Primary Resource

"Monticello"; an excerpt from The Private Life of Thomas Jefferson by Hamilton W. Pierson (1862)

In chapter 3 of The Private Life of Thomas Jefferson by Hamilton W. Pierson (1862), Edmund Bacon, an overseer at Monticello from 1806 until 1822, tells about life at Thomas Jefferson's plantation.

Transcription from Original

Capt. Bacon says:—"Monticello is quite a high mountain, in the shape of a sugar-loaf. A winding road led up to the mansion. On the very top of the mountain the forest trees were cut down, and ten acres were cleared and levelled off. This was done before I went to live with Mr. Jefferson. The house in the picture that you showed me, (Frontispiece,)
is upon the highest point. That picture is perfectly natural. I knew every room in that house. Under the house and the terraces that surrounded it, were his cisterns, ice-house, cellar, kitchen, and rooms for all sorts of purposes. His servants' rooms were on one side. They were very comfortable, warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Then there were rooms for vegetables,

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fruit, cider, wood, and every other purpose. There were no negro and other out-houses around the mansion, as you generally see on plantations. The grounds around the house were most beautifully ornamented with flowers and shrubbery. There were walks, and borders, and flowers, that I have never seen or heard of anywhere else. Some of them were in bloom from early in the spring until late in the winter. A good many of them were foreign. Back of the house was a beautiful lawn of two or three acres, where his grandchildren used to play a great deal. His garden was on the side of the mountain. I had it built mostly while he was President. It took a great deal of labor. We had to blow out the rock for the walls for the different terraces, and then make the soil. I have some of the instructions that Mr. Jefferson sent me from Washington now. It was a fine garden. There were vegetables of all kinds, grapes, figs, and the greatest variety of fruit. I have never seen such a place for fruit. It was so high that it never failed. Mr. Jefferson sent home a great many kinds of trees and shrubbery from Washington. I used to send a servant there with a great many fine things from Monticello for his table, and he would send back the cart loaded with shrubbery from a nursery near Georgetown, that belonged to a man named Maine, and he would always send me direc-

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tions what to do with it. He always knew all about every thing in every part of his grounds and garden. He knew the name of every tree, and just where one was dead or missing. Here is a letter that he sent me from Washington:

"'Washington, Nov. 24, 1807.

"' Sir,—Davy has been detained till now, the earth having been so frozen that the plants could not be dug up. On the next leaf are instructions what to do with them, in addition to which I inclose Mr. Maine's instructions as to the thorns. He brings a couple of Guinea pigs, which I wish you to take great care of, as I propose to get this kind into the place of those we have now, as I greatly prefer their size and form. I think you had better keep them in some inclosure near your house till spring. I hope my sheep are driven up every night, and carefully attended to. The finishing every thing about the mill, is what I wish always to have a preference to every kind of work. Next to that, my heart is most set on finishing the garden. I have promised Mr. Craven that nothing shall run next year in the meadow inclosure, where his clearing will be. This is necessary for ourselves, that we may mow the clover and feed it green. I have hired the same negroes for another year, and am promised them as long as I want

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them. Stewart must be immediately dismissed. If he will do those jobs I mentioned before he goes, he may stay to do them, and have provisions while about them. Joe may work in the way you proposed, so that the whole concern may be together. I place here the statement of debts and remittances:


Jacob Cooper £8 1s. 6d. = $26 92
John Peyton 21 12 3 = 72 04
Dr. Jamieson 7 10 0 = 35 00
James Carr, corn 35 00
Thomas Burras, 18 hogs, 20 75
Richard Anderson, flour, 13 00
John Rogers, beef and corn, 117 00
James Butler, flour, 10 00
Do. beeves, 85 00
Robt. Burras, 20 barrels corn, 35 00
Robt. Terril, 100 do. 175 00
Do. 10,000 lbs. fodder, 50 00
Your own balance, 133 33
$808 04


Oct. 12 Remitted, $101 00
Nov. 9. Do. 110 00
Dec. 6. By Mr. Craven, 200 00
To the order of Kelly, 33 33
Jan. I shall remit 260 00
Feb. Do. 103 71
$808 04

