Thomas Jefferson Papers

Thomas Jefferson to James Leitch, 15 February 1812

To James Leitch

Feb. 15. 12.

Cloaths for the bearer Burwell, such as he shall chuse.


RC (ViCMRL, on deposit ViU: TJP); dateline beneath signature; written on a small scrap; adjacent to signature and dateline: “Mr Leitch.” Not recorded in SJL.

Burwell Colbert (1783–ca. 1862), butler, painter, and glazier, became one of TJ’s most trusted slaves. When and how he acquired the surname Colbert, which TJ seems never to have used, is unknown. He was the son of Betty Brown and the grandson of Elizabeth Hemings. Colbert began his working life in the Monticello nailery, where he rose to foreman. He received training as a painter and glazier and thereafter did interior and exterior work at Monticello and Poplar Forest. Beginning during TJ’s presidency, he was the head house servant at Monticello, in which capacity he supervised the housemaids, porters, and waiters, acted himself as chief waiter, and kept the keys to the cellar storerooms. During TJ’s retirement Colbert was also his personal servant and accompanied TJ on his trips to Poplar Forest. He was one of two slaves to whom TJ began paying an annual $20 gratuity in 1812, and TJ sometimes borrowed money from him. Colbert married his first cousin Critta, the daughter of Nance Hemings and the property of TJ’s son-in-law Thomas Mann Randolph. They had eight children before her death in 1819. TJ freed Colbert in the codicil to his will and gave him $300 to help establish him as a painter and glazier. At the sale that dispersed TJ’s estate in 1827, Colbert purchased a mule, engravings of TJ and Lafayette, and household wares. He subsequently worked at the University of Virginia and for several of TJ’s friends and family members (Stanton, Free Some Day description begins Lucia Stanton, Free Some Day: The African-American Families of Monticello, 2000 description ends , esp. 120–5, 143, 155–9; Betts, Farm Book description begins Edwin M. Betts, ed., Thomas Jefferson’s Farm Book, 1953 (in two separately paginated sections; unless otherwise specified, references are to the second section) description ends , pt. 1, 30; MB description begins James A. Bear Jr. and Lucia C. Stanton, eds., Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767–1826, 1997, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , esp. 2:968n, 1277; TJ’s List of Gratuity Payments to Burwell, [ca. 14 Apr. 1826]; TJ’s will and codicil, 16–17 Mar. 1826; Sarah N. Randolph to Cornelia J. Randolph, 7 Dec. 1865 [NcU: NPT]).

Index Entries

  • Colbert, Burwell (TJ’s slave; b.1783); clothing for search
  • Colbert, Burwell (TJ’s slave; b.1783); identified search
  • Leitch, James; letters to search
  • Leitch, James; TJ orders clothes from search