“Life of Isaac Jefferson of Petersburg, Virginia, Blacksmith” by Isaac Jefferson (1847)

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“Life of Isaac Jefferson of Petersburg, Virginia, Blacksmith” is the recollections of Isaac Jefferson as dictated to the Reverend Charles Campbell in 1847. Also known as Isaac Granger, Jefferson was a former slave of Thomas Jefferson, and recollections promise “a full and faithful account of Monticello and the family there, with notices of the many distinguished characters that visited there, with his Revolutionary experience and travels, adventures, observations and opinions, the whole taken down from his [Isaac Jefferson’s] own words.” A manuscript version dates to 1871. The University of Virginia Press published the account first in 1951 and then again, but without chapter headings, in 1967. Using the 1951 edition as a guide, the following is a transcription of the original manuscript, altering somewhat the placement of notes and eliminating instances of crossed-out text.


Chapter 1

Life of Isaac Jefferson of Petersburg

Isaac Jefferson was born at Monticello: his mother was named Usler (Ursula*) but nicknamed Queen, because her husband was named George & commonly called King George. She was pastry-cook & washerwoman: Stayed in the laundry. Isaac toated wood for her: made fire & so on. Mrs. Jefferson would come out there with a cookery book in her hand & read out of it to Isaac’s mother how to make cakes tarts & so on.

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Mrs. Jefferson was named Patsy Wayles**, but when Mr Jefferson married her she was the widow Skelton, widow of Batter (Bathurst) Skelton. Isaac was one year’s child with Patsy Jefferson: she was suckled part of the time by Isaac’s mother. Patsy married Thomas Mann Randolph.† Mr. Jefferson bought Isaac’s mother from Col. Wm Fleming of Goochland. Isaac remembers John Nelson, an Englishman at work at Monticello: he was an inside worker, a finisher. the blacksmith was Billy Ore; (Orr?) the carriage-maker Davy Watson: he worked also for Col. Carter of Blenheim, eight miles from Monticello. Monticello-house was pulled down in part & built up again some six or seven times. One time it was struck by lightning. It had a Franklin rod at one eend [sic]. Old master used to say, “If it hadn’t been for that Franklin the whole house would have gone.” They was forty years at work upon that house before Mr Jefferson stopped building.

* Note: There was a work published in 1862 by C. Scribner at New York, entitled: “The Private Life of Thomas Jefferson from entirely new materials with numerous fac-similes, edited by Rev. Hamilton W Pierson D D President of Cumberland College, Kentucky. This work consists of the reminiscenses of a Captain Edmund Bacon who was overseer for Mr Jefferson at Monticello for 20 years. The Captain’s reminiscenses were taken down from his lips by Dr Pierson. The Captain mentions Ursula among the house-servants & says—: “She was Mrs Randolph’s nurse. She was a big fat woman. She took charge of all the children that were not in school. If there was any switching to be done. She always did it. She used to be down at my house a great deal with those children. They used to be there so much that we often got tired of them: but we never said so. They were all very much attached to their nurse: they always called her ‘Mammy.[‘]” Isaac in 1847 by his estimate upwards of seventy years old, was a big fat robust black man.

** Martha youngest daughter of John Wayles, a native of Lancaster, England, a lawyer, who lived at “the Forest” in Charles City county, Va. He was married three times & dying in May 1773 left three daughters one of whom married Francis Eppes, (Father of John W Eppes who married Maria daughter of Thomas Jefferson) & the other Fulwar Skipwith. Mr Jefferson inherited the Shadwell & Monticello estates. The portion that he acquired by marriage was encumbered with a (British) debt & resulted in a heavy loss. Martha Skelton was 23 years old in 1772 when she married Mr Jefferson.

† Sometime Governor of Virginia.

Chap. 2

Mr Jefferson came down to Williamsburg in a phaeton made by Davy Watson. Billy Ore did the iron-work.* That phaeton was sent to London & the springs &c was

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gilded. This was when Mr Jefferson was in Paris. Isaac remembers coming down to Williamsburg in a wagon at the time Mr Jefferson was Governor. He came down in the phaeton: his family with him in a coach & four. Bob Hemings drove the phaeton: Jim Hemings was a body-servant: Martin Hemings—the butler. These three were brothers: Mary Hemings & Sally, their Sisters. Jim & Bob bright mulattoes, Martin, darker. Jim & Martin rode on horseback. Bob went afterwards to live with old Dr Strauss in Richmond & unfortunately had his hand shot off with a blunderbuss. Mary Hemings rode in the wagon. Sally Hemings’ mother Betty was a bright mulatto woman & Sally mighty near white: she was the youngest child. Folks said that these Hemingses was old Mr Wayles’ children. Sally was very handsome: long straight hair down her back. She was about eleven years old when Mr Jefferson took her to France to wait on Miss Polly. She & Sally went out to France a year after Mr Jefferson went. Patsy went with him at first, but she carried no maid with her. Harriet one of Sally’s daughters was very handsome. Sally had a son named Madison, who learned to be a great fiddler. He has been in Petersburg twice: was here when the balloon went up—the balloon that Beverly sent off.