"'By these remittances and payments made and to be made, you will perceive that the whole will

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be paid off by the first week in February. Mr. Craven called on me the 17th, with your order to pay him $100 the first week in December; but he said you would receive $200 of his money, and that he should be extremely distressed if he could not get the whole sum here. On that I gave him my note to pay $200 to his order the first week of next month, and you are to use his $200 instead of what I intended to remit you at that time. Last night I received from Mr. Kelly your order to pay him $133 1/3. To reconcile these two transactions, you can use $100 of Craven's money towards paying the debts. Pay Mr. Kelly $100 of it, in part of your order on me, and I will remit $33 1/3, according to his order, by which means every thing will be brought to rights. I shall write to him on this subject, and shall be glad to learn that this arrangement is made, and is satisfactory.

"'I tender you my best wishes.

"'Th. Jefferson.'

"'directions for mr. bacon.

"'If the weather is not open and soft when Davy arrives, put the box of thorns into the cellar, where they may be entirely free from the influence of cold, until the weather becomes soft, when they must be planted in the places of those dead

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through the whole of the hedges which inclose the two orchards, so that the old and the new shall he complete, at 6 inches' distance from every plant. If any remain, plant them in the nursery of thorns. There are 2,000. I send Mr. Maine's written instructions about them, which must be followed most minutely. The other trees he brings are to be planted as follows:

"'4 Purple beaches. In the clumps which are in the southwest and northwest angles of the house, (which Wormley knows.) There were 4 of these trees planted last spring, 2 in each clump. They all died, but the places will be known by the remains of the trees, or by the sticks marked No. IV. in the places. I wish these now sent to be planted in the same places.

"'4 Robinias, or red locusts. In the clumps in the KE. and S.E. angles of the house. There were 2 of these planted last spring, to wit, 1 in each. They are dead, and two of them are to be planted in the same places, which may be found by theremains of the trees, or by sticks marked V. The other 2 may be planted in any vacant places in the S.W. and KW. angles.

"'4 Prickly ash. In the S.W. angle of the house there was planted one of these trees last spring, and in the N.W. angle 2 others. They are dead. 3 of those now sent are to be planted in their

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places, which may be found by the remains of the trees, or by sticks marked VII. The fourth may be planted in some vacant space of the S.W. angle.

"'6 Spitzenberg apple trees. Plant them in the S.E. orchard, in any place where apples have been planted and are dead.

"'5 Peach trees. Plant in the S.E. orchard, wherever peach trees have died.

"'500 October peach stones; a box of Peccan nuts. The nursery must be enlarged, and these planted in the new parts, and Mr. Perry must immediately extend the paling so as to include these, and make the whole secure against hares.

"'Some turfs of a particular grass. Wormly must plant them in some safe place of the orchard, where he will know them, and keep other grass from the place.'

"I think," said Capt. Bacon, "there were three hundred acres inclosed in the tract about the house. Mr. Jefferson would never allow a tree to be cut off from this. There were roads and paths winding all around and over it, where the family could ride and walk for pleasure. How often I have seen him walking over these grounds, and his grandchildren following after him as happy as they could be.

"The estate was very large. I did know the exact number of acres, for I have paid the taxes a

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great many times. There was about ten thousand acres. It extended from the town lots of Charlottesville to beyond Milton, which was five or six miles. It was not a profitable estate; it was too uneven and hard to work. Mr. Madison's plantation was much the most profitable. It was divided into four plantations,—Tuffton, Lego, Shadwell, and Pantops. There was a negro quarter and a white overseer at each of these places. A negro named Jim was overseer of the hands at Monticello.

"We used to get up a strife between the different overseers, to see which would make the largest crops, by giving premiums. The one that delivered the best crop of wheat to the hand, had an extra barrel of flour; the best crop of tobacco, a fine Sunday suit; the best lot of pork, an extra hundred and fifty pounds of bacon. Negro Jim always had the best pork, so that the other overseers said it was no use for them to try any more, as he would get it any way. An overseer's allowance of provisions for a year, was: pork, six hundred pounds; wheat flour, two barrels; corn meal, all they wanted. They had gardens, and raised their own vegetables. The servants also had rewards for good conduct.

