other’s arms with these words: “My dear Lafayette,” “My dear Jefferson,” and wept.

Mrs. Patsy Randolph, who had been Martha Ann Jefferson, received Lafayette with grace and dignity befitting a queen, welcoming him to the hospitality of the home of her father.  They all listened to the addresses that followed.  Even the slaves wept.  A youth of eighteen made the address on behalf of the juvenile soldiers, and, I think, Gen. Chestin Cox, in behalf of the citizens.

The next day occured the visit to the University, which had just been finished except the dome.  There was a grand procession that day and the slaves had a holiday.  First came the Jefferson Guards, then the carriage bearing Mr. Jefferson, with Gen. Lafayette on his right, with ex-President Monroe and Mr. Madison sitting opposite them.  In the second carriage was Gen. Chestin Cox, President of the University Faculty.  On his right sat George Washington Lafayette, son of the General, and opposite them were Thomas Jefferson Randolph, the grandson of Mr. Jefferson, and Gen. Lavassor.  Surrounding these two carriages were the Virginia Militia.

Thomas Jefferson Randolph was orator of the day, and there were addresses by all the great men present.

There was never such a time in Virginia as during the visit of Gen. Lafayette.  Two years after this Mr. Jefferson died.  Then began our troubles.  We were scattered all over the country, never to meet each other again until we meet in another world.  A peculiar fact about his house servants was that we were all related to one another, and as a matter of fact we did not need to know that we were slaves.  As a boy I was not only brought up differently, but dressed unlike the plantation boys.  My grandmother was free, and I remember the first suit she gave me.  It was of blue nankeen cloth, red morocco hat and red morocco shoes.  To complete this unique costume, my father added a silver watch.

At Monticello we always had the house full of company.  Not only did Jefferson’s own countrymen visit him, but people from all parts of Europe came to see his wonderful home.  On the first floor was Mr. Jefferson’s study, called the “green room.”  Here such men as Madison, Monroe and others were wont to discuss the problems of the day.  I was too young to know much about these great men, but I remember seeing them and being in the same house with them.

Mr. Madison used to come and stay for days with Mr. Jefferson.  He was a very learned man, as was also Mr. Jefferson.  He was a kindly looking old gentleman, and his coming looked for with pleasure by the older servants for he never left without leaving each of them a substantial reminder of his visit.

Mr. Monroe did not live as far from our home as Mr. Madison, and his visits were more frequent.  While he was a wise and great man, and a friend of Mr. Jefferson, their companionship was not as close as that existing between Mr. Jefferson and Madison.  He was more of a statesman than a scientist, while Madison and Jefferson were both.  On the north terrace of Monticello was the telescope, and it was here that Madison and Jefferson spent a great deal of their time.  One day while Mr. Jefferson was looking through his telescope to see how the work was progressing over at Pan Top, one of his plantations, he saw 500 soldiers, headed by Col. Tarleton, and led by a traitor whose name I have forgotten, coming up the north side of the mountain to capture him along with the Congress which was being held at Charlottesville.

He hastily called up his servants, told them to collect and hide the silver, and gathered his valuable papers.  My mother’s uncle saddled his horse and took him up to Carter’s Mountain, where Mr. Jefferson hid in the hollow of an old tree.  He had told his butler to hoist the flag over the dome of his home while the soldiers were there and to take it down when they were gone.  This he did.  My father’s aunt hid the silver in the potato cellar.  When the soldiers came up she was standing over the keyhole.  The house was searched and nothing could be found.  They came to her and with arms drawn demanded that she should tell them where the silver was.  Then they turned their attention to the wine cellar, broke all the casks, and with their swords cut all the tops off the bottles of wine that stood on the shelves.  The rare old wine that he sent to France for covered the floor to the depth of three steps.

They caroused around the place for about three hours, and one of the soldiers rode up into the house on his horse, and the beautiful floor of the music room, inlaid with gothic fret-work, still bore the prints of the horse’s shoes when I left Monticello.

His summer residence, Poplar Forest, where he spent three months in each year, was a Mecca for all the great men of the world, and the Indians also.  In those days they ran the wisest and best men for office, and not the most unscrupulous, as now.  At 10 o’clock every day he went to the University and returned at 2 for dinner.  Many times have I ordered his horse, a large chestnut bay, which bore the name of Eagle.  As for the social enjoyment of the men of those days the people of this time do not begin to come up to it.  Weddings, parties, barbecues and the like, even the slaves participated in.

As a master Jefferson was kind and indulgent.  Under his management his slaves were seldom punished, except for stealing and fighting.  They were tried for any offense as at court and allowed to make their own defense.  The slave children were nursed until they were three years old, and left with their parents until thirteen.  They were then sent to the overseers’ wives to learn trades.  Every male child’s father received $5 at its birth.

Jefferson was a man of sober habits, although his cellars were stocked with wines.  No one ever saw him under the influence of liquor.  His servants about the house were tasked.  If you did your task well you were rewarded; if not, punished.  Mrs. Randolph would not let any of the young ladies go anywhere with gentlemen with the exception of their brothers, unless a colored servant accompanied them.  On July 4, 1826, exactly fifty years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson and Adams died.  I was eleven years old.

Sorrow came not only to the homes of two great men who had been such fast friends in life as Jefferson and Adams, but to the slaves of Thomas Jefferson.  The story of my own life is like a fairy tale, and you would not believe me if I told to you the scenes enacted during my life of slavery.  It passes through my mind like a dream.  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.

