Author: Lucia Stanton

the retired senior historian at the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello and the author of Those Who Labor for My Happiness": Slavery at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello"""

Joseph Fossett (1780–1858)

Joseph Fossett was an enslaved blacksmith owned by Thomas Jefferson and later freed in Jefferson’s will. After moving to Ohio, he, his wife, and their family became vigorous antagonists of slavery. Fossett was born in Richmond in 1780, while Jefferson was serving as governor. He is sometimes referred to as Joe Hemings after his mother, Mary Hemings, who was later freed without him. He took the surname Fossett by the 1820s. At Monticello, Fossett worked in the main house and the Mulberry Row nailery. Under the tutelage of William Stewart, he became Monticello’s head blacksmith and was able to perform outside work, of which Jefferson allowed him to keep a small percentage of the earnings. He married Edith Hern, an enslaved house servant who spent six years working in Washington, D.C., as President Jefferson‘s cook. Upon Jefferson’s death in 1826, the couple and seven of their eight children lived at Monticello, although the will freed only Fossett. Through various business arrangements, hard work, and saving, Fossett was able to free ten members of his family, including Edith and five children. They left the state and relocated to Ohio, where Fossett purchased property for a home and blacksmith shop. They became well known for their fight against slavery, whether through forged freedom papers, work with the Underground Railroad, or service with U.S. Colored Troops during the American Civil War (1861–1865). Fossett died in 1858.