Mr Jefferson drove faster in the phaeton than the wagon. When the wagon reached Williamsburg Mr Jefferson was living in the College (of Wm & Mary). Isaac & the rest of the servants stayed in the Assembly-house—a long wooden building. Lord Botetourt’s picture (statue) was there. The Assembly-house had a gallery on top running round to the College. There was a well there then: none there now. Some white people was living in one eend [sic] of the house: a man named Douglas was there: they called him Parson Douglas.†

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Mr Jefferson’s room in the College was down stairs. A tailor named Giovanni an Italian lived there too: made clothes for Mr Jefferson & his servants. Mrs Jefferson was there with Patsy & Polly. Mrs Jefferson was small: she drawed from old Madam Byrd** several hundred people & then married a rich man (Bathurst Skelton). Old Master had twelve quarters seated with black people: but mighty few come by him: he want rich himself—only his larnin. Patsy Jefferson was tall like her father; Polly low like her mother & longways the handsomest: pretty lady jist like her mother: pity she died—poor thing! She married John W Eppes—a handsome man, but had a hare-lip.

Jupiter and John drove Mr Jeffersons coach & four: one of em rode postilion: they rode postilion in them days. Travelling in the phaeton Mr Jefferson used oftentimes to take the reins himself & drive. Whenever he wanted to travel fast he’d drive: would drive powerful hard himself. Jupiter & John wore caps & gilded bands. The names of the horses was Senegore, Gustavus, Otter, Remus, Romulus & Caractacus Mr Jefferson’s riding-horse.

* Capt. Bacon says: John Hemings made most of the wood-work & Joe Fosset made the iron-work.

† The Rev. Wm Douglas in a school at Shadwell near Monticello, instructed young Jefferson in the rudiments of Greek, Latin & French.

** Robert Beverley the historian married Ursula Byrd of Westover, from whom the Monticello Ursula may have derived her name.

Chap. 3

After one year the Government was moved from Williamsburg to Richmond. Mr Jefferson moved there with his servants, among em Isaac. It was cold weather when they moved up. Mr Jefferson lived in a wooden house

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near where the Palace (Governor’s house) stands now. Richmond was a small place then: not more than two brick houses in the town: all wooden houses what there was. At that time from where the Powhatan house now stands clear down to the Old Market was pretty much in pines. It was a wooden house shedded round like a barn on the hill, where the Assembly-men used to meet, near where the Capitol stands now. Old Mr Wiley had a saddler-shop in the same house. Isaac knew Billy Wiley mighty well—a saddler by trade: he was doorkeeper at the Assembly. His wife was a baker & baked bread & ginger-cakes. Isaac would go into the bake-oven & make fire for: She had a great big bake oven. Isaac used to go way into the oven: when he came out Billy Wiley would chuck wood in. She sometimes gave Isaac a loaf of bread or a cake. One time she went up to Monticello to see Mr Jefferson. She saw Isaac there & gave him a ninepence & said, “This is the boy that made fires for me.” Mr Jefferson’s family-servants then at the palace were Bob Hemings, Martin, Jim, house-servants, Jupiter & John drivers, Mary Hemings & young Betty Hemings seamstress & house-woman, Sukey, Jupiter’s wife the cook.

Chap. 4

The day before the British (under Arnold) came to Richmond Mr Jefferson sent off his family in the carriage. Bob Hemings & Jim drove[.] When the British was expected (Jan. 6, 1781) old master kept the spy-glass & git up by the sky-light window to the top of the palace looking towards Williamsburg. Some Other gentlemen went up with him, one of them old Mr Marsdell: he owned where the basin is now & the basin-spring. Isaac used to fetch water from there up to the palace. The British reached Manchester

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about 1 o’clock.* Isaac larnt to beat drum about this time. Bob Anderson a white man was a blacksmith. Mat Anderson was a black man & worked with Bob. Bob was a fifer Mat was a drummer. Mat bout that time was sort a-makin love to Mary Hemings. The soldiers at Richmond, in the camp at Bacon Quarter Branch would come every two or three days to salute the Governor at the Palace, marching about there drumming & fifing. Bob Anderson would go into the house to drink; Mat went into the kitchen to see Mary Hemings. He would take his drum with him into the kitchen & set it down there. Isaac would beat on it & Mat larnt him how to beat.