\Mr. Jefferson allowed his grandson to teach any of his slaves who desired to learn, and Lewis Randolph first taught me how to read.  When I was sold to Col. Jones I took my books along with me.  One day I was kneeling before the fireplace spelling the word “baker,” when Col. Jones opened the door, and I shall never forget the scene as long as I live.

“What have you got there, sir?” were his words.  I told him.“If I ever catch you with a book in your hands, thirty-and-nine lashes on your bare back.”  He took the book and threw it into the fire, then called up his sons and told them that if they ever taught me they would receive the same punishment.  But they helped me all they could, as did his daughter Ariadne.

Among my things was a copy-book that my father gave me, and which I kept hid in the bottom of my trunk.  I used to get permission to take a bath, and by the dying embers I learned to write.  The first copy was this sentence, “Art improves nature.”

 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.  They had become very attached to me, and then I was a very valuable servant, notwithstanding that all the time I was teaching all the people around me to read and write, and even venturing to write free passes and sending slaves away from their masters.  Of course they did not know this, or they would not have thought me so valuable.

Amid these scenes it was during my stay with Col. Jones that I first saw my state as a sinner.  The white Baptists where I lived had no church.  They held services in the Court-House and sometimes in the Episcopal Church.  The Baptist churches were all in the country near some creek convenient for baptizing.  It was in these churches during the summer that they held three-day and ten-day meetings, at which many were converted, and here their greatest revivals took place.

It was during one of these meetings that I was convicted of my sins from a sermon preached by Cumberland George.  I was converted at a two weeks’ meeting at Piney Grove.  Mrs. Jones, my mistress, was called the mother of the Baptist church, and our house was the stopping place for all the preachers.  It was here when they were holding these meetings that my eyes were opened.

I well remember the struggle they had in the great controversy with Alexander Campbell.  Two eloquent young preachers–Lindsay Coleman and James Goss–the pride and hope of the Baptist denomination, took Campbell’s side, and tried to take the church from them.  The people belonging to the church had a church meeting which lasted for a week, day and night.  Every time a vote was taken it was a tie.  If it had not been for that young hero, Robert Ryland, who was chaplain at the University of Virginia, they would have succeeded.  At last Col. Nimrod Branham, the moderator, who was on the fence, gave the casting vote, and the regular Baptists retained possession of the church.

Col. Jones had by this time become very fond of me, and would not arrange any terms by which I could gain my freedom.  He respected me, and would not let me see him take his “bitters.”  He was surprised and pleased to find that I did not touch liquor.  Being with and coming from such a family as Mr. Jefferson’s, I knew more than they did about many things.  This also raised me in their esteem.  My sister Isabel was also left a slave in Virginia.  I wrote her a free pass, sent her to Boston, and made an attempt to gain my own freedom.  The first time I failed and had to return.  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.’

Concerning the taking of a life mask of Jefferson at Monticello, in 1825, Mr. Fossett said: `I never saw the bust made from this life mask, but I remember when the mask was taken.  I was then ten years old.  The man who took the mask covered Mr. Jefferson’s head, shoulders, arms and body down to the waist with clay or plaster of some kind.  He left holes for the nose and eyes.  Somehow or other he left the plaster on too long and it got too hard. He had to take a chisel [  ] knock it off and when he got it off Mr. Jefferson [  ] greatly exhausted.

The report got around that Mr. Jefferson had been killed, and there was the greatest excitement until we all saw Mr. Jefferson again alive and well.  I see a magazine writer says there was no trouble about taking the life mask, but I know better, for I was there and remember well the excitement it caused everywhere.’” (New York World, 30 Jan. 1898)

“We Should Be Treated As Americans”

After a while he became interested in politics.  He ran for the Board of Education once and didn’t win.  In…
“We Should Be Treated As Americans”

Pearl Roberts speaks of her husband’s political views and career.

After a while he became interested in politics.  He ran for the Board of Education once and didn’t win.  In 1918, he ran for Assemblyman and people thought he was crazy, but he was elected.  He was there for 16 years, four terms.  He was the first black elected to an official position in the state of California.  He was the first black elected to a state office west of the Mississippi…. 

He didn’t like the word “Negro.”  He used the term “Americans of African descent.”  He wanted to stress the fact that we were Americans and should be treated as Americans.  Whereas most newspapers would say, “another Negro lynched,” his newspaper would say, “another American lynched.”  (Pearl Roberts typescript autobiography, Roberts Collection, African American Museum and Library at Oakland)

“The Answers Are Found In Stories”

…. After Maria Jefferson Eppes’s death in 1804, John Wayles Eppes moved to his new plantation Millbrook, located in Buckingham…
“The Answers Are Found In Stories”

Edna Jacques writes about her ancestor Betsy Hemmings and the family oral history.

…. After Maria Jefferson Eppes’s death in 1804, John Wayles Eppes moved to his new plantation Millbrook, located in Buckingham County, accompanied by his young son Francis and Betsy Hemmings. Millbrook became Betsy’s permanent home and eventually her final resting-place.

It is this final resting-place that sparks the public interest in Betsy Hemmings. Why is Betsy Hemmings’s grave in the Eppes family cemetery, as opposed to the Millbrook slave cemetery, which was the custom in Buckingham County? Why is Betsy’s tombstone so elaborate, when at best most slave graves had fieldstones as markers, or none at all? How did her grave survive the racist times when blacks were brutalized and their property destroyed? Why was this seemingly insignificant Hemings slave honored with such a grave, while her famous Aunt Sally, her wealthy mother Mary, and her talented Uncle John lie in unmarked graves?

