Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from John Freeman, 18 April 1804

From John Freeman

[18 Apr. 1804]


I am sorye to trubel you with a thing of this kind tho tho I am forced to do it: for I have been foolish anofe to in gage myself to melindors and I was in hops of when i came to Virginia this time to get hir Misstress consent with yours I have got the Consent of hir parence Tho I fear the deth of hir mistress: will make us meresibel unless you will be so good as to keep us botch: as to what I spoke to you about some time ago I am verye willing to doe anye thing in reasion I am willing to bound myself by my word to serve you faithful: I have undoutlye been treated with a great deal of hospilitie in your familye and you yourself more pertickeler infenaitlye more then i have any reason to expect

i am Your humbel Servant

John F

RC (DLC); undated; at foot of text: “to the presidant”; endorsed by TJ as received 18 Apr., recorded in SJL as received 17 Apr.

John Freeman (ca. 1781-1839) had worked for TJ since 1801, hired out as a paid servant by owner William Baker, a physician in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Described by an observer as “straight and well made,” with a “very pleasing countenance,” Freeman established himself as a capable and trusted servant, in charge of the dining room and hall at the President’s House and often accompanying Jefferson or his family on their trips between Washington and Monticello. In response to Freeman’s plea, TJ paid $400 to purchase him from Baker on 23 July 1804, agreeing to the doctor’s stipulation that Freeman be manumitted in 1815 and adjusting his former monthly pay of $8, plus $2 for drink, to a $4 monthly gratuity. When TJ retired to Monticello in 1809, he sold Freeman’s deed to James Madison. As he had with TJ, Freeman proved himself an able servant to the Madisons, acting as the family butler and occasional courier. After his manumission, he continued on at the executive residence until at least 1816. The Washington directory of 1827 listed him as a waiter at Gadsby’s Hotel in Alexandria. In 1829, he was hired as a State Department messenger, and in 1830, as a waiter for Secretary of the Treasury Samuel D. Ingham. Freeman owned a home on K Street, a few blocks northwest of the President’s House, and in the 1820s, he purchased his sister-in-law Mary Colbert from TJ’s estate for $50 and then freed her (Dorothy S. Provine, District of Columbia Free Negro Registers 1821-1861, 2 vols. [Bowie, Md., 1996], 1:140, 209; Paul Jennings, A Colored Man’s Reminiscences of James Madison [Brooklyn, N.Y., 1865], 11; David B. Mattern and Holly C. Shulman, eds., The Selected Letters of Dolley Payne Madison [Charlottesville, 2003], 195, 209; Nicholas Philip Trist to Virginia Randolph Trist, 27 Jan 1829, in NcU: Nicholas Philip Trist Papers, Southern Historical Collection; National Intelligencer, 5 Apr. 1817; S. A. Elliot, The Washington Directory: Showing the Name, Occupation, and Residence, of Each Head of a Family and Person in Business [Washington, D.C., 1827], 33; Elliot, Washington Directory [Washington, D.C., 1830], 12; Lucia Stanton, “Those Who Labor for My Happiness”: Slavery at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello [Charlottesville, 2012], 168, 339; will of John Freeman, 10 Aug. 1839, in District of Columbia Office of Public Records, box 14; MB description begins James A. Bear, Jr., and Lucia C. Stanton, eds., Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767-1826, Princeton, 1997, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , 2:1043, 1056, 1137; RS description begins J. Jefferson Looney and others, eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series, Princeton, 2004- , 13 vols. description ends , 1:155-6; Vol. 33:508n, 605; Vol. 37:463; Vol. 39:309-10; Contract for Purchase of John Freeman, 23 July 1804; TJ to John Wayles Eppes, 7 Aug. 1804).

melindors: Melinda (Malinda) Colbert was born in 1787 to Betty Brown, half sister of Sally Hemings and a longtime house servant at Monticello. In 1797, Colbert was among the 31 slaves deeded to TJ’s daughter Mary at the time of her marriage to John Wayles Eppes. Shortly after Mary Eppes died, John Eppes consented to John Freeman taking “Melinda for a wife.” TJ, however, refused to buy her, writing to his son-in-law that he already had too many servants left to idle in Washington when he was away. Eppes sent Colbert to Martha Randolph with instructions that she find employment as a house servant “in Charlottesville or Milton.” By 1809, she had been manumitted and was living in Washington as Freeman’s wife. A civil ceremony was registered in 1818. TJ’s retirement in 1809, and his intent to relocate Freeman, threatened to separate the couple because Virginia laws prevented Melinda Freeman from living at Monticello permanently without risk to her freedom. A letter from her husband to his master resulted in Freeman’s sale to Madison and allowed him to remain near his family. At that time, the couple had at least two children, and another eight were born by 1831. Melinda Freeman survived her husband by 21 years, living in their two-story brick home on K Street until her death in 1860. Her first name was spelled “Melinda” in the 1840 federal census and by the Jefferson and Eppes families, but the 1850 federal census, her 1818 marriage license, her 1831 certificate of freedom, and her husband’s will referred to her as “Malinda” (Provine, District of Columbia Free Negro Registers, 1:209; United States Census Schedules, DNA: RG 29; Betts, Farm Book description begins Edwin M. Betts, ed., Thomas Jefferson’s Farm Book, Princeton, 1953 description ends , 31; Stanton, “Those Who Labor,” 168-9; Vol. 29:549-50; Eppes to TJ, 16 July 1804; Freeman to TJ, 2 Mch. 1809).

In his financial memoranda, TJ recorded giving John Freeman five dollars on 20 Apr. (MB description begins James A. Bear, Jr., and Lucia C. Stanton, eds., Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767-1826, Princeton, 1997, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , 2:1125).

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