Thomas Jefferson Papers

John Hemmings to Thomas Jefferson, 26 September 1819

From John Hemmings

poplar forest sunday Sep. 26th 1819

Dear Sir

i am veary sorrowey to inform you that the flat roof over the hall Lakes veary bad wensday 22th we had a raine for 24 ourers Cleard off on thursday at sun rise and naver stop driping untill 10 oClock in the day the havyis leake is in the Center and Coms out right at the face of the trimmng Sir remember that the bothom of the guttur joists is Lavell on the under side and now is swaged from 2 to 3 inches in the Center and i think the water will make its way to the lowis place it Cawis one leak in the Parlour and allso in the north west Lodging room i am in hopes it may bee freed at the ends by Copper or Cheet iron but it is much trubbel to remove the Plinth for that is naild to the floer all had better Stand till you Coms

I am your obedient Sirvent

John Hemmings

RC (MHi); addressed: “mr Thomas Jefferson monticello”; endorsed by TJ as received 30 Sept. 1819 and so recorded in SJL.

John Hemmings (Hemings) (1776–ca. 1833), carpenter, was one of TJ’s slaves. His mother was Elizabeth Hemings, a slave TJ inherited in 1774 from his father-in-law, John Wayles, and his father was likely Joseph Neilson, a white carpenter employed by TJ from 1775 to 1779. Hemmings trained in carpentry and cabinetry at Monticello under hired joiners David Watson and James Dinsmore. He perfected his craft and gained TJ’s trust, eventually working independently on the houses at both Monticello and Poplar Forest. Also a skilled furniture maker, Hemmings made pieces for TJ and TJ’s grandchildren. Beginning in 1811 TJ paid Hemmings twenty dollars per year. Hemmings’s nephew Burwell Colbert was the only other slave to whom TJ gave an annual gratuity. In his will TJ freed Hemmings, allowing him the tools of his trade, an acre of land, and a log house on the Monticello estate. Until they were due to be freed at the age of twenty-one, TJ also bequeathed Hemmings the “service” of Eston Hemings and Madison Hemings, who were nephews of Hemmings and probably the children of TJ and Sally Hemings. There is no record of Hemmings and his wife, Priscilla Hemmings, having children of their own. Following TJ’s death in 1826, Hemmings struggled to deal with his own failing eyesight and health and the sudden death of his wife in 1830. He reportedly stopped working, began drinking heavily, and died by early in 1833 (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 ; Lucia Stanton, “Those Who Labor for My Happiness”: Slavery at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello [2012]; Annette Gordon-Reed, The Hemingses of Monticello [2008]; Stein, Worlds description begins Susan R. Stein, The Worlds of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, 1993 description ends ; Robert L. Self and Susan Stein, “The Collaboration of Thomas Jefferson and John Hemings: Furniture Attributed to the Monticello Joinery,” Winterthur Portfolio 33 [1998]: 231–48; TJ’s Will, 16–17 Mar. 1826; Martha Jefferson Randolph to Septimia A. Randolph [Meikleham], 27 Mar. 1833 [ViU: Septimia A. Randolph Meikleham Papers]).

Index Entries

  • building materials; copper search
  • copper; as building material search
  • gutters; at Poplar Forest search
  • Hemmings, John (TJ’s slave; b. ca.1776); as woodworker search
  • Hemmings, John (TJ’s slave; b. ca.1776); identified search
  • Hemmings, John (TJ’s slave; b. ca.1776); letters from search
  • iron; sheet search
  • Poplar Forest (TJ’s Bedford Co. estate); carpentry at search
  • Poplar Forest (TJ’s Bedford Co. estate); gutters at search
  • Poplar Forest (TJ’s Bedford Co. estate); roof at search
  • Poplar Forest (TJ’s Bedford Co. estate); slaves at search
  • slaves; as carpenters search
  • slaves; letters from search
  • weather; rain search