The answers to these questions are found in stories that have been passed down for generations by descendants of the Hemmings and Eppes families; former slaves from Millbrook and Chellowe plantations; my great-aunt Olive Rebecca Bolling (1847-1953); and descendants of people who lived in the vicinity of Millbrook. Probably additional information on Betsy’s life at Millbrook existed, but was lost in two Buckingham fires. In 1866, the plantation house at Millbrook was destroyed by fire, supposedly by whites angered because blacks occupied the house. Rumors have persisted that the arsonists were members of a prominent old Virginia family with blood ties to the Eppeses and Randolphs. In 1869, Buckingham County Courthouse, which was designed by Thomas Jefferson in 1821, also burned, resulting in a loss of records.

Central to any discussion of Betsy Hemmings is the issue of paternity, hers and that of her children. Many of Betsy’s descendants have remained in Buckingham County since her lifetime, passing down their oral history from generation to generation. That oral history says that Betsy Hemmings was a daughter of Thomas Jefferson and mistress of John Wayles Eppes: Betsy’s lifestyle at Millbrook and the location of her elaborate grave corroborate her descendants oral history.

Until recent times, most historians have ignored or denied the existence of interracial plantation families. But as circumstantial evidence from the antebellum period is reevaluated and more credence given to oral history, the complexity of race relations on the plantation becomes evident. For instance, there were some slave and master families who maintained intimate relationships with each other, often spanning generations. In some of these families, first cousin marriages were common among the whites, while intimate relationships between the white and black family members were as close, if not closer. Nothing about life on the plantations should come as a surprise, since the plantations were essentially fiefdoms. Although laws governing behavior existed, planters were able to live as they pleased, unless their activities became a public issue.


Betsy Hemmings was a product of entwined black and white plantation families. Her grandmother, Betty Hemings, was owned by Francis Eppes IV, paternal grandfather of John Wayles Eppes and maternal grandfather of Thomas Jefferson’s wife, Martha. Then, as part of a dowry, Betty Hemings became the property of John Wayles, father of Martha Jefferson and John Wayles Eppes’s mother, Elizabeth. After John Wayles’s third and last wife died, Betty Hemings became his mistress. Upon her father’s death, Martha Jefferson inherited the entire Hemings family, which she brought to Monticello, but prevailing law dictated that they become the property of her husband Thomas Jefferson. The newly arrived Hemings family rapidly assumed the key household positions at Monticello, and one explanation for their ascent is that Martha Jefferson and Betty Hemings had a close relationship…. (Edna Bolling Jacques, “The Hemmings Family in Buckingham County, Virginia”; for entire account, see http://www.buckinghamhemmings.com/)

“I Was Born At My Father’s Seat Of Monticello”

I never knew of but one white man who bore the name of Hemings; he was an Englishman and my…
“I Was Born At My Father’s Seat Of Monticello”

Madison Hemings discusses Jefferson, Monticello, and his own family history.

I never knew of but one white man who bore the name of Hemings; he was an Englishman and my greatgrandfather.  He was captain of an English trading vessel which sailed between England and Williamsburg, Va., then quite a port.  My grandmother was a fullblooded African, and possibly a native of that country.  She was the property of John Wales, a Welchman.  Capt. Hemings happened to be in the port of Williamsburg at the time my grandmother was born, and acknowledging her fatherhood he tried to purchase her of Mr. Wales, who would not part with the child, though he was offered an extraordinarily large price for her.  She was named Elizabeth Hemings.  Being thwarted in the purchase, and determining to own his flesh and blood he resolved to take the child by force or stealth, but the knowledge of his intention coming to John Wales’ ears, through leaky fellow servants of the mother, she and the child were taken into the “great house” under their master’s immediate care.  I have been informed that it was not the extra value of that child over other slave children that induced Mr. Wales to refuse to sell it, for slave masters then, as in later days, had no compunctions of conscience which restrained them from parting mother and child of however tender age, but he was restrained by the fact that just about that time amalgamation began, and the child was so great a curiosity that its owner desired to raise it himself that he might see its outcome.  Capt. Hemings soon afterwards sailed from Williamsburg, never to return.  Such is the story that comes down to me.

Elizabeth Hemings grew to womanhood in the family of John Wales, whose wife dying she (Elizabeth) was taken by the widower Wales as his concubine, by whom she had six children—three sons and three daughters, viz: Robert, James, Peter, Critty, Sally and Thena.  These children went by the name of Hemings.

