QuestionReading Chapter 11-12 in Master of the MountainCHAP 11:CHAP 12Question:The recollections of the former Monticello slave Peter Fossett, from which I drew the opening of this book, contain a confusing passage: “My grandmother was free, and I remember the first suit she gave me. It was of blue nankeen cloth, red morocco hat and red morocco shoes. To unique costume, my father added a silver watch.” Though almost anything is possible in the slavery universe, I could not quite understand how Fossett could have had a grandmother who was free, nor did it seem plausible that a slave boy at Monticello sported a fancy suit and a silver watch given to him by a father who was a slave. But perhaps Fossett was telling the truth. His parents were two of the most important people on the mountain. His father, Joseph, became Monticello’s chief blacksmith when Jefferson had to fire his white blacksmith for chronic drunkenness in 1807. Joseph stepped into the job and expertly ran the forge for the next two decades. The overseer Edmund Bacon described him as “a very fine workman; could doanything…with steel or iron.”1 It was important enough to be the son of the blacksmith, but Peter Fossett’s status was further enhanced by his mother’s occupation: she was Jefferson’s cook. Edith Hern Fossett presided over the most modern culinary facility in Virginia, producing meals “in good taste and abundance” for a throng of diners, seven days a week, “in half Virginian, half French style,” as Daniel Webster recalled after a visit to Monticello in 1824.2 Edith Fossett’s extraordinary skill did not really become apparent to posterity until 2004, when the Monticello curators completed a reconstruction of the plantation’s kitchen, a spacious room underneath Jefferson’s private terrace in the south dependency. In Jefferson’s time it was a marvel of innovation. Jefferson had ordered it built while he was president so that it would be ready, when he returned to Monticello in 1809, to produce the high-style cuisine he had become accustomed to. Since he anticipated, correctly, an unending torrent of visitors, the kitchen would also have to produce its fine food in abundance. At most plantations the cooking was done in an outbuilding in crude circumstancesdirt floor, an open hearth with a spit, and heavy cast-iron cookware. Jefferson’s new kitchen had a large hearth and a traditional bread-baking oven, but also a “set kettle,” heated by charcoal, which yielded a steady, reliable flow of hot water. Along one wall stood a row of eight charcoalheated burners called a stew stove. The heat of each burner could be individually regulated by a skilled cook, anticipating the convenience, flexibility, and utility of a modern, high-end multi-burner stove.3 Edith Fossett and her staff worked their culinary magic using some sixty pieces of French copper cookware, of a type seldom seen in the United States at that timefar lighter and much more efficient in conducting heat than cast-iron cookware.4 Skilled and experienced, the cooks maneuvered these skillets, tart pans, fish cookers, and chafing dishes over the burners of the stew stove to produce the French dishes and sauces Jefferson loved. As one of Monticello’s experts wrote, “The stew stove allowed cooks to regulate the heat beneath the stew pans, making possible the delicate elements of French dishes like bouilli with sauce hache.”5 Monticello’s kitchen retained some old-fashioned features, such as a mechanical spit-jackthe eighteenth-century version of the rotisserieand swiveling cranes to maneuver pots in and out of the fireplace. Oddly enough, the kitchen, redolent every day with smoke and cooking odors, boasted one of the most valuable items in the mansionan extremely costly, highly accurate “kitchen timer” in the form of a tall-case clock. Jefferson wound it himself every eight days. The presence of this exquisite timepiece reveals the precise coordination and the high level of performance that created meals a visitor called “always choice, and served in the French style.”6 It is not enough to say that Jefferson was a gourmand. As one food historian wrote, Jefferson possessed “an intense interest in food and the critical role it played in how he conducted his private life.” He owned a collection of essays that included “On the Construction of Kitchen Fireplaces and Kitchen Utensils” and “Of the Construction of Saucepans and Stewpans for Fixed Fireplaces.” We have ten surviving recipes that he wrote down himself, as well as his “Observations on Soup,” though he had a poor understanding of how cooking was actually done.7 As far as we know, he never visited the kitchen to offer