At least one of Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest slaves, master craftsman John Hemings, could read, write, and cipher. Several of Hemings’ letters survive. In this one, dated August 11, 1825, Hemings informs his master of progress on the building of Poplar Forest and mentions Lynchburg as a source of roofing tin:
Dere Sir I hop you ar well We have got through the 15 boxis of tin and it will take 4 boxis more to finish the house I hope you have got information of before by Mr. F. Eppes I am in hopes we shall git the stuff fore the gutters in 2 weeks It carrs [costs?] much lower by giting the inch stuff from him. It comes at 3 dollars pay a hundred and four dollars a day for the waggin to hall it He says he can hall the hold at one lode. We should go about preparing the chines railing & puting up the ornaments of the hall Marster F. Epps was saying something about tining the flat rouff over the hall you and him can descide it between you how it shol be done Sir plese to send the tin as soon as you can the flat rouft will take 3 boxes. That is 7 in all. Theirs tin in Linchburg at 15 ½ Dollars which is much nearer if it could be got.