Peter

Born: unknown
Died: after 1796
Family relationship: unknown
Role: Gardener

Peter is one of the earliest documented individuals held in bondage by the Monroes. Peter first appears in documents during the Monroes’ early marriage in Fredericksburg, Virginia, a few years before they established residency in Albemarle County in 1789. Peter traveled independently and is referenced at Monroe’s Charlottesville property that would later become the University of Virginia, as well as at Highland.

Peter is often paired in letters with an enslaved woman referred to as “Tenah” and “Thena.” This woman is Thenia Hemings, whom Monroe purchased with her five daughters from Thomas Jefferson in 1794. Annette Gordon-Reed suggests in The Hemingses of Monticello that Thenia may have been sold to Monroe to unite her with the father of her children. When writing letters, Monroe habitually referred to individuals in pairs or groups according to their enslaved roles, which did not always indicate family relationships. Peter is also referred to as “old Peter” in a March 26, 1795 letter (below) when Thenia (1767-1796) would have been 28. It is possible Peter was the father of Thenia’s children as she does bear another child in 1795 after her purchase, but other than the pairing of their names in Monroe’s letters, they are not described as spouses.


James Monroe to Elizabeth Kortright Monroe

“Richmond April 13, 1787

Mr Madison writes me some time will yet elapse before our furniture will reach Fredricksbg . On the 1st of this month it had not left N. York. It is finish’d & will be forwarded by the first opportunity. I have been disappointed in the rect of money here for my carriage. Mr Jones furnish’d me with [illegible] £ but doubt whether he will so many dollrs. You are [illegible] establishment in Fredricksbg than myself. Have you heard how Peter proceeds in the garden & what the state of every thing there? I hope they are safe.”

Courtesy of the Papers of James Monroe: http://monroepapers.com/items/show/362

Note: James Monroe was doing legal work in Richmond and Elizabeth Monroe and their daughter Eliza stayed in Fredericksburg at Kenmore, the home of Fielding and Betty Washington Lewis (brother-in-law and sister to George Washington).

James Monroe to James Madison

“Albemarle May 18. 1793.

Peter will bring the articles at yr. house; and likewise some [of?] Wilsons if arrived.”

Courtesy of Founders Online: https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/01-15-02-0020


Joseph Jones to James Monroe

“Staunton 4th Apr. 1794

On my way to this place I called at your Plantation but it being on a sunday it so happened the people were all at meeting and I did not see Tenah. The overseer was at home and came to me. He says he has sowed the oats and was preparing for corn but had done but little ploughing towards it at that time. He told me he had heard a few days before from the other place and that all were well and he believed tolerable preparation for a crop but had not lately seen the Stock of the place. He also said besides what was done in the Garden at the house where some things had been done that Peter had another place or truck patch near the barn where he had sowed chief of his seeds. When I go down I shall if I have time see the Plantation over the mountain as well as at the house and let you hear further from me respecting them. I met Peter on the road after I left the house and on inquiry found you were rather scarce of Corn and fodder and as it was my intention to lodge & breakfast at your house and keep my horse there I desired him and the overseer to get me a barrel of corn and half a dozen bushels of oats with six or seven hundred bundles of fodder agt I returned from any of the neighbours who had It to spare. I also desired Peter to request Tenah to have two beds for Prentis and myself in the unfinished house where we wod sleep.”

Courtesy of the Papers of James Monroe: http://monroepapers.com/items/show/666


Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe

“Monticello Apr. 24. 94.

I rode to your plantation to day. Your wheat is better than your neighbors’. The two feilds on each side the road, are really good; that nearer the mountain as good as the seasons have admitted. We have had two glorious rains. The first about a fortnight ago, the effect of which was lessened by very cold weather. The last 4. days ago, followed by cloudy and some warm weather. The destruction of fruit in this part of the country, as far as I have yet learnt, is complete. Mine as usual has escaped without the loss of a single blossom. I am happy to tell you that yours also (at the new place) has escaped well. I examined many peach and cherry trees there to day, and they have as much fruit on them as they ought to have. This should encourage your timely attention to extend orchards up into the mountain. Your man never called again for grafts. However I have had a good nursery prepared for myself, and will spare you some of every thing. Your overseer has got all his corn ground flushed and corn planted: his fences also nearly repaired, and is clearing up a swamp. He appears to be doing essentially well, tho’ not over-nice as to matters of mere appearance.”