advice, entering it only to wind the clock. The kitchen was the domain of Edith, the head chef, and her adjutant, Frances “Fanny” Hern. (They were sisters-inlaw: Fanny’s husband, David Hern, was Edith’s brother.) The records hint at their culinary skills, but I did not realize how extraordinary those skills were until I spoke with Leni Sorensen, the historian who shed so much light on the agricultural records. An accomplished cook herself, Sorensen narrated a typical day in this kitchen. Every day at least fourteen people were waiting upstairs to be fedthe core of the Jefferson-Randolph household. Often the kitchen fed eighteen to twenty, sometimes as many as twenty-five; one day the kitchen fed fifty-seven people. Sorensen characterized Frances Hern as the “adjutant,” a good military analogy for the highly disciplined nature of this culinary operation. Fossett and Hern would have been well aware of their owner’s extreme aversion to conflict or disorder of any kind, so they would have made every effort to ensure that the kitchen operation ran smoothly. When the master emerged for his predawn stroll along his terrace, directly over the kitchen, he would not have heard shouting, cursing, or helpers being hit but the rhythmic rattling of wooden spoons as scullions beat biscuit dough, the differing tones of mechanical music made by the grinding of the day’s ingredientsthe master’s coffee beans, his varieties of sugar (there were several), his salt, and his chocolate. He would have smelled coffee roasting. With breakfast due on the table at 9:00, Fossett, Hern, and the scullions would have been in the kitchen by 5:30 with three meals on their minds. The cooks would start slicing yesterday’s ham and getting today’s different breads set up while the assistants heated the bake oven and got the fireplace going with two separate firesa hardwood fire on the right for roasting and a charcoal bed on the left to feed the eight burners of the stew stove. Once the charcoal was ready, they could get the set kettle started for their hot water. In addition to ham, breakfast featured three types of raised breads. The dough had to be beaten and set to rise by 7:00 or 7:30 to be out of the oven by 8:45. They brewed coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. Jefferson was particular about his coffee, so the kitchen staff roasted beans every day or every other day. Hot chocolate was also made from scratch; they would grind a block of hard chocolate and then cook it. One of the boys would tend the fires in the hearth, feeding the charcoal stoves under the direction of the cooks to maintain correct temperatures and carrying out ashes, which were saved to make soap. As the breads and muffins were baking, one or two people would begin dinner preparation, plucking at least half a dozen fowl (chickens, ducks, or geese). By midmorning the dinner prep was fully under way. It was “like making Thanksgiving dinner every day,” Sorensen said, a modern holiday feast being an “average” dinner at Jefferson’s house. Every dinner would feature three or four meats and a fish dish, plus four “made dishes” of vegetables with a saucepotatoes, peeled asparagus (served on toast), parsnips, or an elaborate stuffed cabbage, which was not considered plebeian but a tasty staple of upper-class tables: the cooks would parboil a cabbage, scoop out the center, fill it with minced meat, tie it up in a cloth, poach it, drain it, then cut it into wedges and add a sauce. Every day they prepared a hamsoaked to get the salt out, boiled, then roasted. Jefferson’s bouilli was a pot-roastlike dish of beef simmered with vegetables. For the fish there might be shad, or “cod sounds,” a dish made from dried salt cod that Jefferson loved and ordered by the barrel. Every meal featured up to four dessertsice cream (for which vanilla beans had to be steeped), thin cookies, custards, cakes, and perhaps baked apples in pastry. Every day Fossett and Hern coordinated the menus and provisions with Burwell Colbert, the butler, and Wormley Hughes, the head gardener, who would keep them up-todate on what produce his acreage was yielding, what was ripening, and what was slow in coming. Once the cooking began, one of Jefferson’s granddaughters might appear from upstairs, take a seat in the kitchen, and begin reading aloud from a cookbook. In a letter Virginia Randolph Trist described herself as “seated upon my throne in the kitchen, with a cookery book in my hand.”8 It was an absurd ritual, but it was the tradition. After years of training and experience, Edith and Fanny had their routines and recipes memorized. The young mistress was actually learning from them, but