Site of Joinery

Joiner's Shop - Building c View Interactive Version ]

The foundation and chimney are all that remain of the Monticello joinery, one of the first buildings to be constructed on Mulberry Row. A joiner was a woodworker who made doors, windows, and decorative finishwork, such as cornices and mantels, balustrades and railings. 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.

Jefferson hired highly skilled free joiners to come live and work at Monticello. Irishmen like James Dinsmore and John Neilson passed their skills on to their assistants--typically Jefferson's slaves, among which John Hemings is the most notable. Jefferson considered Dinsmore and Neilson "house joiners of the very first order both in their kno[w]lege in architecture, and their practical abilities."

An inventory of tools Dinsmore made in 1809 reveals the specialized nature of the work in the Mulberry Row joinery. He listed over eighty planes for cutting a variety of moldings, each named for the shapes they cut--astragal, ogee, ovolo, etc.

Pine and poplar were the main woods used by Monticello's joiners for the architectural woodwork, which was then painted or, in the case of some of the doors, grained to look like mahogany. The parquet floor in the parlor, the work of James Dinsmore, was of cherry and beech. Most of the joiners were also skilled cabinetmakers, and numerous joinery-made pieces of mahogany, cherry, and walnut furniture survive. John Hemmings was known to have made chairs, tables, desks, and the body of a landau carriage.

When referring to the housejoinery work of Monticello's free and enslaved craftsmen, Jefferson wrote that "there is nothing superior in the U.S." After 1809, when the house was complete and the white workmen had left, African-American artisans like John Hemmings trained young slave apprentices and carried on the exceptional work of the Monticello joinery.


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