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John Hemmings, an Enslaved Craftsman: A Recommended Read From The Monticello Classroom » Woodworking Machinery & Industry News Blog: First Choice Industrial
John Hemmings, an Enslaved Craftsman: A Recommended Read From The Monticello Classroom

First Choice Industrial

John Hemmings (1776-1830+)

John Hemmings was Betty Hemings’s youngest son, a talented enslaved woodworker and slave. He lived at Monticello with his mother, brother and sisters.

Campeachy Chair attributed to John HemmingsAt fourteen John worked as an “out-carpenter”, chopping down trees to use for firewood and building materials. He helped build fences, barns, and the slave cabins on Mulberry Row.

At seventeen John began working with white woodworkers hired by Thomas Jefferson to work on Monticello. He became a joiner, skillful in making “anything that was wanted in woodwork.” He crafted wheels, decorative woodwork, bookshelves and plow frames.  Described as “a first-rate workman—a very extra workman.”  He also learned cabinetry and crafted bedsteads, writing desks and dressing tables. Several of John’s pieces of furniture are at Monticello today.

 

John Hennings SignatureAllowed to choose his own clothing from a store, Hemmings was one of the few slaves at Monticello who received a yearly payment of twenty dollars for his work.

After Jefferson’s death, John Hemmings was freed by Jefferson’s will, and given his woodworking tools, a log house, and an acre of land.

Monticello Joinery Shop RemnantsA chimney and foundation are all that remain of the joiner’s shop,  which Jefferson described as “57. feet. by 18. feet, the underpinning and chimney of stone, the walls and roof of wood.”

From about 1775, free and enslaved workmen produced some of the finest architectural woodwork in Virginia as well as carriages and furniture in this workshop.

“There is nothing superior in the U.S.,” Jefferson pronounced of the work of the joiners , who used hand planes, chisels, saws, lathes, and other specialized  tools to make doors, balusters, sashes, and other items.

For more information about Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s plantation near Charlottesville, Va.  And to be a part of the Monticello’s Celebration of 25 Years as a UNESCO World Heritage Site visit http://www.monticello.org/

Also, for a very interesting, educational, and culturally rich holiday trip idea, consider 7 Reasons to Visit Monticello Posted by Fodor’s Guest Blogger – $5.00 General Admission December 7-11

Posted in History of Woodworking
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