the illusion of control had to be maintained. The real function of the granddaughter was to fetch things. Everything of value had to be kept locked up. Jefferson’s granddaughters rotated as carriers of the keys, serving for a month at a time, a duty they loathed. After breakfast the granddaughter with the keys would meet with the cooks and be given the list of items needed for dinner specialty items that might include brandy, raisins, sweet oil, and costly spices such as nutmeg. Jefferson’s taste had been refined in the dining rooms of France. When he returned to the Virginia wilderness from Europe, he shipped crates of items he had come to love: “mustard, vinegar, raisins, nectarines, macaroni, almonds, cheese, anchovies, olive oil, and 680 bottles of wine,” as one food historian writes. He continued to replenish his stock of these rare delicacies with regular shipments from Europe.9 Edith Fossett and Fanny Hern held their positions as a result of Jefferson’s long-term planning. He had chosen them for their future posts when they were very young; they trained for years in the White House kitchen; and Jefferson expected a lifetime of loyal service. When Jefferson was first elected president, he sought the advice of the French envoy in Philadelphia in finding a Frenchman to cook for him. He hired Etienne Lemaire as matre d’htel, the household administrator, and Honor Julien as chef de cuisine. Taking the long view, Jefferson brought three young women from Monticello to learn the intricacies of French cuisine. One lasted only a brief time, but Fossett and Hern excelled at their demanding work. Demanding it was. Jefferson hosted three dinners a week when Congress was in session so that he would get the chance to dine with all the nearly 150 members, believing that sitting down together at a fine meal inspired “harmony and good confidence.” The daily existence of the congressmen in their Washington boardinghouses was ghastly, in the view of one Englishman; they lived “like bears, brutalized and stupefied.” The Frenchmen and their enslaved pupils, augmented by a hired staff of free blacks and whites, performed heroic culinary labors. “Never before had such dinners been given in the President’s House,” said one guest. Jefferson’s marathon meals began at 3:30 in the afternoon, and some continued well into the night.10 In Jefferson’s estimation, one of the best servants he had at the White House was his butler, a slave named John Freeman whom Jefferson hired from an owner in Maryland. Freeman may have adopted his surname as a ferocious badge of pride: he knew he would be freed in 1815, since he had negotiated an arrangement with his owner gradually to purchase himself, and his White House pay went toward buying his manumission. Perhaps it was Freeman’s pride; perhaps it was his skill and the favor it brought him from the president; but Freeman also earned the outright hostility of some of the white servants, who did not like being put on a par with a slave. They especially did not like Freeman wearing the same livery as they. One white servant complained that the president “gave preference to a negro rather than to him,” but Jefferson squelched the man’s complaining: “the negro whom he thinks so little of, is a most valuable servant.”11 The records show that at one point Freeman suffered a broken jaw, whether from an accident or an assault we do not know. 12 Jefferson brought Freeman to Monticello on his vacations from office. On these visits Freeman grew acquainted with Melinda Colbert, a slave whom Jefferson had given to his daughter Maria and her husband, John Wayles Eppes, at their marriage in 1797. Freeman was at Monticello in April 1804 when he wrote the following note to Jefferson: Sir I am sorry to trouble you with a thing of this kind though I am forced to do it: for I have been fool enough to engage myself to Melinda and I was in hope of, when I came to Virginia this time, to get her Mistress’ consent with yours. I have got the Consent of her parents. *13 Freeman made his appeal at an extremely painful moment. Melinda’s mistress, Maria, had just died in childbirth at the age of twenty-five. Well aware of his master’s grief, Freeman wrote to him nonetheless because Maria’s death might mean that the couple’s hopes to marry would be dashed: “I fear the death of her Mistress will make us miserable, unless you will be so good as to keep us both,” and he went on to say that he would give his word “to serve you faithful.” Freeman knew that as a hired slave he would have to return to his owner in Maryland when Jefferson no longer needed his services; so to marry Melinda, he wanted to persuade the