* They didn’t come by way of Manchester.

Chap. 5

As soon as the British formed a line three cannon was wheeled round all at once & fired three rounds. Till they fired the Richmond people thought they was a company come from Petersburg to join them: some of em even hurraed when they see them coming: but that moment they fired every body knew it was the British. One of the cannon-balls knocked off the top of a butcher’s house: he was named Daly not far from the Governor’s house. The butcher’s wife screamed out & hollerd & her children too & all. In ten minutes not a white man was to be seen in Richmond: they ran as hard as they could stave to the camp at Bacon Quarter Branch. There was a monstrous hollering & screaming of women & children. Isaac was out in the yard: his mother ran out & cotch him up by the hand & carried him into the kitchen hollering. Mary Hemings, she jerked up her daughter the same way. Isaac run out again in a minute & his mother too: she was so skeered, she didn’t know whether to stay indoors or out. The British was dressed

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in red. Isaac saw them marching. The horsemen (Simcoe’s cavalry) was with them: they come arter the artillery-men. They formed in line & marched up to the Palace with drums beating: it was an awful sight: seemed like the day of judgment was come. When they fired the cannon old master called out to John to fetch his horse Caractacus from the stable & rode off.

Chap. 6

Isaac never see his old master arter dat for six months. When the British come in, an officer rode up & asked “Whar is the Governor?” Isaac’s father (George) told him:—”He’s gone to the mountains.” The officer said, “Whar is the keys of the house?” Isaac’s father gave him the keys: Mr Jefferson had left them with him. The officer said: “Whar is the silver?” Isaac’s father told him, “It was all sent up to the mountains.” The old man had put all the silver about the house in a bed-tick & hid it under a bed in the kitchen & saved it too & got his freedom by it. But he continued to sarve Mr Jefferson & had forty pounds from old master & his wife. Isaac’s mother had seven dollars a month for lifetime for washing, ironing, & making pastry. The British sarcht the house but did’nt disturb none of the furniture: but they plundered the wine-cellar, rolled the pipes out & stove em in, knockin the heads out. The bottles they broke the necks off with their swords, drank some, threw the balance away. The wine-cellar was full: old master had plenty of wine & rum—the best: used to have Antigua rum—twelve years old. The British next went to the corn-crib & took all the corn out, strewed it in a line along the street towards where the Washington tavern* is now (1847) & brought their

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horses & fed them on it: took the bridles off. The British said they did’nt want anybody but the Governor: did’nt want to hurt him; only wanted to put a pair of silver handcuffs on him: had brought them along with them on purpose. While they was plunderin they took all of the meat out of the meat-house; cut it up, laid it out in parcels: every man took his ration & put it in his knapsack. When Isaac’s mother found they was gwine to car him away she thought they was gwine to leave her: She was cryin & hollerin when one of the officers came on a horse & ordered us all to Hylton’s. Then they marched off to Westham. Isaac heard the powder-magazine when it blew up—like an earthquake. Next morning between eight & nine they marched to Tuckahoe, fifteen miles: took a good many colored people from Old Tom Mann Randolph. He was called “Tuckahoe Tom.” Isaac has often been to Tuckahoe—a low-built house but monstrous large. From Tuckahoe the British went to Daniel Hylton’s. They carred off thirty people from Tuckahoe & some from Hylton’s. When they come back to Richmond they took all old master’s from his house: all of em had to walk except Daniel and Molly (children of Mary the pastry-cook) & Isaac. He was then big enough to beat the drum: but could’nt raise it off the ground: would hold it tilted over to one side & beat on it that way.

* At East end of Grace St—now (1871) the Central Hotel.

Chap. 7

There was about a dozen wagons along: they (the British) pressed the common wagons: four horses to a wagon: some black drivers, some white: every

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wagon guarded by ten men marching alongside.