Courtesy of Founders Online: https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/01-28-02-0053

Note: Since Peter is described as a gardener, it is likely the “man” referenced in this letter is him.


James Monroe to Joseph Jones

“Paris Feby 1. 1795

I hope my people do not suffer & particularly Peter & Thena to whom remember us.”

Courtesy of the Papers of James Monroe (v.3): http://monroepapers.com/items/show/826


Joseph Jones to James Monroe

“Virga Fredg 26th Mar: 1795

What wheat was to be had at Hogs I let Col. Bell have in acct—there was none where you lived and a very short crop at Hoggs. We got four hands from Marks on hire and I sent up two young men of mine to assist this year putting both places under the management of Hogg with old Peter at the home  plantation. Marks has lost his wife and I think the prospect of getting money from him a very unpromising one. In a former letter I mentioned my intention of letting J.M. [Joseph Monroe, younger brother] reside in the house that was unfinished when you left it. He has since moved there and will relieve him from the expence of rent and firewood. If this step does not suit it may be corrected in another year.”

Courtesy of the Papers of James Monroe: http://monroepapers.com/items/show/862


Joseph Jones to James Monroe

“Fredg 16th Janry 1796

I am sorry to inform you I think you will loose Tenah. – She brought a Child early last year and tho’ she went about in June and July she complained of being unwell and in pain and said she had not been well from the time of her delivery. in Augt she went to her room and at length to her bed and has been confined and languishing ever since. Wardlow and Meriwether have attended her and used I believe their best efforts but all will I think prove ineffectual – when I left her last week she was very feeble indeed and cannot live long if she still lives. I have hired and has been constantly with her an elderly carefull black woman who resides contiguous to the plantation and has daily and I believe carefully nursed her and have furnished and directed peter to furnish any thing that she may desire or want so that I believe nothing that could administer to her relief and comfort has been neglected.”

Courtesy of the Papers of James Monroe: http://monroepapers.com/items/show/1058


James Monroe to Joseph Jones

“Paris June 9. 1796

We lament much the ill health of Tinah & anticipate the worst , but hope for her recovery. Her loss will be severely felt by Mrs. M. who wod not admit it were possible to replace her, by ½ dozen in her place: indeed she is valuable as a sensible and honest servant, as well as most capable, and whose loss cod never be repaired. We are particularly gratified that she is well taken care of & wants for nothing. Peter we hope is well, who, & those under Hogg we wish to be humanely treated, well-cloathed &c.”

Courtesy of the Papers of James Monroe: http://monroepapers.com/items/show/1131


James Monroe to Joseph Jones

“Paris Augt 1, 1796

We greatly lament the death of Thena. to her mistress & our child she is an irreparable loss. we hope her children are well taken care of, but indeed we know not well what had better be done with them. You will determine. Peter we hope is well & the others. We rejoice that the affr of Marks is settled & upon the terms accepted by you.”

Courtesy of the Papers of James Monroe: http://monroepapers.com/items/show/1157


James Monroe to Joseph Jones

“Paris Octr 27. 1796

I rec’d sometime since the letters you mention containing the acc’t of my private aff’rs and have heretofore answer’d them. I find by your last that you are disposed to dismiss Hog w’h I most earnestly request you to do. He ought (speaking within bounds) to have made for sale exclusive of the little trifling appropriations on it, six hundred bushels of wheat & 100. Barrels of corn a year with other little matters. Had he done this considering the high price of every thing, you wo’d have been enabled to do what you pleased. But as it is he has made nothing & given no assistance whatever. I think the year before I took him & when the prices were low he made on a part of the same ground, beside supporting himself, near 40£. I therefore beg you to turn him off if you have no other than that of Peter … I wish you plant as many fruit trees as possible at both places and go on with such other improvements as you think fit. At the upper place plant along the run on each side, five or six yards or 10. yds from it and at the same distance apart, a row of the weeping willow from one end to the other: unless you have the lombardy poplar to intersperse or can find some of the sicamore. I hope the yard and all round the hill is in good grass: but if it is otherwise I hope you will make Peter now attend to it: giving particular orders to that effect.”

Courtesy of the Papers of James Monroe: http://monroepapers.com/items/show/1207