president to acquire them both. Jefferson was willing to go halfway: he bought Freeman, even though the contract came with the proviso that he had to manumit him in 1815, but he would not buy Melinda Colbert from his son-in-law Eppes. He already had servants “in idleness” at Monticello, he said, and Freeman knew that marrying a slave woman who lived in Virginia meant, at best, long enforced separations and, at worst, a tenuous marriage. Despite the separations and their divided ownership, Freeman and Colbert married and had several children, who became the property of Eppes. In March 1809, as Jefferson was preparing to depart Washington for the last time and wagons were moving back and forth to Monticello carrying people and possessions, Freeman wrote another pleading letter: Sir I am sorry to say or doany thing to displease you. I hope you will forgive me what I have done. As you wish me to go with you rather than displease you I will go and do it the best I can. I hope you will not punish me. The cart brought everything Melinda had when Davy [the Monticello wagon driver] was here last. Mr. Eppes says there is such a law as I told you. I shall be obliged to leave her and the Children.14 A great deal had happened in the lives of John and Melinda Freeman. Eppes had set Melinda and the children free, acting, it seems, entirely out of generosity, and the family was living in Washington. Jefferson had ordered Freeman to return with him to Monticello, but if Melinda and the children came too, they would be subject to re-enslavement or to expulsion from the state under Virginia’s odious 1806 removal law. Hoping to force or at least nudge Jefferson’s hand, Freeman had arranged for the Monticello wagon driver to bring Melinda’s possessions to Washington, in hopes that Jefferson could be persuaded to allow him to stay there with his emancipated family. Perhaps Freeman hoped that Jefferson would follow the example of his son-in-law and set him free, but Jefferson sold Freeman to his successor, James Madison, for $231.81. Jefferson got what he could for his butler; John Wayles Eppes took nothing when he let Melinda Colbert and her children go free. Freeman served out his time on Madison’s household staff, barely escaping the White House before the British burned it in the War of 1812, and was duly manumitted in 1815. The Freemans and their eight children lived in a house they owned on K Street and joined in the antislavery campaigns of the capital’s free blacks.15 Among the historical trivia one can turn up on the Web is that the first child born in the White House was Jefferson’s grandson James Madison Randolph. It is a charming story but completely wrong. No fewer than three children were born at the White House before little James Randolphbut they were all slaves, so they haven’t counted when historical time lines were drawn up. The omissions are odd because the information is in plain sight: “Edy has a son, and is doing well,” Jefferson wrote from the White House in January 1803.16 At least five children were born at the White House to Jefferson’s slaves. One wonders how Jefferson thought he could get sustained work out of young married women who no surprisekept having babies. Indeed, the babies required so much attention he had to hire free black nannies to look after them. In 1801 he brought the first cook-intraining to the White House from Monticello. His choice, thirteen-year-old Ursula Granger, reflected the dynastic character of slavery at Monticello. She was the granddaughter of “Queen” Ursula Granger, Monticello’s cook in the 1770s. She may not have known it, or may have hidden it, but young Ursula was pregnant when she went up to Washington. She gave birth in March 1802, when Jefferson wrote in his Memorandum Book: “Ursula exp[enses] of lying in 12.75.”17 Ursula’s child, whose name is not known, was the first baby born at the White House. This birth did not escape the notice of two leading Jefferson scholars, Edwin Betts and James Bear, who edited the 1966 collection The Family Letters of Thomas Jefferson. They have a note for Ursula”Her child was born in March 1802″but they kept the significance of this birth to themselves, and in a later footnote remark that “James Madison Randolph…was born January 17, 1806, the first child to be born in the President’s House.”18 Looking deeper into the records, we can trace Ursula’s child and find some hint why this landmark event has not been made known, for it culminates in a tragedy that does not reflect well on President Jefferson. A doctor’s bill indicates that the baby received treatment in April and May 1802 at Jefferson’s expense; the ailment must