One of the officers give Isaac name Sambo: all the time feedin him: put a cocked hat on his head & a red coat on him & all laughed. Coat a monstrous great big thing: when Isaac was in it could’nt [sic] see nothing of it but the sleeves dangling down. He remembers crossing the river somewhere in a periauger [piragua]. And so the British carred them all down to Little York (Yorktown.) They marched straight through town & camped jist below back of the battle-field. Mr Jefferson’s people there was Jupiter, Sukey the cook, Usley (Isaac’s mother) George (Isaac’s father) Mary the seamstress & children Molly, Daniel, Joe, Wormley, & Isaac. The British treated them mighty well, give em plenty of fresh meat & wheat bread. It was very sickly at York: great many colored people died there, but none of Mr Jefferson’s folks. Wallis (Cornwallis) had a cave dug & was hid in there. There was tremendous firing & smoke: seemed like heaven & earth was come together: every time the great guns fire Isaac jump up off the ground. Heard the wounded men hollerin: when the smoke blow off you see the dead men laying on the ground. General Washington brought all Mr Jefferson’s folks & about twenty of Tuckahoe Tom’s (Tom Mann Randolph’s) back to Richmond with him & sent word to Mr Jefferson to send

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down to Richmond for his servants. Old master sent down two wagons right away & all of em that was carred away went up back to Monticello. At that time old master & his family was at Poplar Forest his place in Bedford. He stayed there after his arm was broke, when Caractacus threw him. Old master was mightly pleased to see his people come back safe & sound (Although “All men by nature are free & equal.”) & to hear of the plate.

Chap. 8

Mr Jefferson was a tall strait-bodied man as ever you see, right square-shouldered: nary man in this town walked so straight as my old master: neat a built man as ever was seen in Vaginny, I reckon or any place—a straight-up man*: long face, high nose.

Jefferson Randolph (Mr Jefferson’s grandson) nothing like him, except in height—tall, like him: not built like him: old master was a straight-up man. Jefferson Randolph pretty much like his mother. Old master wore Vaginny cloth and a red waistcoast, (all the gentlemen wore waistcoats in dem days) & small clothes: arter dat he used to wear red breeches too.** Governor Page used to come up there to Monticello, wife & daughter wid him: drove four-in hand: servants John, Molly & a postilion. Patrick Henry visited old master: coach & two: his face for all the world like the images of Bonaparte: would stay a week or more. Mann Page used to be at Monticello—a plain mild-looking man: his wife & daughter along with him. Dr Thomas Walker lived about ten miles from Monticello—a thin-faced man. John Walker (of Belvoir), his brother, owned a great many black people.†

* Capt. Bacon describes him as “Six feet two & a half inches high, well proportioned & straight as a gun-barrel. He was like a fine horse: he had no surplus flesh.[“]

** Capt. Bacon says: “He was always very neat in his dress: wore short breeches & bright shoe-buckles. When he rode on horseback he had a pair of overalls that he always put on.[“]

† John Walker member of Congress during the Revolution.

Chap. 9

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Old master was never seen to come out before breakfast—about 8 o’clock. If it was warm weather he would’nt [sic] ride out till evening: studied upstairs till bell ring for dinner. When writing he had a copyin machine: while he was a-writin he would’nt suffer nobody to come in his room: had a dumb-waiter: when he wanted anything he had nothing to do but turn a crank & the dumb-waiter would bring him water or fruit on a plate or anything he wanted. Old master had abundance of books: sometimes would have twenty of ’em down on the floor at once: read fust one, then tother. Isaac has often wondered how old master came to have such a mighty head: read so many of them books: & when they go to him to ax him anything, he go right straight to the book & tell you all about it. He talked French & Italian. Madzay* talked with him: his place was called Colle. General Redhazel (Riedesel) stayed there. He (Mazzei) lived at Monticello with old master some time: Didiot a Frenchman married his daughter Peggy: a heavy chunky looking woman—mighty handsome: She had a daughter Frances & a son Francis: called the daughter Franky. Mazzei brought to Monticello Antonine, Jovanini, Francis, Modena & Belligrini, all gardiners. My old master’s garden was monstrous large: two rows of palings, all round ten feet high.

* Philip Mazzei—an Italian—author of “Recherches Sur Les Etats-Unis,” 3 vols. published at Paris, in 1788.

Chap. 10

Mr Jefferson had a clock in his kitchen at Monticello;

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never went into the kitchen except to wind up the clock. He never would have less than eight covers at dinner—if nobody at table but himself: had from eight to thirty two covers for dinner: plenty of wine, best old Antigua rum & cider: very fond of wine & water. Isaac never heard of his being disguised in drink. He kept three fiddles: played in the arternoons & sometimes arter supper. This was in his early time: when he begin to git so old he didn’t play: kept a spinnet made mostly in shape of a harpsichord: his daughter played on it. Mr Fauble a Frenchman that lived at Mr Walker’s—a music-man, used to come to Monticello & tune it. There was a forte piano & a guitar there: never seed anybody play on them but the French people. Isaac never could git acquainted with them: could hardly larn their names. Mr Jefferson always singing when ridin or walkin: hardly see him anywhar out doors but what he was a-singin:* had a fine clear voice, sung minnits (minuets) & sich: fiddled in the parlor. Old master very kind to servants.