Williamsburg was the capital of Virginia, and of course it was an aristocratic place, where the “bloods” of the Colony and the now State most did congregate.  Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, was educated at William and Mary College, which had its seat at Williamsburg.  He afterwards studied law with Geo. Wythe, and practiced law at the bar of the general court of the Colony.  He was afterwards elected a member of the provincial legislature from Albemarle county.  Thos. Jefferson was a visitor at the “great house” of John Wales, who had children about his own age.  He formed the acquaintance of his daughter Martha (I believe that was her name, though I am not positively sure,) and an intimacy sprang up between them which ripened into love, and they were married.  They afterwards went to live at his country seat, Monticello, and in course of time had born to them a daughter whom they named Martha.  About the time she was born my mother, the second daughter of John Wales and Elizabeth Hemings was born.  On the death of John Wales, my grandmother, his concubine, and her children by him fell to Martha, Thomas Jefferson’s wife, and consequently became the property of Thomas Jefferson, who in the course of time became famous, and was appointed minister to France during our revolutionary troubles, or soon after independence was gained.  About the time of the appointment and before he was ready to leave the country his wife died, and as soon after her interment as he could attend to and arrange his domestic affairs in accordance with the changed circumstances of his family in consequence of this misfortune (I think not more than three weeks thereafter) he left for France, taking his eldest daughter with him.  He had had sons born to him, but they died in early infancy, so he then had but two children—Martha and Maria.  The latter was left at home, but was afterwards ordered to follow him to France.  She was three years or so younger than Martha.  My mother accompanied her as her body servant.  When Mr. Jefferson went to France Martha was a young woman grown, my mother was about her age, and Maria was just budding into womanhood.  Their stay (my mother and Maria’s) was about eighteen months.  But during that time my mother became Mr. Jefferson’s concubine, and when he was called home she was enciente by him.  He desired to bring my mother back to Virginia with him but she demurred.  She was just beginning to understand the French language well, and in France she was free, while if she returned to Virginia she would be re-enslaved.  So she refused to return with him.  To induce her to do so he promised her extraordinary privileges, and made a solemn pledge that her children should be freed at the age of twenty-one years.  In consequence of his promises, on which she implicitly relied, she returned with him to Virginia.  Soon after their arrival, she gave birth to a child, of whom Thomas Jefferson was the father.  It lived but a short time.  She gave birth to four others, and Jefferson was the father of all of them.  Their names were Beverly, Harriet, Madison (myself), and Eston—three sons and one daughter.  We all became free agreeably to the treaty entered into by our parents before we were born.  We all married and have raised families.

Beverly left Monticello and went to Washington as a white man.  He married a white woman in Maryland, and their only child, a daughter, was not known by the white folks to have any colored blood coursing in her veins.  Beverly’s wife’s family were people in good circumstances.

Harriet married a white man in good standing in Washington City, whose name I could give, but will not, for prudential reasons.  She raised a family of children, and so far as I know they were never suspected of being tainted with African blood in the community where she lived or lives.  I have not heard from her for ten years, and do not know whether she is dead or alive.  She thought it to her interest, on going to Washington, to assume the role of a white woman, and by her dress and conduct as such I am not aware that her identity as Harriet Hemings of Monticello has ever been discovered.

Eston married a colored woman in Virginia, and moved from there to Ohio, and lived in Chillicothe several years.  In the fall of 1852 he removed to Wisconsin, where he died a year or two afterwards.  He left three children.

As to myself, I was named Madison by the wife of James Madison, who was afterwards President of the United States.  Mrs. Madison happened to be at Monticello at the time of my birth, and begged the privilege of naming me, promising my mother a fine present for the honor.  She consented, and Mrs. Madison dubbed me by the name I now acknowledge, but like many promises of white folks to the slaves she never gave my mother anything.  I was born at my father’s seat of Monticello, in Albermarle county, Va., near Charlottesville, on the 19th day of January, 1805.  My very earliest recollections are of my grandmother Elizabeth Hemings.  That was when I was about three years old.  She was sick and upon her death bed.  I was eating a piece of bread and asked her if she would have some.  She replied: “No; granny don’t want bread any more.”  She shortly afterwards breathed her last.  I have only a faint recollection of her.

Of my father, Thomas Jefferson, I knew more of his domestic than his public life, during his life time.  It is only since his death that I have learned much of the latter, except that he was considered as a foremost man in the land, and held many important trusts, including that of President.  I learned to read by inducing the white children to teach me the letters and something more; what else I know of books I have picked up here and there, till now I can read and write.  I was almost 21½  years of age when my father died, on the 4th of July, 1826.  About his own home he was the quietest of men.  He was hardly ever known to get angry, though sometimes he was irritated when matters went wrong, but even then he hardly ever allowed himself to be made unhappy any great length of time.  Unlike Washington he had but little taste or care for agricultural pursuits.  He left matters pertaining to his plantations mostly with his stewards and overseers.  He always had mechanics at work for him, such as carpenters, blacksmiths, shoemakers, coopers, &c.  It was his mechanics he seemed mostly to direct, and in their operations he took great interest.  Almost every day of his latter years he might have been seen among them.  He occupied much of the time in his office engaged in correspondence and reading and writing.  His general temperament was smooth and even; he was very undemonstrative.  He was uniformly kind to all about him.  He was not in the habit of showing partiality or fatherly affection to us children.  We were the only children of his by a slave woman.  He was affectionate toward his white grandchildren, of whom he had fourteen, twelve of whom lived to manhood and womanhood.  His daughter Martha married Thomas Mann Randolph by whom she had thirteen children.  Two died in infancy.  The names of the living were Ann, Thomas Jefferson, Ellen, Cornelia, Virginia, Mary, James, Benj. Franklin, Lewis Madison, Septemia and Geo. Wythe.  Thos. Jefferson Randolph was Chairman of the Democratic National Convention in Baltimore last spring which nominated Horace Greeley for the Presidency, and Geo. Wythe Randolph was Jeff. Davis’ first Secretary of War in the late “unpleasantness.”

Maria married John Epps, and raised one son—Francis.

My father generally enjoyed excellent health.  I never knew him to have but one spell of sickness, and that was caused by a visit to the Warm Springs in 1818.  Till within three weeks of his death he was hale and hearty, and at the age of 83 years he walked erect and with stately tread.  I am now 68, and I well remember that he was a much smarter man physically, even at that age, than I am.