have been an extraordinary one to require the services of a doctor. When it was time to go to Monticello in June, Jefferson was in a quandary. He wanted his cook to go home with him, but her baby was too sick to travel: “It is next to impossible to send Ursula and her child home and bring them back again.” In July, Jefferson left Washington for Monticello, and Ursula went with him but without her child. On August 17, a month later, Lemaire wrote to Jefferson, “Sir the little child…died on the 14th.” Apparently, the baby had been born with some defect because Lemaire said that “the good d[ieuGod?] rendered a great service… considering that he would have been infirm all his life.” It is difficult to imagine a scenario that fits all the facts except one: that Ursula’s baby lay ill at the White House and Jefferson took the mother away. 19 Though Jefferson’s accounts show occasional payments of $2 to Ursula”drink money,” which he dispensed to many of his servantsand he duly recorded in his expenses that he paid for “portage of Ursula’s trunk,” for some reason he omitted to record the death of Ursula’s child in his “deaths since 1801” column in the Farm Book.20 Back at Monticello, Ursula alternated between the kitchen and the fields, and she married Wormley Hughes, the head gardener. Since kitchen training at the White House presented a chance for advancement in the Monticello hierarchy, the next two young women whom Jefferson chose for the White House may have been delighted to go, even though they were married. Edith Fossett was sixteen years old and pregnant when Jefferson brought her to Washington, and she gave birth three times at the White House: a child in January 1803 who died, James in January 1805, and Maria on October 27, 1807; James was the first child born at the White House who survived infancy. The other cook-intraining brought to Washington was Fanny Gillette Hern. Her husband, the Monticello wagoner David Hern, had the unhappy task of bringing his wife to the presidential mansion in the fall of 1806and leaving her there. Fanny would have a child in the White House who died as an infant in November 1808. Edith’s and Fanny’s husbands were at Monticello, but Jefferson did not let the women return with him on his vacations from the White House,21 though he understood only too well the torment of being separated from a spouse; he mourned the death of his own wife, and he also witnessed firsthand the hardship and strain that resulted from forced separations. Of the quarrels that nearly broke up the marriage of his Irish servants Joseph and Mary Dougherty he wrote: “The differings between man & wife, however they may affect their tranquility, can never produce such sufferings as are consequent on their separation.”22 But his concern for marital discord did not extend to his slaves. The enforced separation of Edith and Joseph created problems in their marriage, but it was of no concern to Jefferson, who seemed to discount their marriage altogether. When he went to Monticello for a visit in July 1806, he took some White House servants with him, but not Edith. The visiting servants apparently told Joe Fossett that something untoward was going on with Edith in Washington, because within days Joe disappeared from Monticello, and it did not take long for Jefferson to figure out where he had gone. He wrote to Joseph Dougherty that “a young mulatto man, called Joe, 26. years of age…ran away from here…without the least word of difference with any body, & indeed having never in his life recieved a blow from any one.”23 Jefferson must have found out Fossett’s plans from someone at Monticello because he wrote, “We know he has taken the road towards Washington.” He expected that Joe would turn up at the White House surreptitiously to contact Edith “as he was formerly connected with her”giving the impression that Joe was just a runaway looking for help from a former girlfriend, not a husband seeking out his wife. Perhaps Jefferson feared that his habit of separating the cooks and their husbands might backfire. Both Fossett’s wife and their child were in Washington, which meant Jefferson had no “hostage” at Monticello and there was a strong possibility that Fossett would gather up Edith and young James and run for freedom. Jefferson dispatched a workman, John Perry, to deliver his letter to Dougherty and to get Fossett and bring him back. Concerned that word might leak out that he was pursuing a runaway slave, Jefferson instructed Dougherty to “say not a word on this subject.” As Jefferson had predicted, Fossett turned up at the executive mansion, where Dougherty spotted him and “took him immediately.” Since