* Capt. Bacon says: “When he was not talking he was nearly always humming some tune; or singing in a low tone to himself.”

Chap. 11

The fust year Mr Jefferson was elected President, he took Isaac on to Philadelphia: he was then about fifteen years old: travelled on horseback in company with a Frenchman named Joseph Rattiff & Jim Hemings a body-servant. Fust day’s journey they went from Monticello to old Nat Gordon’s, on the Fredericksburg road, next day to Fredericksburg, then to Georgetown, crossed the Potomac there, & so to Philadelphia: eight days a-goin. Had two ponies & Mr Jefferson’s tother riding-horse Odin. Mr Jefferson went in the phaeton: Bob Hemings drove: changed horses on the road. When they got to Philadelphia Isaac stayed three days at Mr Jefferson’s house:

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then he was bound prentice to one Bringhouse a tinner: he lived in the direction of the Water-works. Isaac remembers seeing the image of a woman thar holding a goose in her hand—the water spouting out of the goose’s mouth. This was at the head of Market Street. Bringhouse was a short mighty small neat-made man: treated Isaac very well: went thar to larn the tinner’s trade: fust week larnt to cut out and sodder: make little pepper-boxes & graters & sich, out of scraps of tin, so as not to waste any till he had larnt. Then to making cups. Every Sunday Isaac would go to the President’s House—large brick house, many windows: same house Ginral Washington lived in before when he was President. “Old master used to talk to me mighty free & ax me, how you come on Isaac, larnin de tin-business?” As soon as he could make cups pretty well he carred three or four to show him. Isaac made four dozen pint-cups a day & larnt to tin copper & sheets (sheet-iron)—make ’em tin. He lived four years with old Bringhouse. One time Mr Jefferson sent to Bringhouse to tin his copper-kittles & pans for kitchen use: Bringhouse sent Isaac & another prentice thar—a white boy named Charles: cant think of his other name. Isaac was the only black boy in Bringhouse’s shop. When Isaac carred the cups to his old master to show him he was mightily pleased: said, “Isaac you are larnin mighty fast: I bleeve I must send you back to Vaginny to car on the tin-business. You is growin too big: no use for you to stay here no longer.”

Arter dat Mr Jefferson sent Isaac back to Monticello to car on the tin-business thar. Old master bought a sight of tin for the purpose. Mr Jefferson had none of his family with him in Philadelphia.

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Polly his daughter stayed with her aunt Patsy Carr: she lived seven or eight miles from old master’s great house. Sam Carr was Mr Jefferson’s sister’s child. There were three brothers of the Carrs—Sam, Peter & Dabney. Patsy Jefferson while her father was President in Philadelphia stayed with Mrs Eppes at Wintopoke: Mrs Eppes was a sister of Mrs Jefferson:—mightily like her sister. Frank Eppes was a big heavy man.

Old master’s servants at Philadelphia was Bob & Jim Hemings; Joseph Rattiff a Frenchman—the hostler. Mr Jefferson used to ride out on horseback in Philadelphia. Isaac went back to Monticello. When the tin came they fixed up a shop. Jim Bringhouse came on to Monticello all the way with old master to fix up the shop & start Isaac to work: Jim Bringhouse stayed thar more than a month.

Chap. 12

Isaac knew old Colonel (Archibald) Cary mighty well: as dry a looking man as ever you see in your life. He has given Isaac more whippings than he has fingers & toes. Mr Jefferson used to set Isaac to open gates for Col. Cary: there was three gates to open, the furst bout a mile from the house: tother one three quarters; then the yard-gate, at the stable three hundred yards from the house. Isaac had to open the gates. Col. Cary would write to old master what day he was coming. Whenever Isaac missed opening them gates in time, the Colonel soon as he git to the house, look about for him & whip him with his horsewhip. Old master used to keep dinner for Col. Cary. He was a tall thin-visaged man jist like Mr Jefferson: he drove four-in-hand. The Colonel as soon as he git out of his carriage, walk right straight into the kitchen

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& ax de cooks what they hab for dinner? If they did’nt have what he wanted—bleeged to wait dinner till it was cooked. Col. Cary made freer at Monticello than he did at home: whip anybody: would stay several weeks: give servants money, sometimes five or six dollars among ’em. Tuckahoe Tom Randolph married Colonel Cary’s daughter Nancy. The Colonel lived at Ampthill on the James river where Colonel Bob Temple lived arterwards. Edgehill was the seat of Tom Mann Randolph father of Jefferson Randolph: it was three miles from Monticello.