"I had written instructions about every thing, so that I always knew exactly what to do. Here

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are the instructions he gave me when he went to Washington:


"'The first work to be done, is to finish every thing at the mill; to wit, the dam, the stone still wanting in the south abutment, the digging forthe addition to the toll mill, the waste, the dressing off the banks and hollows about the mill-houses, making the banks of the canal secure everywhere. In all these things Mr. Walker will direct what is to be done, and how.

"'The second job is the fence from near Nance's house to the river, the course of which will be shown. Previous to this a change in the road is to be made, which will be shown also.

"'As this fence will completely separate the river field from the other grounds, that field is to be cleaned up; the spots in it still in wood are to be cut down where they are not too steep for culture; a part of the field is to be planted in Quarantine corn, which will be found in a tin canister in my closet. This corn is to be in drills 5 feet apart, and the stalks 18 inches asunder in the drills. The rest of the ground is to be sown in oats, and red clover sowed on the oats. All ploughing is to be done horizontally, in the manner Mr. Randolph does his.

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"'180 Cords of coal wood are next to be cut. The wood cut in the river field will make a part, and let the rest be cut in the flat lands on the meadow branch south of the overseer's house, which I intend for a Timothy meadow. Let the wood be all corded, that there may be no deception as to the quantity. A kiln will be wanting to be burnt before Christmas; but the rest of the wood had better lie seasoning till spring, when it will be better to burn it.

"'When these things are done, the levelling of the garden is to be resumed. The hands having already worked at this, they understand the work. John best knows how to finish off the levelling.

"'I have hired all the hands belonging to Mrs. and Miss Dangerfield, for the next year. They are nine in number. Moses the miller is to be sent home when his year is up. With these will work in common, Isaac, Charles, Ben, Shepherd, Abram, Davy, John, and Shoemaker Phill; making a gang of 17 hands. Martin is the miller, and Jerry will drive his wagon.

"'Those who work in the nailery, are Moses, Wormly, Jame Hubbard, Barnaby, Isbel's Davy, Bedford John, Bedford Davy, Phill Hubbard, Bartlet, and Lewis. They are sufficient for 2 fires, five at a fire. I am desirous a single man, a smith, should be hired to work with them, to see that

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their nails are well made, and to superintend them generally; if such an one can be found for $150 or $200 a year, though I would rather give him a share in the nails made, say one-eighth of the price of all the nails made, deducting the cost of the iron; if such a person can be got, Ishel's Davy may be withdrawn to drive the mule wagon, and Sampson join the laborers. There will then be 9 nailers, besides the manager, so that 10 may still work at 2 fires; the manager to have a log house built, and to have 500 lbs. of pork The nails are to be sold by Mr. Bacon, and the accounts to be kept by him; and he is to direct at all times what nails are to be made.

"'The toll of the mill is to be put away in the two garners made, which are to have secure locks, and Mr. Bacon is to keep the keys. When they are getting too full, the wagons should carry the grain to the overseer's house, to be carefully stowed away. In general, it will be better to use all the bread corn from the mill from week to week, and only bring away the surplus. Mr. Randolph is hopper-free and toll-free at the mill. Mr. Eppes having leased his plantation and gang, they are to pay toll hereafter.

"'Clothes for the people are to be got from Mr. Higginbotham, of the kind heretofore got. I allow them a best striped blanket every three years. Mr.

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 Lilly had failed in this; "but the last year Mr. Freeman gave blankets to one-third of them. This year 11 blankets must be bought, and given to those most in need, noting to whom they are given. The hirelings, if they had not blankets last year, must have them this year. Mrs. Randolph always chooses the clothing for the house servants; that is to say, for Peter Hemings, Burwell, Edwin, Critta, and Sally. Colored plains are provided for Betty Brown, Betty Hemings, Nance, Ursula, and indeed all the others. The nailers, laborers, and hirelings may have it, if they prefer it to cotton. Wool is given for stockings to those who will have it spun and knit for themselves. Fish is always to be got from Richmond, by writing to Mr. Jefferson, and to be dealt out to the hirelings, laborers, workmen, and house servants of all sorts, as has been usual.