Fossett was apprehended on the White House grounds, he might not even have gotten a glimpse of his wife, let alone talked to her. Fossett spent a night in jail and then went back to Monticello in Perry’s custody. In a letter to Jefferson about the incident, Etienne Lemaire characterized Fossett as a “poor unhappy” man who “was not difficult to take. He well merits a pardon for this.” And Edith remained in Washington.24 Joseph owed his high-ranking position as Monticello’s blacksmith to Jefferson’s favor, and he, too, benefited from Jefferson’s long-term planning, though he was also its victim. As a child, he had come within a hairsbreadth of being permanently free, except that he was dragged back into slavery as if by an icy hand. Born a slave in 1753 on the plantation of John Wayles, Joseph was the son of Mary Hemings, the first child of Betty Hemings and a half sister of Sally Hemings’s. * During Jefferson’s long absence in France, she apparently enjoyed the same courtesy Jefferson extended to her siblings: in his absence she could leave the plantation to find work wherever she chose. A prosperous white merchant from Charlottesville, Colonel Thomas Bell, visited Monticello on business, fell in love with Mary, and took her off the mountain. They lived in Charlottesville as husband and wife, though the law forbade their marriage. Bell’s love for Mary Hemings had to be extraordinary. When they met, she was in her thirties and had already borne four children: she had had a child in 1772 at age nineteen, another in 1777, children whom Jefferson gave away to his sister and son-in-law; Mary then had Joseph in 1780 and Betsy in 1783. Joseph’s surname suggests that his father may have been William Fossett, an English carpenter who worked at Monticello. Bell welcomed these two offspring of another father into his home. The Bells’ relationship, technically an illegal “cohabitation,” could have put them both in jail, but the local authorities took no notice of it, perhaps because Mary had a cover, being called a livein housekeeper. They lived as husband and wife for nearly three years, and Mary gave birth to two children, Robert and Sally. Then Jefferson returned from France. Just two days after arriving at Monticello in early January 1790, he visited Bell’s store in Charlottesville, most likely to check on his wayward property, since a servant could have picked up for him the trifling off-the-shelf items he neededcandle snuffers. He probably saw Mary Hemingsthe Bells’ residence was adjacent to the storeand her two toddlers, little Robert and Sally, who were Thomas Bell’s children by blood but Jefferson’s property by law; he still legally owned Mary and all her “increase.” Mary Hemings Bell approached Jefferson with an offer. Thomas Bell would buy her and the four childrenhis two, as well as Joseph and Betsy, whom Bell had raised as his own. A wrenching transaction ensued, which Jefferson put in the hands of his farm manager, Nicholas Lewis: “I am not certain whether I gave you power to dispose of Mary according to her desire to Colo. Bell with such of her younger children as she chose…. settle the price as you think best.”25 The stipulation “younger children” stands out: it meant that Bell could buy Mary and his own children, but Jefferson wanted the older stepchildren, Joseph and Betsy, back; he had plans for them. So the youngsters went back into slavery at MonticelloJoseph, twelve, working for a while in the main house, then the nailery, and Betsy, nine, as a house girl and eventually a wedding gift for Jefferson’s daughter Maria. Jefferson also felt entitled to collect payment from Bell for the early years of his marriage. He requested that the husband pay “a conjectural sum for the hire of Mary from Jan. 1. 1787,” “conjectural” because there had never been a rental agreement. *26 Fascinating information about the Bells came to light in the 1990s, when a Charlottesville historian, Gayle Schulman, began transcribing a memoir written by a local jurist, R.T.W. Duke Jr. (1853-1926). * Duke’s unvarnished private remarks, written in the early twentieth century, include revealing comments on the Bells: “With the rather ‘easy’ morality of those early days no one paid any attention to a man’s method of living & Col Bell lived openly with the woman & had two children by her”an open relationship once tacitly sanctioned by Thomas Jefferson himself was now viewed as a symptom of “easy” morality no longer tolerable. In Duke’s time, with its rigid racial caste system, there were many such hidden relationships between blacks and whites. Bell’s son, Duke wrote, was “a very handsome young man, of whom Col Bell