Fountain Hughes

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Fountain Hughes
Fountain Hughes.jpg
BornMay 10, 1848[1][2]
Died1957 (Aged 109)
OccupationFormer Slave

Fountain Hughes (1848[3][4] — 1957)[5] was born a slave in Charlottesville, Virginia in the United States and freed in 1865 after the American Civil War. He worked as a laborer for most of his life, moving in 1881 from Virginia to Baltimore, Maryland. He was interviewed in June 1949 about his life by the Library of Congress as part of the Federal Writers' Project of former slaves' oral histories. The recorded interview is online through the Library of Congress and the World Digital Library.[6]

Fountain was a grandson of Wormley Hughes and Ursula Granger, and great-great-grandson of Betty Hemings, the slave matriarch at Monticello. Wormley Hughes and his family were owned by President Thomas Jefferson at the time of his death.

Background and early life[edit]

After Thomas Jefferson's death, Wormley Hughes (who had worked as a gardener[3]) was among a group of slaves who were "given their time." This was an informal freedom, a non-legally binding release from the demands of enslavement without legal release, awarded usually to respective members of the slave-holder's own enslaved descendants and, at times, to other slaves deemed to have shown especially dedicated service. Despite this, Hughes' wife Ursula and all their children were sold in 1827, along with all but five slaves from Monticello, to settle outstanding debts of the estate. Hughes appealed to Jefferson's grandson to try to keep his family together; Thomas Jefferson Randolph purchased Hughes' wife and his three sons and took them with Wormley to his plantation of Edgehill. Three daughters of Hughes were sold ultimately to people in Missouri and Mississippi; others stayed closer.[7]

Fountain Hughes was born a slave near Charlottesville, Virginia and, with his mother, owned by President Thomas Jefferson. His father, also owned by President Thomas Jefferson was killed in the American Civil War.[8] As a slave child, Hughes was sometimes sent as a messenger to another house and would carry a pass to show he was allowed to travel. He said none of the slave boys were given shoes until they were about 12 or 13; they always went barefoot. He described their sleeping on pallets on the floor of their quarters; they did not have beds until after freedom. After being freed, he worked for ten dollars a month.[8]

Later life[edit]

Hughes in 1952

Hughes moved to Baltimore in 1881. For a time, he worked as a manure hauler for a man named Reed. A recorded interview was conducted with him on June 11, 1949, by Hermond Norwood (a Library of Congress engineer at the time).[9] It has been included with other interviews done by the Federal Writers' Project during the Great Depression. The recording is available online at the World Digital Library, as well as through the Library of Congress.[6]

Hughes noted changes from how people lived in the early 20th century. He said that in the 1940s, many people bought things on credit instead of saving up for them. He said, "If I've wanted anything, I'd wait until I got the money and I paid for it cash." He also said that, when he was growing up in the 19th century, young people could not spend money until they were 21 because they would be suspected of stealing the money. Children never had money to spend on their own. When asked which life he preferred, Hughes said he would rather be dead than a slave again.[8] Hughes died in 1957.[5]

Claimed Age[edit]

While Hughes' year of birth has been deduced to be circa 1848 from claims made by him in a recorded interview 8 years before his death[10] and at least one newspaper article 5 years before his death[11], there is no primary record documentation of this claim. According to federal census records through 1910 (1870[12] , 1880[13], 1900[14], 1910[15]), Hughes' enumerated age indicates he was born between 1859 and 1863. By the 1920 census and thereafter, Hughes was enumerated to have been born circa 1849, contradicting at least 40 years worth of prior documentary evidence in favor of the 1859-1863 deduction(s). Using the 1870-1910 census data gives Hughes an age of approximately 94-98 years at the time of his death (as opposed to a claimed 109) in 1957 and no greater than 6 years of age at the conclusion of the Civil War in 1865.

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ There is no extant evidence for an 1848 year of birth; federal census data directly contradict this claim. See "Claimed Age"
  3. ^ a b "Fountain Hughes". Slave Narratives. Museum of the African Diaspora. Retrieved 16 April 2011.
  4. ^ There is no extant evidence for an 1848 year of birth; federal census data directly contradict this claim. See "Claimed Age"
  5. ^ a b "The Descendants of Elizabeth Hemings: Betty Brown". Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 11 February 2012.
  6. ^ a b "Interview with Fountain Hughes, Baltimore, Maryland, June 11, 1949", American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, World Digital Library, accessed 26 May 2013
  7. ^ "Hughes (Hemings)", Getting Word, Monticello Foundation, see Descendant charts, accessed 26 May 2013
  8. ^ a b c Interview with Fountain Hughes (Audio transcript). Baltimore, Maryland: Library of Congress. 11 June 1949. Retrieved 16 April 2011.
  9. ^ "Voices from the Days of Slavery", Library of Congress American Memory.
  10. ^ Hughes, Fountain (June 11, 1949). Interview with Fountain Hughes, Baltimore, Maryland, June 11, 1949 (Audio). Baltimore, Maryland: Library of Congress. Retrieved September 26, 2018.
  11. ^ ""Go To Bed at Sundown" is Longevity Secret of One-time Slave". The Jeffersonian. Towson, Maryland. May 16, 1952. Retrieved September 26, 2018.
  12. ^ "1870 United States Federal Census", United States Census, 1870; Fredericksville Parish, Albermarle, Virginia; roll 1352, page 376B, line 39. Retrieved on September 26, 2018. According to this census record, Hughes is a 10 year-old "at home", indicating a circa 1860 year of birth.
  13. ^ "1880 United States Federal Census", United States Census, 1880; Charlottesville, Albemarle, Virginia; roll M593_1631, page 239B, line 50, Family History film 553130. Retrieved on September 26, 2018. According to this census record, Hughes is an 18 year-old Carriage Driver, indicating a circa 1862 year of birth.
  14. ^ "1900 United States Federal Census", United States Census, 1900; Baltimore Ward 15, Baltimore City (Independent City), Maryland; roll T623, 1854, page 4, line 84, enumeration district 0192, Family History film 1240614. Retrieved on September 26, 2018. According to this census record, Hughes is listed as a 31 year-old married Day Laborer while enumerating an 1869 year of birth. This appears to be in error, as 1st wife Amelia is listed as having an 1859 year of birth, probably indicating the birth years/extrapolated ages were reversed.
  15. ^ "1910 United States Federal Census", United States Census, 1910; Baltimore Ward 11, Baltimore (Independent City), Maryland; roll T624_556, page 8B, line 66, enumeration district 0165, Family History film 1374569. Retrieved on September 26, 2018. According to this census record, Hughes is a 47 year-old married farmer (2nd marriage), indicating a circa 1863 year of birth.

External links[edit]