When I was fourteen years old I was put to the carpenter trade under the charge of John Hemings, the youngest son of my grandmother.  His father’s name was Nelson, who was an Englishman.  She had seven children by white men and seven by colored men—fourteen in all.  My brothers, sister Harriet and myself were used alike.  They were put to some mechanical trade at the age of fourteen.  Till then we were permitted to stay about the “great house,” and only required to do such light work as going on errands.  Harriet learned to spin and to weave in a little factory on the home plantation.  We were free from the dread of having to be slaves all our lives long, and were measurably happy.  We were always permitted to be with our mother, who was well used.  It was her duty, all her life which I can remember, up to the time of father’s death, to take care of his chamber and wardrobe, look after us children and do such light work as sewing, &c.

Provision was made in the will of our father that we should be free when we arrived at the age of 21 years.  We had all passed that period when he died but Eston, and he was given the remainder of his time shortly after.  He and I rented a house and took mother to live with us, till her death, which event occurred in 1835.

In 1831 I married Mary McCoy.  Her grandmother was a slave, and lived with her master, Stephen Hughes, near Charlottesville, as his wife.  She was manumitted by him, which made their children free born.  Mary McCoy’s mother was his daughter.  I was about 23 and she 22 years of age when we married.  We lived and labored together in Virginia till 1836, when we voluntarily left and came to Ohio.  We settled in Pebble township, Pike county.  We lived there four or five years, and during my stay in that county I worked at my trade on and off for about four years.  Joseph Sewell was my first employer.  I built for him what is now known as Bizzleport No. 2, in Waverly.  I afterwards worked for George Wolfe, Senior, and did the carpenter work of the brick building now owned by John J. Kellison, in which the Pike County Republican is printed.  I worked for and with Micajah Hinson.  I found him to be a very clever man.  I also reconstructed the building on the corner of Market and Water streets from a store to a hotel for the late Judge Jacob Row.

When we came from Virginia we brought one daughter (Sarah) with us, leaving the dust of a son in the soil near Monticello.  We have had born to us in this State nine children.  Two are dead.  The names of the living, besides Sarah, are Harriet, Mary Ann, Catharine, Jane, William Beverly, James Madison and Ellen Wales.  Thomas Eston died in the Andersonville prison pen, and Julia died at home.  William, James and Ellen are unmarried and live at home, in Huntington township, Ross county.  All the others are married and raising families.  My post-office address is Pee Pee, Pike county, Ohio. (Madison Hemings recollections, Pike County Republican, 13 Mar. 1873)

“Why Is Betsy Hemmings’s Grave In The Eppes Family Cemetery?”

In 1792, when nine-year-old Betsy was returned to Monticello, she fared better than many slave children, since her Hemings family…
“Why Is Betsy Hemmings’s Grave In The Eppes Family Cemetery?”

Edna Jacques sees Betsy Hemmings’s elaborate tombstone as confirmation of her family’s oral traditions.

In 1792, when nine-year-old Betsy was returned to Monticello, she fared better than many slave children, since her Hemings family awaited her – among them, Grandmother Betty, Aunt Sally, Uncle John and numerous others. At Monticello, Betsy’s life appeared uneventful, recorded in Thomas Jefferson’s Farm Book as a housemaid. But in 1797, Thomas Jefferson gave her as a wedding present to his youngest daughter Maria and her husband – also first cousin – John Wayles Eppes. Again leaving Monticello and her Hemings family, fourteen-year-old Betsy began a new life with the Eppeses in Chesterfield County. After Maria Jefferson Eppes’s death in 1804, John Wayles Eppes moved to his new plantation Millbrook, located in Buckingham County, accompanied by his young son Francis and Betsy Hemmings. Millbrook became Betsy’s permanent home and eventually her final resting-place.

It is this final resting-place that sparks the public interest in Betsy Hemmings. Why is Betsy Hemmings’s grave in the Eppes family cemetery, as opposed to the Millbrook slave cemetery, which was the custom in Buckingham County? Why is Betsy’s tombstone so elaborate, when at best most slave graves had fieldstones as markers, or none at all? How did her grave survive the racist times when blacks were brutalized and their property destroyed? Why was this seemingly insignificant Hemings slave honored with such a grave, while her famous Aunt Sally, her wealthy mother Mary, and her talented Uncle John lie in unmarked graves?

The answers to these questions are found in stories that have been passed down for generations by descendants of the Hemmings and Eppes families; former slaves from Millbrook and Chellowe plantations; my great-aunt Olive Rebecca Bolling (1847-1953); and descendants of people who lived in the vicinity of Millbrook. Probably additional information on Betsy’s life at Millbrook existed, but was lost in two Buckingham fires. In 1866, the plantation house at Millbrook was destroyed by fire, supposedly by whites angered because blacks occupied the house. Rumors have persisted that the arsonists were members of a prominent old Virginia family with blood ties to the Eppeses and Randolphs. In 1869, Buckingham County Courthouse, which was designed by Thomas Jefferson in 1821, also burned, resulting in a loss of records.

Central to any discussion of Betsy Hemmings is the issue of paternity, hers and that of her children. Many of Betsy’s descendants have remained in Buckingham County since her lifetime, passing down their oral history from generation to generation. That oral history says that Betsy Hemmings was a daughter of Thomas Jefferson and mistress of John Wayles Eppes: Betsy’s lifestyle at Millbrook and the location of her elaborate grave corroborate her descendants oral history.

