From Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia
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 finish work, 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.
Thomas Jefferson had highly skilled free joiners to come to live and work at Monticello. Irishmen like James Dinsmore and John Neilson passed their skills on to their assistants--Jefferson's slaves. One of these enslaved men, John Hemmings was described by an overseer as "a first rate workman--a very extra workman. He could make anything that was wanted in woodwork." Jefferson considered Dinsmore and John Neilson "house joiners of the very first order 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 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 left, African-American artisans like John Hemings trained young slave apprentices and carried on the exceptional work of the Monticello joinery.
Inventory of joinery April 15, 1809 by James Dinsmore
15 pair hollows & rounds & 1 plane for making spouts
1 pair (hollows &) quarter rounds, 1 Do Snipe Bills
1 Do Side rabbitt planes--do rabbit planes & astragal philasters & one Spring plane
4 pair groveing planes & 1 cut & thrust
2 Plow planes & 9 plow bits
5 bead planes, 9, ogees & 2 quarter rounds--
2 Sash ovolos, 2 astragal Do--
1 Scotia & ovolo & 1 oggee & ovolo
1 raising plane 2 pair Base & Surbase planes--
1 architrave Do - 14 Cornice planes of different kinds
3 Straight & 3 Circular Smoothing planes--1 toothing Do
4 Sets of Bench planes - 5 in each set & 1 double Iron Jointer--
3 Try planes for Circular work, 3 steel blade Squares--
1 bench vise 2 plated gages *1 mitre Do - brace & 15 bits--
2 pair pincers & 1 pair cutting plyers--
2 drawing knoves 2 pair compasses--
4 Sockett chisels 4 mortise Do & 13 former Do--
19 gouges, 2 rasps 4 files, <&> 15 gimblets
3 pair hand screws, 3 iron screws for joining up work
6 augres 3 hand Saws 1 pannel Do 1 table Do 1 tenon Do--
1 Sash Do 1 Dove tail Do 1 frame Do & 2 lock Saws 9 new plane irons
3 Saw files 1 axe 1 adz 1 bevel 1 mitre < > turkey wet stone etc
1 Tuscan cornice plane--
1 Sash astragal--
1 ogee & quarter round--
1 screw worth 9/. by J Dinsmore
2 flooring etc. worth 4/ < > by J nelson <0.>
- ↑ This article is based on Lucia Stanton, Monticello Research Report, July 1995.