Chap. 13

Isaac carred on the tin-business two years:—it failed. He then carred on the nail-business at Monticello seven years: made money at that. Mr Jefferson had the first (nail) cutting machine ’twas said, that ever was in Vaginny—sent over from England: made wrought nails & cut-nails, to shingle & lathe: sold them out of the shop: got iron rods from Philadelphia by water: boated them up from Richmond to Milton a small town on the Rivanna: wagoned from thar.

Chap. 14

Thomas Mann Randolph had ten children.* Isaac lived with him fust & last twenty six or seven years: treated him mighty well: one of the finest masters in Virginia: his a [sic] wife mighty peacable woman: never holler for servant: make no fuss nor racket: pity she ever died! Tom Mann Randolph’s eldest daughter Ann: a son named Jefferson, another James & another Benjamin.

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Jefferson Randolph married Mr Nicholas’** daughter (Anne). Billy Giles† courted Miss Polly old master’s daughter. Isaac one morning saw him talking to her in the garden, right back of the nail-factory shop: she was lookin on de ground: all at once she wheeled round & come off. That was the time she turned him off. Isaac never so sorry for a man in all his life: sorry because everybody thought that she was going to marry him. Mr Giles give several dollars to the servants & when he went away dat time he never come back no more. His servant Arthur was a big man. Isaac wanted Mr Giles to marry Miss Polly. Arthur always said, that he was a mighty fine man: he was very rich: used to come to Monticello in a monstrous fine gig: mighty few gigs in dem days with plated mountins & harness.

* Thomas Mann Randolph’s sons were Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, Merriwether Lewis & George Wythe (Secy. Of War of C. S.) daughters Anne, Ellen, Virginia, Cornelia & Septimia.

** Wilson Cary Nicholas, sometime Governor of Virginia.

†Wm C [actually Branch] Giles, M. C. a celebrated debater. Sometime Governor of Virginia. He acquired the sobriquet of “Farmer Giles.”

Chap. 15

Elk Hill: old master had a small brick house there where he used to stay, about a mile from Elk Island on the North Side of the James river. The river forks there: one half runs one side of the island, tother the other side. When Mr Jefferson was Governor he used to stay thar a month or sich a matter & when he was at the mountain he would come & stay a month or so & then go back again. Blenheim was a low large wooden house two storeys high, eight miles from Monticello. Old Col. Carter lived thar: had a light red head like Mr Jefferson. Isaac know’d him & every son he had:—

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did’nt know his daughters.

Mr Jefferson used to hunt squirrels & partridges; kept five or six guns; oftentimes carred Isaac wid him: old master would’nt [sic] shoot partridges settin: said “he would’nt take advantage of em”—would give ’em a chance for thar life: would’nt shoot a hare settin, nuther; skeer him up fust. “My old master was as neat a hand as ever you see to make keys & locks & small chains, iron & brass;” he kept all kind of blacksmith and carpenter tools in a great case with shelves to it in his library—an upstairs room. Isaac went up thar constant: been up thar a thousand times; used to car coal up thar: old master had a couple of small bellowses up thar.

The likeness of Mr Jefferson (in Linn’s Life of him) according to Isaac, is not much like him. “Old master never dat handsome in dis world: dat likeness right between old master & Ginral Washington: old master was squar-shouldered.” For amusement he would work sometimes in the garden for half an hour at a time in right good earnest in the cool of the evening: never know’d him to go out anywhar before breakfast.

Chap. 16

The school at Monticello was in the out-chamber fifty yards off from the great house, on the same level. But the scholars went into the house to old master to git lessons—in the South eend [sic] of the house called the South Octagon. Mrs Skipper (Skipwith) had two daughters thar: Mrs Eppes, one.

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Mr Jefferson’s sister Polly married old Ned Bolling* of Chesterfield about ten miles from Petersburg. Isaac has been thar since his death: saw the old man’s grave. Mr John Bradley owns the place now. Isaac slept in the out-chamber where the scholars was: slept on the floor in a blanket: in the winter season git up in the mornin & make fire for them. From Monticello you can see mountains all round as far as the eye can reach: sometimes see it rainin down this course & the sun shining over the tops of the clouds. Willis’ mountain sometimes looked in the cloud like a great house with two chimnies to it: fifty miles from Monticello.