"'600 Lbs. of pork is to be provided for the overseer, 500 lbs. for Mr. Stewart, and 500 lbs. for the superintendent of the nailery, if one is employed; also about 900 lbs. more for the people, so as to give them half a pound a-piece once a week. This will require, in the whole, 2,000 or 2,500 lbs. After seeing what the plantation can furnish, and the 3 hogs at the mill, the residue must be purchased. In the winter, a hogshead of molasses must be provided and brought up, which

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Mr. Jefferson will furnish. This will afford to give a gill a-piece to everybody once or twice a week.

"'Joe works with Mr. Stewart; John Hemings and Lewis with Mr. Dinsmore; Burwell paints and takes care of the house. With these the overseer has nothing to do, except to find them. Stewart and Joe do all the plantation work; and when Stewart gets into his idle frolics, it may sometimes be well for Moses or Isbel's Davy to join Joe for necessary work.

"'The servants living on the top of the mountain must have a cart-load of wood delivered at their doors once a week through the winter. The fence inclosing the grounds on the top of the mountain must be well done up. This had better be done before they begin the fence down the mountain. No animal of any kind must ever be loose within that inclosure. Mr. Bacon should not fail to come to the top of the mountain every 2 or 3 days, to see that nothing is going wrong, and that the gates are in order. Davy and Abram may patch up the old garden pales when work is going on from which they can best be spared.

"'The thorn hedges are to be kept clean wed at all times. Mr. Dinsmore is to be furnished with bread grain from the mill. The proportion of corn and wheat is left to his own discretion. He

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 provides his own provisions, and for Mr. Nelson and Barry.

"'There is a spout across the canal near the head, which, if left as at present, will do mischief. I will give verbal directions about it.

"'As soon as the Aspen trees lose their leaves, take up one or two hundred of the young trees, not more than 2 or 3 feet high; tie them in bundles, with the roots well covered with straw. Young Davy being to carry Fanny to Washington, he is to take the little cart, (which must be put into the soundest order,) to take these trees on board. 3 Boxes in my study, marked to go by him and Fanny and her things. She must take corn for their meals, and provisions for themselves to Washington. Fodder they can buy on the road. I leave $6 with you, to give them to pay unavoidable expenses. If he could have 2 mules, without stopping a wagon, it would be better. They are to go as soon as the Aspen leaves fall

"'The nailers are to work on the dam till finished, and then go to their shop. The verbal directions which I gave Mr. Bacon respecting Carroll's farm, will be recollected and observed.


"'When the work at the mill is done, and the fence mended up on the top of the mountain, take

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as much time with your hands as will fill all the gullies in the field north of the overseer's house, (called Belfield,) with bushes, &c, so that they may be filling up by the time we are ready to clean it up. The scalded places should also be covered with bushes.

"'The orchard below the garden must be entirely cultivated the next year; to wit, a part in Eavenscroft pea, which you will find in a canister in my closet; a part with Irish potatoes, and the rest with cow-pea, of which there is a patch at Mr. Freeman's, to save which, great attention must be paid, as they are the last in the neighborhood.

"'Whiskey is wanted for the house, some for Mr. Dinsmore, and some sometimes for the people. About 30 gallons will last a year. Mr. "Merriwether or Mr. Rogers may perhaps each let us have some for nails, or will distil it out of our worst toll wheat.

"'In building the house for the nailer, there should be a partition laying off about 8 feet at one end, to keep his nails and rod in.

"'Get from Mr. Perry and Mr. Dinsmore, an estimate of all the nails we shall want for the house in Bedford; and when you have no orders to execute for others, let the boys be making them, and keep them separate from all others; and when the

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wagon goes up at Christmas, send what shall then be ready.

"'Mr. Higginbotham has all my transportation to and from Richmond under his care. He settles with the watermen, and pays them. I do not wish to have any accounts with them.

"'These rains have possibly spoiled the fodder you had agreed for. You had better see it, and if injured, look out in time for more.

"'Mr. Dinsmore wants Allen's plank brought up immediately. If you choose it, you can take your half beef now, killing one for that purpose, and sending the other half to the house, or to Mr. Randolph's.'"