John Hemings

John Hemings (also spelled "Hemmings") (1776-1830+) was one of Thomas Jefferson's slaves. He was the son of the slave Betty Hemings and Joseph Neilson. Hemmings started his working life as an "out-carpenter," chopping trees, hewing logs, building fences and barns, and helping to build the log slave dwellings on Mulberry Row.

John Hemmings must have demonstrated his woodworking ability early, because at the age of seventeen, he was put to work under a succession of skilled white woodworkers hired by Jefferson to enlarge the main house. Hemmings learned to make wheels, fine mahogany furniture, and to use an elaborate set of planes to create decorative interior moldings. He was principal assistant to James Dinsmore, the Irish joiner responsible for most of the elegant woodwork in the Monticello house. Hemmings crafted much of the interior woodwork of Jefferson's house at Poplar Forest in Bedford County, Virginia. He also made all the wooden parts of a large landau carriage Jefferson designed in 1814. He thus became far more than a carpenter -- he was a highly skilled joiner and cabinetmaker.

John Hemmings was a great favorite with Jefferson's grandchildren, who told of his making toys and furniture for them. His wife Priscilla was their "mammy." John Hemmings was one of seven slaves that Jefferson freed in his will, allowing him the tools from the joinery as well as the work of his two assistants. He continued to live at Monticello after 1826, probably until his death.

ee also

*Sally Hemings
*Jefferson DNA data


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