* John Bolling of Cobbs in Chesterfield married a sister of Thomas Jefferson.

Chap. 17

Thar was a sight of pictures at Monticello: pictures of Ginral Washington & the Marcus Lafayette. Isaac saw him fust in the old war in the mountain with old master; saw him agin the last time he was in Vaginny. He gave Isaac a guinea: Isaac saw him in the Capitol at Richmond & talked with him & made him sensible when he fust saw him in the old war. Thar was a large marble at Monticello with twelve angels cut on it that came from Heaven: all cut in marble.

About the time when “my old master” begun to wear spectacles—he was took with a swellin in his legs: used to bathe ’em & bandage ’em: said it was settin too much: when he’d git up & walk it

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would’nt hurt him. Isaac & John Hemings nursed him two months: had to car him about on a han-barrow. John Hemings* went to the carpenter’s trade same year Isaac went to the blacksmiths. Miss Lucy old master’s daughter died quite a small child; died down the country at Mrs Eppes’ or Mrs Bollings one of her young aunts. Old master was embassador to France at that time. He brought a great many clothes from France with him: a coat of blue cloth trimmed with gold lace; cloak trimmed so too: dar say it weighed fifty pounds: large buttons on the coat as big as half a dollar; cloth set in the button: edge shine like gold: in summer he war silk coat, pearl buttons.

Col. Jack Harvie** owned Belmont, jinin Monticello. Four as big men as any in Petersburg could git in his waistcoat: he owned Belvidere near Richmond: the Colonel died thar: monstrous big man. The washerwoman once buttons his waistcoat on Isaac & three others. Mrs Harvie was a little woman.

* Capt Bacon in his reminiscenses of Mr Jefferson at Monticello says, “John Hemings was a carpenter. He was a first-rate workman, a very extra workman: he could make anything that was wanting in woodwork. He learned his trade with Dinsmore. John Hemings made most of the woodwork of Mr Jefferson’s fine carriage.[“]

** He had command of the troops of Convention for a time.

Chap. 18

Mr Jefferson never had nothing to do with horse-racing or cock-fighting: bought two race-horses once, but not in their racing day: bought em arter done runnin. One was Brimmer,† a pretty horse with two white feet: when he bought him he was in Philadelphia: kept him thar. One day Joseph Rattiff the Frenchman was ridin him in the

According to Capt. Bacon, “Brimmer was a son of imported Knowlsby. He was a bay, but a shade darker than any of the others. He was a horse of fair size, full, but not quite as tall as Eagle. He was a good riding-horse & excellent for the harness. Mr Jefferson broke all his horses to both ride & work. I bought Brimmer of General John H Cocke of Fluvanna County.”

— page 19 —
Life of Isaac Jefferson of Petersburg

streets of Philadelphia: Brimmer got skeered: run agin shaft of a dray & got killed. Tother horse was Tarkill: (Tarquin?) in his race-day they called him the Roane colt: only race-horse of a roane Isaac ever see: old master used him for a ridin-horse. Davy Watson & Billy were German soldiers: both workmen, both smoked pipes & both drinkers: drank whiskey; git drunk & sing: take a week at a time drinkin & singin. Col. Goode of Chesterfield was a great racer: used to visit Mr Jefferson; had a trainer named Pompey.

Old master had a great many rabbits: made chains for the old buck-rabbits to keep them from killin the young ones: had a rabbit-house (a warren)—a long rock house: some of em white, some blue: they used to burrow under ground. Isaac expects thar is plenty of em bout dar yit: used to eat em at Monticello. Mr Jefferson never danced nor played cards. He had dogs named Ceres, Bull, Armandy, & Claremont: most of em French dogs: he brought em over with him from France. Bull & Ceres were bull-dogs: he brought over Buzzy with him too: she pupped at sea: Armandy & Claremont, stump-tails—both black.

Chap. 19

John Brock the overseer that lived next to the great-house had gray hounds to hunt deer. Mr Jefferson had a large park at Monticello: built in a sort of a flat on the side of the mountain. When the hunters run the deer down thar, they’d jump into the park & couldn’t git out. When old master heard hunters in the park he used to go down thar wid his gun & order em out. The park was

— page 20 —
Life of Isaac Jefferson of Petersburg

two or three miles round & fenced in with a high fence, twelve rails double-staked & ridered: kept up four or five years arter old master was gone. Isaac & his father (George) fed the deer at sun-up & sun-down: called em up & fed em wid corn: had holes all along the fence at the feedin-place: gave em salt, got right gentle: come up & eat out of your hand.

