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Woodworking at Monticello
The Monticello joinery was one of the first buildings to be constructed on Mulberry Row. In the forty-year course of the construction and reconstruction of the Monticello house, some of the finest architectural woodwork in Virginia was made in the Mulberry Row joinery. When referring to the house joinery work of Monticello’s free and enslaved craftsmen, Jefferson wrote that “there is nothing superior in the U.S.”
Thomas Jefferson had highly-skilled free joiners come to Monticello, Irish men like James Dinsmore and John Neilson who passed their skills on to their assistants—Jefferson’s slaves. After 1809, when the house was complete and the white workmen left, African American artisans like John Hemings trained young slave apprentices and carried on the exceptional work of the Monticello joinery. John Hemings was described as a “first rate workman—he could make anything that was wanted in woodwork.”
After Jefferson’s retirement from the presidency, he turned to his slave joiners for furniture. These artisans, who had previously made architectural woodwork for the house at Monticello, produced impressive furniture that included chairs, tables, and cases such as the seed press in the Book Room, and filing presses in the Cabinet, a sewing table, and dumbwaiters used in the dining room. John Hemings was known to have made chairs, tables, desks, and the body of a landau carriage.