Jefferson set up a nail-making operation in 1794 to provide income until he could "put my farms into a course of yeilding profit." He calculated the nailers' daily output, the waste of nailrod, and profits. In its first years, the "nailery" was a financial success and Jefferson expanded it. Using nailrod shipped from Philadelphia, the enslaved nailers produced thousands of pounds of nails sold in local stores and to neighbors. Profits dwindled over the years because of management problems and competition from cheaper imported nails. Nail-making continued until the War of 1812 impeded the shipment of nailrod from Britain. Small-scale nail production resumed on Mulberry Row in 1815 after the war ended.
In 1794, nine enslaved boys aged 10 to 15 worked at forges, making as many as 10,000 nails a day. From dawn to dusk, Ben Hix, David and Moses Hern, Burwell Colbert, Barnaby Gillette, James Hubbard, Sheperd, Wormley Hughes, and Joseph Fossett, hammered iron nailrod into nails of four sizes on their anvils. Head blacksmith George Granger, Jr. supervised their work and received a small percentage of the profits. Jeffferson weighed the nailrod and nails daily to assess the efficiency of his workers. Moses Hern (15) was the most efficient, while James Hubbard (11) "wasted" the most iron.
I am engaged in a nail manufactory, which I carry on altogether with my own boys. Thomas Jefferson, 1795.
Treatment of Slaves
"My first wish", Jefferson wrote to his son-in-law in 1792, "is that labourers may be well treated." He struggled to balance humane treatment of slaves with the need for profit at Monticello. Jefferson tried to mitigate the coercion and violence from slavery; he asked his manager to refrain from whipping the boys in the nailery except "in extremities." Jefferson's instructions lessened, but did not eliminate, severe punishment. On occasion, he ordered a whipping for repeated misbehavior as an example to other slaves.
(left to right): Bulidings on Mulberry Row during Jefferson's era.
"Estimate on the actual work of the autumn of 1794." Jefferson's Farm Book. Massachusetts Historical Society
Horseshoe nail, iron. Cut nail, iron. Scupper nail, iron. Wrought iron nail. Anvil hardy, iron. Anvil waster, iron. Probable tinsmithing hammer head, iron. Nailrod binder and nailrod fragments, iron. (This piece is missing from the marker.)
"Storehouse for iron" digital model. At various times nails were made in the "smith's shop", "nailery", and the "storehouse for iron."
Isaac (Granger) Jefferson. Special Collections, University of Virginia Library
Tin cup. Thomas Jefferson Foundation