No wild-cats at Monticello: some lower down at Buck Island: bears sometimes came on the plantation at Monticello: wolves so plenty that they had to build pens round black peoples’ quarters & pen sheep in em to keep the wolves from catching them. But they killed five or six of a night in the winter season: come & steal in the pens in the night. When the snow was on the groun you could see the wolves in gangs runnin & howlin, same as drove of hogs: made the deer run up to the feedin-place many a night. The feedin-place was right by the house whar Isaac stayed. They raised many sheep & goats at Monticello.

The woods & mountains was often on fire: Isaac has gone out to help to put out the fire: everybody would turn out from Charlottesville & everywhere: git in the woods & sometimes work all night fightin the fire.

Chap. 20

Col. Cary of Chesterfield schooled old master: he went to school to old Mr Wayles. Old master had six sisters: Polly married a Bolling; Patsy married old Dabney Carr in the low-grounds: one married Wm Skipwith: Nancy married old Hastings Marks. Old master’s brother, mass Randall, (Randolph) was a mighty simple man: used to come out among black people, play the fiddle & dance half the night: had’nt much more sense than Isaac. Jack Eppes (John W Eppes M. C) that married Miss Polly (Jefferson)

— page 21 —
Life of Isaac Jefferson of Petersburg

lived at Mount Black (Mt. Blanc?) on James river & then at Edge Hill, then in Cumberland at Millbrooks. Isaac left Monticello four years before Mr Jefferson died. Tom Mann Randolph that married Mr Jefferson’s daughter, wanted Isaac to build a threshing machine at Varina. Old Henrico Court House was thar: pulled down now. Coxendale Island (Dutch Gap) jinin Varina was an Indian Situation: when fresh come, it washed up more Indian bones than ever you see. When Isaac was a boy there want more than ten houses at Jamestown. Charlottesville then not as big as Pocahontas (a village on the Appomattox, opposite Petersburg) is now. Mr DeWitt kept tavern thar.

Isaac knowed Ginral Redhazel (Riedesel commander of the German troops of Convention.): he stayed at Colle, Mr Mazzei’s place, two miles & a quarter from Monticello—a long wood house built by Mazzei’s servants. The servants’ house built of little saplins of oak & hickory instead of lathes: then plastered up: it seemed as if de folks in dem days had’nt [sic] sense enough to make lathes. The Italian people raised plenty of vegetables: cooked the most victuals of any people Isaac ever see.

Mr Jefferson bowed to everybody he meet: talked wid his arms folded. Gave the boys in the nail-factory a pound of meat a week, a dozen herrings, a quart of molasses & peck of meal. Give them that wukked the best a suit of red or blue: encouraged them mightily. Isaac calls him a mighty good master. There would be a great many carriages at Monticello at a time, in particular when people was passing to the Springs.

Isaac is now (1847) at Petersburg, Va. seventy large odd years old: bears his years well: is a blacksmith by trade & has his shop not far from Pocahontas bridge.

— page 22 —
Life of Isaac Jefferson of Petersburg

He is quite pleased at the idea of having his life written & protests that every word of it is true—that is of course according to the best of his knowledge & belief. Isaac is rather tall of strong frame, stoops a little, in color ebony:—sensible, intelligent pleasant: wears large circular iron-bound spectacles & a leather apron. A capital daguerrotype of him was taken by a Mr Shew. Isaac was so much pleased with it that he had one taken of his wife, a large fat round-faced good-humoured looking black woman. My attention was first drawn to Isaac by Mr Dandridge of Spotswood who had often heard him talk about Mr Jefferson & Monticello.

C. C.

P. S. Isaac died a few years after these his recollections were taken down. He bore a good character.

"Life of Isaac Jefferson of Petersburg, Virginia, Blacksmith" is the memoir of Isaac Jefferson as it was dictated to the Reverend Charles Campbell in 1847. Also known as Isaac Granger, Jefferson was a former slave of Thomas Jefferson, and his memoir promises "a full and faithful account of Monticello and the family there."
APA Citation:
Jefferson, Isaac. “Life of Isaac Jefferson of Petersburg, Virginia, Blacksmith” by Isaac Jefferson (1847). (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia.
MLA Citation:
Jefferson, Isaac. "“Life of Isaac Jefferson of Petersburg, Virginia, Blacksmith” by Isaac Jefferson (1847)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 18 Jul. 2024
Last updated: 2023, July 17
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