Until recent times, most historians have ignored or denied the existence of interracial plantation families. But as circumstantial evidence from the antebellum period is reevaluated and more credence given to oral history, the complexity of race relations on the plantation becomes evident. For instance, there were some slave and master families who maintained intimate relationships with each other, often spanning generations. In some of these families, first cousin marriages were common among the whites, while intimate relationships between the white and black family members were as close, if not closer. Nothing about life on the plantations should come as a surprise, since the plantations were essentially fiefdoms. Although laws governing behavior existed, planters were able to live as they pleased, unless their activities became a public issue.

Betsy Hemmings was a product of entwined black and white plantation families. Her grandmother, Betty Hemings, was owned by Francis Eppes IV, paternal great-grandfather of John Wayles Eppes and maternal grandfather of Thomas Jefferson’s wife, Martha. Then, as part of a dowry, Betty Hemings became the property of John Wayles, father of Martha Jefferson and John Wayles Eppes’s mother, Elizabeth. After John Wayles’s third and last wife died, Betty Hemings became his mistress. Upon her father’s death, Martha Jefferson inherited the entire Hemings family, which she brought to Monticello, but prevailing law dictated that they become the property of her husband Thomas Jefferson. The newly arrived Hemings family rapidly assumed the key household positions at Monticello, and one explanation for their ascent is that Martha Jefferson and Betty Hemings had a close relationship.

In 1782, Martha Jefferson died surrounded by her family, with Betty Hemings and her daughters in attendance, several of whom were reported to be Martha Jefferson’s half sisters. In 1783, Betsy Hemmings was born, a year when her mother Mary was thirty, Thomas Jefferson forty and Sally Hemings ten. (Edna Bolling Jacques, “The Hemmings Family in Buckingham County, Virginia”; for entire account, see http://www.buckinghamhemmings.com/)

“I Knew He Was A Bell Ringer”

Yes, I knew he was a bell ringer, and I knew that he carried these, oh that's coming back to…
“I Knew He Was A Bell Ringer”

Ruth Hunt remembers what she heard about her great-grandfather Henry Martin.

“Yes, I knew he was a bell ringer, and I knew that he carried these, oh that’s coming back to me now. I remember Daddy talking about these buckets of coal that he carried to fire, whatever he had to fire. He was very good at ringing the bells without a time piece. I remember Daddy saying that. And I remember him saying he was always there, you know like he wasn’t, he was on time and he wasn’t absent, that sort of thing. And I know my Grandmother Patsy Martin, great‑grandmother, was a very religious person. The two of them seemed to have been religious people from what I recall. And my Grandmother Patsy would not allow anybody to come in her house with a hat on. My father told me about a man who came to her door, I don’t know whether it was insurance or what he was, but she invited him to take his hat off and the way she invited him was like, this was the impression I got, no nonsense kind of thing.”

“The First Hemings To Be Manumitted”

Betsy Hemmings’s mother was Mary Hemings, the oldest child of Elizabeth (Betty) Hemings, matriarch of the Hemings family, but her…
“The First Hemings To Be Manumitted”

Edna Jacques writes about her ancestor Mary Hemings Bell, whom she had recognized as a patriot of the DAR.

Betsy Hemmings’s mother was Mary Hemings, the oldest child of Elizabeth (Betty) Hemings, matriarch of the Hemings family, but her father was not identified. During her early years, she lived in Charlottesville with her mother and half brother Joseph at the home of Thomas Bell, a wealthy Charlottesville merchant, to whom her mother had been leased during Jefferson’s absence in Paris. During this time, Thomas Bell and Mary Hemings began a common-law relationship, resulting in two children, Robert Washington Bell and Sally Jefferson Bell.

In 1792, at Mary Hemings’s request, Thomas Jefferson sold her to Thomas Bell, an unusual action for Jefferson, considering his stated views on slave women and miscegenation: Thomas Jefferson valued breeding slave women and considered their children a contribution to profit; his position on miscegenation has been widely quoted – “The amalgamation of whites with blacks produces a degradation to which no lover of his country, no lover of excellence in the human character, can innocently consent.” Yet Mary Hemings’s request to be sold to her acknowledged common-law-husband was granted by Thomas Jefferson. Could it have been that he and Mary Hemings had a special relationship? By complying with her request, Jefferson made a public mockery of his own words.

One condition of Mary’s sale had negative consequences for Betsy. Thomas Jefferson permitted Mary to retain only two of her four children; she kept the Bell children, whom Thomas Bell freed along with Mary. But Betsy and Joseph were returned to Monticello in bondage. In 1800, Thomas Bell died leaving Mary and the Bell children a sizable inheritance, increasing their prospects for a brighter future. Perhaps their slave sister, Betsy, also envisioned a brighter future. After all, she had seen her slave mother, now known as Mary Hemings Bell, become the first Hemings to be manumitted and an owner of property on Charlottesville’s Main Street. (Edna Jacques, “The Hemmings Family in Buckingham County, Virginia,” http://www.buckinghamhemmings.com/)

“We Lived And Labored Together”

In 1831 I married Mary McCoy.  Her grandmother was a slave, and lived with her master, Stephen Hughes, near Charlottesville,…
“We Lived And Labored Together”

Madison Hemings recalls his marriage and move to Ohio.

In 1831 I married Mary McCoy.  Her grandmother was a slave, and lived with her master, Stephen Hughes, near Charlottesville, as his wife.  She was manumitted by him, which made their children free born.  Mary McCoy’s mother was his daughter.  I was about 23 and she 22 years of age when we married.  We lived and labored together in Virginia till 1836, when we voluntarily left and came to Ohio.  We settled in Pebble township, Pike county.  We lived there four or five years….

