Tag Archives: Overseers
I am informed that James Hemings my servant has put himself under your superintendance until he can hear from me on the subject of his return. I can readily excuse the follies of a boy and therefore his return shall ensure him an entire pardon. during my absence hereafter I should place him with Johnny Hemings and Lewis at house-joiner’s work. if you will get him a passage in the Richmond stage I will get mr Higginbotham to pay his fare on his arrival at Milton.
Thomas Jefferson to James Oldham, July 20, 1805
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Wise leaders take difficult circumstances into account.
Hemings, one of Jefferson’s young slaves, had abandoned Monticello a few months before and was working odd jobs between Richmond and Norfolk. Someone who knew of Hemings’ whereabouts asked James Oldham, Jefferson’s former carpenter now living in Richmond, if he should confine Hemings until he could be returned. Oldham said no, that Hemings could stay with him until Jefferson’s wishes were known.
Hemings was willing to return to Monticello if he was not placed under the overseer, Gabriel Lilley, who had treated him harshly. (Lilley was known for his severe treatment, and Jefferson was seeking his replacement.) Oldham was now asking his former employer’s opinion.
Jefferson would grant Hemings, whom he called a servant, not a slave, a full pardon for his youthful folly. Acknowledging Hemings’ legitimate concern, upon his return, he would be freed from Lilley and placed under a skilled carpenter, where he might learn a trade.
“… he set the bar very high with his
remarkable portrayal of Thomas Jefferson.”
Chairman of the Board, Sedalia Heritage Foundation
Mr. Jefferson will set a high bar for other presenters at your meeting.
Invite him to speak. Call 573-657-2739
NOTE: The link to Thomas Jefferson’s letter is subject to change by Founders’ Archive. It was accurate when this post was written. If the link is now wrong, search FoundersArchives.gov or call me. I’ll help you find it.
… as a farmer and friend [I] ask your aid & counsel, in the helpless situation in which I am as to my own affairs. mr Lilly, my manager at Monticello has hitherto been on wages of £ 50. a year, and £ 10. additional for the nailing. he now writes me he cannot stay after the present year for less than £ 100. certainly I never can have a manager who better fulfills all my objects, altho’ he can neither write nor read. yet from £ 60. to £ 100. is such a jump as I am unwilling to take if I can find another, equal to such trusts during my absence … do you know any body equal to them, who could be had for Lilly’s present wages? …
Thomas Jefferson to Wilson Cary Nicholas, June 5, 1805
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Professional responsibilities directly hinder a leader’s personal ones.
Nicholas (1761-1820) was a close personal friend and political ally. Jefferson asked his help in finding another overseer for Monticello. Since he was away in Washington most of each year, he needed a capable person in that position.
His current manager, Gabriel Lilly, insisted on a pay increase from his current 60 pounds per year to 100, roughly a $200 increase in 1805. The previous post highlighted one of Jefferson’s financial woes, this one, another. The illiterate Lilly was competent in his responsibilities, though Jefferson had warned him about his harsh treatment of slaves. The financially strapped President was desperate to control some of his expenses. (There is no indication he reined in expenditures on his personal interests: Ongoing work on his home, books, wine, food, gifts for family and friends, donations to favored causes.) Lilly did not get his raise and left Monticello.
In 1815, Nicholas’ daughter would marry Jefferson’s grandson. In 1819, Nicholas’ land speculations collapsed and a $20,000 debt would fall on the co-signer of his note, Thomas Jefferson. That ended his hopes of ever getting out of debt.