Historical significance

From 1799 to 1826, Highland was the sporadic residence of fifth president James Monroe. For years, public understanding of the site relied on incomplete evidence—so much so that a good deal of Highland’s story remained mysteriously hidden! Now historians and archaeologists are peeling back the layers of mystery and misunderstanding  to uncover more of Highland’s past. The untold lives of enslaved people, a fire that destroyed the original main residence, alterations by later owners: these are some of the many stories coming to light in recent work by a research team asking the right questions.

Enslaved men, women and children were held in bondage on this property starting in 1793 with Monroe’s purchase of Highland, through 1828 when Highland was sold to the Bank of the United States, and slavery continued at Highland under different owners until emancipation in 1865. The papers in this collection provide a stark vision of a world in which individuals were bought and sold in legal transactions to accommodate labor needs and debts. Below is a glimpse of some of the individuals that were enslaved at Highland.

More biographies can be found on the James Monroe Highland website.

Select a profile below to learn more:

Peter Marks

Born: around 1795
Died: 1860
Family relationship: Husband of Eugenia Hemings Marks; father of James, Mary Ann, Eugene, Elizabeth, Edward
Role: manservant; coachmen

Peter Marks is the only enslaved individual known to be freed by James Monroe. According to a Monroe family friend, Peter was in “the family of Mr. Monroe from his … [yout]h” and described as an “excellent dining room ser[van]t; and a good coachman.” (Letter of Recommendation by Tench Ringgold, 27 August 1831). Peter’s parentage is unknown, but two women enslaved by the Monroes are known to have born a child in 1795, the approximate year of his birth: Thenia Hemings as well as the cook Hannah.

News clipping
The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 9, 1873
This 1873 announcement about Eugenia’s new position goes into detail about James Monroe’s connection with Peter, who had passed away in 1860. Courtesy of Early American Newspapers Series 1-5 (1690-1922)


Handwritten list of household items
List of household items from James Monroe’s homes in Albemarle and Richmond, sold to James Madison
James Monroe to James Madison, 7 March 1803, letter insert
“one soup spoon, the other in Albemarle to be had of Hannah”
Courtesy of the Library of Congress, James Madison Papers

Born: unknown, she was an adult by 1790
Died: after 1803
Family relationship: Wife of Dick; mother to Dick, Wilson, Jesse, Spotswood, Charles, a daughter (name unknown), three younger sons (names unknown, although “Nelson” is later listed as being a brother to Jesse and Charles in an 1825 deed)
Role: Cook

Hannah was enslaved as part of the estate of Charlottesville resident Peter Marks, who purchased property from James Monroe in 1790 and mortgaged 33 individuals as part of the agreement. Marks died in 1795 before paying his debt to Monroe. Hannah and some of her children were then purchased for James Monroe by his uncle, Judge Joseph Jones, while Monroe was abroad serving as Minister to France. Jones had attempted to purchase Hannah’s whole family, but her husband Dick had an arrangement to work out his freedom with another buyer; her sons Dick and Wilson were also purchased by others ahead of Jones.


Newspaper clipping of a notice
Advertisement from the Richmond Enquirer, 2 November 1827
The “first rate Blacksmith” advertised in this sale would have been Nelson. Courtesy of Early American Newspapers Series 1-5 (1690-1922)

Born: around 1790
Died: after 1828
Family relationship: Son of Hannah and Dick; brother of Dick, Wilson, Spotswood, Jesse, Charles, a sister (name unknown) and two other brothers (names unknown)
Role: Blacksmith

Nelson was born enslaved to Charlottesville resident Peter Marks, who purchased property from James Monroe in 1790 and mortgaged 33 individuals as part of the agreement. Nelson’s mother Hannah was purchased as a cook for the Monroes in 1796, along with Nelson and several of her other sons. Nelson was described as a blacksmith in an 1825 mortgage. He was sold locally between late 1827 and early 1828. This local sale meant that Nelson was not part of the group sale from Highland to the Florida territory in 1828.


Newspaper advertisement
Advertisement from (Charlottesville) Central Gazette, July 8, 1826
Runaway slave advertisement for George and his wife Phebe. Courtesy of University of Virginia Special Collections

Born: about 1796
Died: unknown
Family relationship: Husband of Phebe
Role: Laborer

George and his wife Phebe ran away from Highland the night of Monday July 3, 1826. It is likely that George or Phebe had previously spent some time at Monroe’s Oak Hill property in Loudoun County, Virginia since the ad presumes “they are supposed to be making for the county of Loudon [sic].” The couple’s fate is unknown.