When we came from Virginia we brought one daughter (Sarah) with us, leaving the dust of a son in the soil near Monticello.  We have had born to us in this State nine children.  Two are dead.  The names of the living, besides Sarah, are Harriet, Mary Ann, Catharine, Jane, William Beverly, James Madison and Ellen Wales.  Thomas Eston died in the Andersonville prison pen, and Julia died at home.  William, James and Ellen are unmarried and live at home, in Huntington township, Ross county.  All the others are married and raising families.  My post-office address is Pee Pee, Pike county, Ohio. (Madison Hemings recollections, Pike County Republican, 15 Mar. 1873)

“Disfranchisement Because Of Sex … Handicaps Progress”

I wonder if anybody in all this great world ever thought to consider man’s rights as an individual, by his…
“Disfranchisement Because Of Sex … Handicaps Progress”

Coralie Cook publishes “Votes for Mothers” in the NAACP magazine The Crisis in 1915.

“I wonder if anybody in all this great world ever thought to consider man’s rights as an individual, by his status as a father? yet you ask me to say something about ‘Votes for Mothers,’ as if mothers were a separate and peculiar people.  After all, I think you are not so far wrong.  Mothers are different, or ought to be different, from other folk.  The woman who smilingly goes out, willing to meet the Death Angel, that a child may be born, comes back from that journey, not only the mother of her own adored babe, but a near-mother to all other children.  As she serves that little one, there grows within her a passion to serve humanity; not race, not class, not sex, but God’s creatures as he has sent them to earth.

It is not strange that enlightened womanhood has so far broken its chains as to be able to know that to perform such service, woman should help both to make and to administer the laws under which she lives, should feel responsible for the conduct of educational systems, charitable and correctional institutions, public sanitation and municipal ordinances in general.  Who should be more competent to control the presence of bar rooms and ‘red-light districts’ than mothers whose sons they are meant to lure to degradation and death?  Who knows better than the girl’s mother at what age the girl may legally barter her own body?  Surely not the men who have put upon our statute books, 16, 14, 12, aye be it to their eternal shame, even 10 and 8 years, as ‘the age of consent!’

If men could choose their own mothers, would they choose free women or bondwomen?  Disfranchisement because of sex is curiously like disfranchisement because of color.  It cripples the individual, it handicaps progress, it sets a limitation upon mental and spiritual development.  I grow in breadth, in vision, in the power to do, just in proportion as I use the capacities with which Nature, the All-Mother, has endowed me.  I transmit to the child who is bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh and thought of my thought; somewhat of my own power or weakness.  Is not the voice which is crying out for ‘Votes for Mothers’ the Spirit of the Age crying out for the Rights of Children?”  (The Crisis, 10, August 1915)

“I Treasured It Up In My Heart”

Since I have been in Ohio I have learned to read and write, but my duties as a laborer would…
“I Treasured It Up In My Heart”

Israel Jefferson remembers the Marquis de Lafayette’s remarks about slavery and slave education.

“Since I have been in Ohio I have learned to read and write, but my duties as a laborer would not permit me to acquire much of an education.  But such as I possess I am truly thankful for, and consider what education I have as a legitimate fruit of freedom.

The private life of Thomas Jefferson, from my earliest remembrance, in 1804, till the day of his death, was very familiar to me.  For fourteen years I made the fire in his bedroom and private chamber, cleaned his office, dusted his books, ran of errands, and attended him about home.  He used to ride out to his plantations almost every fair day, when at home, but unlike most other Southern gentlemen in similar circumstances, unaccompanied by any servant.  Frequently gentlemen would call upon him on business of great importance, whom I used to usher into his presence, and sometimes I would be employed in burnishing or doing some other work in the room where they were.  On such occasions I used to remain; otherwise I retired and left the gentlemen to confer together alone.  In those times I minded but little concerning the conversations which took place between Mr. Jefferson and his visitors.  But I well recollect a conversation he had with the great and good Lafayette, when he visited this country in 1824 and 1825, as it was of personal interest to me and mine.  General Lafayette and his son George Washington, remained with Mr. Jefferson six weeks, and almost every day I took them out to a drive.

On the occasion I am now about to speak of, Gen. Lafayette and George were seated in the carriage with him.  The conversation turned upon the condition of the colored people—the slaves.  Lafayette spoke English indifferently; sometimes I could scarcely understand him.  But on this occasion my ears were eagerly taking in every sound that proceeded from the venerable patriot’s mouth.

Lafayette remarked that he thought that the slaves ought to be free; that no man could rightfully hold ownership in his brother man; that he gave his best services to and spent his money in behalf of the Americans freely because he felt that they were fighting for a great and noble principle—the freedom of mankind; that instead of all being free a portion were held in bondage, (which seemed to grieve his noble heart); that it would be unusually beneficial to masters and slaves if the latter were educated, and so on.  Mr. Jefferson replied that he thought the time would come when the slaves would be free, but did not indicate when or in what manner they would get their freedom.  He seemed to think that the time had not then arrived.  To the latter proposition of Gen. Lafayette, Mr. Jefferson in part assented.  He was in favor of teaching the slaves to learn to read print; that to teach them to write would enable them to forge papers, when they could no longer be kept in subjugation.