was very proud. He sent him up North to school and college & he came back a very elegant & charming fellow”at this point the hero narrative crumbles and the sentence continues”tho’ of course with no social status whatever.” Of Mary and Thomas Bell’s grandchildren, Duke wrote, in the straight-faced, absurd Orwellian locutions of his era, “They were not negroestho’ they evidently had negro blood in their veins.” He noted without comment that Jefferson’s grandson Jeff Randolph tried to help the Bell grandchildren; he went to court in Charlottesville to give a statement under oath that enabled the Bells to escape Virginia’s draconian race laws: “On the Court records it was proven by the oaths of Col Thos Jefferson Randolph & other citizens that they were not negroes.” The improbable scenario Peter Fossett described in his recollectionsthe grandmother who was free, the expensive clothes, and the silver watchturns out to be easily explained. The suit and the watch probably came from Thomas Bell’s store, gifts brought by Mary Hemings Bell on her Orwellian visits to her enslaved son and his family at MonticelloOrwellian because the core facts of her family life were determined not by blood but by fiat from above. One son is college-bound; another hammers away at Mr. Jefferson’s forge. Peter Fossett remembered his childhood in the “earthly paradise” where he did not even have to know he was a slave, but it all collapsed in an eerie recurrence of his father’s life. Peter’s childhood almost exactly paralleled that of his father, Joseph, who grew up free and was abruptly jerked back into slavery. Through the story of Mary Hemings Bell and her family we see Jefferson’s philosophy crumble before our eyes. Publicly, he condemned racial mixing in the strongest terms. Privately, he endorsed it, approving the marriage of the Bellsonce he had been paidand he even encouraged Bell to educate his mixed-race children. Jefferson frequently spoke of the impossibility of emancipation, but in this sequence of events concerning slaves he highly valued, we can see that he bumped into emancipators at every turn and did not follow their lead. John Freeman’s owner agreed to a schedule of payments enabling the man to earn his freedom. John Wayles Eppes freed Melinda Colbert and her children gratis. And Jefferson knew that emancipated people could support themselves, since they were on his payroll at the White House. Washington, D.C., had a community of free blacks that Edith and Joseph Fossett could have joined if their training and skills had not made them so valuable to him. The story of Mary Bell also shows how the black families, owning nothing, provided a kind of subsidy for the white family. It is worth reflecting on a number: in this period Jefferson gave away eighty-five people to his heirsgifts of black men, women, and children that were meant to ensure the financial stability and comfort of his heirs and that also perpetuated slavery into the next generations while wrecking the black families. He owned more slaves than he could possibly use, as shown by his remark, in refusing to buy Melinda Colbert, that he already had slaves “in idleness” at Monticello. These people represented not a burden but an abundance that he dispensed to his family. It was his fixed view that he and his heirs were entitled to the black children. The black mothers and fathers, possessing no such entitlement despite ties of blood and love, had to beg, abjectly, to keep their families together, and not always successfully. Mary had to yield up four of her children to Jefferson. And so, perversely, the bottom subsidized the top, not merely with their labor, but with their very selvesMary Hemings Bell had the good fortune, and the misfortune, to be a Hemings. As a Hemings, she had autonomy, which allowed her to leave Monticello in Jefferson’s absence and marry a respected Charlottesville businessman. But she lost four of her children to Jefferson precisely because they were Hemingses, members of the family Jefferson valued highly for their “superior intelligence, capacity and fidelity to trusts,” as Jefferson’s grandson recalled.1 Jefferson wanted those children as servants, as artisans, and as gifts, but they were also his relatives, so they occupied a hazy no-man’s-land that the grandson, Jeff Randolph, struggled to describe: “Having the double aspect of persons and property the feelings for the person was always impairing its value as property.” There can be no doubt that “feelings for the person” ran deep. A touching story captures the special relationship between the Hemings family and Je

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