This conversation was very gratifying to me, and I treasured it up in my heart.” (Israel Jefferson, Pike County Republican, 25 Dec. 1873)

“The Last I Heard Of Them”

During the interval of Mr. Jefferson’s death and the sale to Mr. Gilmer, I married Mary Ann Colter, a slave,…
“The Last I Heard Of Them”

Israel Jefferson speaks of the fate of his enslaved children and describes how he gained his freedom.

“During the interval of Mr. Jefferson’s death and the sale to Mr. Gilmer, I married Mary Ann Colter, a slave, by whom I had four children—Taliola, (a daughter) Banebo, (a son) Susan and John.  As they were born slaves they took the usual course of most others in the same condition in life.  I do not know where they now are, if living; but the last I heard of them they were in Florida and Virginia.  My wife died, and while a servant of Mr. Gilmer, I married my present wife, widow Elizabeth Randolph, who was then mother to ten children.  Her maiden name was Elizabeth Farrow.  Her mother was a white woman named Martha Thacker.  Consequently, Elizabeth, (my present wife) was free-born.  She supposes that she was born about 1793 or ‘94.  Of her ten children, only two are living—Julia, her first born, and wife of Charles Barnett, who lives on an adjoining farm, and Elizabeth, wife of Henry Lewis, who reside within one mile of us.

My wife and I have lived together about thirty-five years.  We came to Cincinnati, Ohio, where we were again married in conformity to the laws of this State.  At the time we were first married I was in bondage; my wife was free.  When my first wife died I made up my mind I would never live with another slave woman.  When Governor Gilmer was elected a representative in Congress, he desired to have me go on to Washington with him.  But I demurred.  I did not refuse, of course, but I laid before him my objections with such earnestness that he looked me in the face with his piercing eye, as if balancing in his mind whether to be soft or severed, and said,

            ‘Israel, you have served me well; you are a faithful servant; now what will you give me for your freedom?’

            ‘I reckon I give you what you paid years ago—$500,’ I replied.

            ‘How much will you give to bind the bargain?’ he asked.

            ‘Three hundred dollars,’ was my ready answer.

            ‘When will you pay the remainder?’

            ‘In one and two years.’

And on these terms the bargain concluded and I was, for the first time, my own man, and almost free, but not quite, for it was against the laws of Virginia for a freed slave to reside in the State beyond a year and a day.  Nor were the colored people not in slavery free; they were nominally so.  When I came to Ohio I considered myself wholly free, and not till then.

And here let me say, that my good master, Governor Gilmer, was killed by the explosion of the gun Peacemaker, on board the Princeton, in 1842 or 1843, and had I gone to Washington with him it would have been my duty to keep very close to his person, and probably I would have been killed also, as others were.

I was bought in the name of my wife.  We remained in Virginia several years on sufferance.  At last we made up our minds to leave the confines of slavery and emigrate to a free State.  We went to Charlottesville Court House, in Albermarle county, for my free papers.  When there, the clerk, Mr. Garrett, asked me what surname I would take.  I hesitated, and he suggested that it should be Jefferson, because I was born at Monticello and had been a good and faithful servant to Thomas Jefferson.  Besides, he said, it would give me more dignity to be called after so eminent a man.  So I consented to adopt the surname of Jefferson, and have been known by it ever since.” (Israel Jefferson, Pike County Republican, 25 Dec. 1873)

“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.

“The ‘Colonel’ Commenced Singing”

My dear precious son: I am glad to inform you that your letter with Post Office order came to me…
“The ‘Colonel’ Commenced Singing”

Julia Jefferson in 1877 thanks her son John Wayles Jefferson for a gift of money and tells him about her singing bird and a snowstorm.

My dear precious son:

I am glad to inform you that your letter with Post Office order came to me on the evening of the same day I wrote to you that I had not received it. I, as usual, return to you my heartfelt thanks for your kindness. I wish I could give you something better.  I hope you will take the will for the deed. God grant you may never want or even miss what you are so good as to give me.  I am satisfied and grateful for it. I believe I am now more resigned to what seems to be my lot than ever before.  At times, I am quite cheerful, at other times old and new troubles come back to me, but I know now better what to do with them than ever before. I believe God helps me to cast my burdens on Him.

I believe I wrote to you about the snow and cold weather, but today and last night a snow storm has set in that is far in advance of any thing of the kind for severity. It is now 10 o’clock at night and it is blowing and snowing as hard as ever.  The drifts in some places are four and five feet high. At noon today the boys went out to remove some of the snow so we could get out, but now it is as bad if not worse than before. It is about knee deep on a level. While it lasts, we shall be warm inside for every hole is stopped and we are banked up in some places above the windows. I don’t know how it will be by morning. Probably we shall have to be dug out.

I am glad to tell you that the “Colonel” commenced singing on the 27th of Dec. just in low sad notes. He continued in this way for several successive days, when all at once he broke out with the finest singing I ever heard from the bird kind, and so he has kept on ever since. I understand him now when he wants anything. He doesn’t like the lamp to shine in on him, and he gives an unusual cry. I get up and cover his cage and he is perfectly quiet. I attend to him altogether myself and I believe he thinks as much of me as I do of him. The ceiling is so low that I can’t hang him up, so he has been kept all the time on a stand by the window and he seems to feel perfectly at home there.

It is now much later than I thought it was, and must close, wishing my dear son good night and praying the good God to bless him.  (Julia Jefferson to John Wayles Jefferson, 15 Jan. 1877, courtesy of Julia Jefferson Westerinen)