As the nineteenth century begins, down inside the “ Dungeons ” of the brand new Virginia State Penitentiary, a prisoner uses car shears to cut nails from nail perch. In a Richmond newspaper, Kate McCall advertises for “ Two or three Apprentice boys ” who could join her enslave workers at McCall ’ s complete factory, located less than a mile from the Penitentiary. seventy-three miles aside, enslaved son Jamey Hubbard hammers at nail perch furiously so that he may win kernel rations from Thomas Jefferson at the Monticello plantation. [ 1 ] What connects these three historical snapshots ? Each depicts powerful Virginians forcing others to make nails for sale in the robust richmond market. More importantly, they illustrate three surprise competitors in this race to sell nails : the well-known Thomas Jefferson, an unmarried white woman, and “ the country ” —made up of taxpayers, penitentiary staff, and politicians.

Workshops located on Jefferson ’ mho Mulberry Row included a nailery, which became operational in 1794. Jefferson hoped the nailery would become a reference of cash income where “ a package of boys who would differently be dead ” [ 2 ] could turn “ tons of nail gat into thousands of nails ” ( as historian Cinder Stanton put it ). A twelve or so of Jefferson ’ s enslaved teenagers ( such as Hubbard and Isaac Granger ) worked ten- to fourteen-hour days repetitively making nails in the hot and smoky workshop.

The need for the product was high, since nails were necessary to construct the wooden buildings quickly emerging in Virginia ’ s urban centers. Virginia proved a state fat for the growth of iron industries, given its big forests, ample ore deposits, and enslaved parturiency arrangement. And because the James River powered mills and ironworks and provide fare for goods, Richmond developed as a center of southerly industry in the early nineteenth century. Jefferson ’ s nailery operated until 1823, and its profits peaked in 1795 when his enslaved boys produced 8,000 to 10,000 nails a day and provided “ completely for the alimony of [ Jefferson ’ s ] family. ” [ 3 ]



Nailery and Blacksmith ’ randomness Shop on Mulberry Row, Monticello. 3D model by RenderSphere, LLC. ( hypertext transfer protocol : // )

Like Jefferson, other capitalists sought to profit from making and selling nails in Richmond. One is the subject of my research : Catharine “ Kate ” Flood McCall, a never-married slave owner who founded “ McCall ’ s Basin on the Edge of the Canal ” with her father in 1805. McCall hired spare and enslave workers to man her enterprise, and frequently advertised the wares she sold : shaped nails, cut nails and brads, bar iron, collar gat, and “ All kinds of Blacksmith ’ sulfur work. ” [ 4 ] While a womanhood owning enslave people proved far from rare in nineteenth hundred Virginia, a single womanhood who ran her own industrial enterprise surely was. McCall eschewed suitors all her life, and invested in enslave people, down, and her nail-making enterprise. Virginia ’ s laws at the clock time considered McCall a feme exclusive ( “ individual woman ” ). This meant that while she could n’t vote or serve on a jury, she could legally act like a serviceman : she could control her place and earnings, bless contracts, and sue ( and be sued ). marry women ( feme coverts ) could do none of these in their own name. Seeking her own profit, McCall, like Jefferson, chose low-skilled nail devising to pursue that end.

Kate McCall was one of President Jefferson ’ s many contenders in the rush to sell nails in Virginia ’ s growing cities. But Jefferson knew of the McCall family before Kate became his rival. In 1802, Archibald McCall ( Kate ’ s forefather ) wrote to ask Jefferson if he would pay for “ the Loss my Daughter sustained ” because of the mismanagement of the estate of Kate ’ s enate grandfather, Dr. Nicholas Flood ( Jefferson ’ s father-in-law John Wayles had owed money to Dr. Flood ). [ 5 ] In an 1803 letter to Archibald McCall, Jefferson refers to other legal and fiscal issues that connected the McCall, Jefferson, Skelton, and Peachey families. [ 6 ] Could Jefferson have predicted that the daughter of a man he once quibbled with about inheritances would soon turn into his rival for nails ?

Jefferson and McCall both competed with another seller of nails in richmond : the Virginia State Penitentiary ( built in 1800 ). revolutionary ideals and tug concerns encouraged progressive lawmakers ( including Jefferson himself ) to construct state penitentiaries across the raw state. The Virginia State Penitentiary embodied reformers ’ views that labor produced ethical motive, which produced economy. The Penitentiary would turn unvoiced criminals into reformed citizens of the new democracy by making them manufacture goods for sale, which would benefit taxpayers. Since the identical first enterprise the Penitentiary set up was a nail-making room, the low-skilled nature of breeze through make besides incentivized the Penitentiary to invest in this industry. The Penitentiary became profitable by 1807 by selling prisoner-made nails and other goods to Richmond locals.


Benjamin Henry Latrobe ( 1764-1820 ). Elevations and Drawings for the Virginia “ Penitentiary House. ” Ink and watercolor on newspaper, 1797. ( hypertext transfer protocol : // )

ironically, the Virginia State Penitentiary ‘s entrance into the Richmond smash market in the early on 1800s undercut the capital city ‘s “ free ” labor movement grocery store for this good. so successful was the Penitentiary that it undersold many privately owned nail firms in Richmond, including “ McCall ’ s Basin on the Edge of the Canal ” by 1815. The time of when McCall and Jefferson began to lose profits, and then finally closed their complete shops—as the Virginia State Penitentiary reached its zenith in profits—is surely not a coincidence.

The state of matter, Kate McCall, and Thomas Jefferson all profited from the parturiency of unfree people who hammered off to make nails for sale in Virginia. President Jefferson ’ s administration promised citizens like McCall individual freedom to conduct commercial enterprise with restrict politics intervention. But the entrance of the Virginia State Penitentiary into Richmond ’ s collar market demonstrates that, ironically, Jefferson possibly undercut his own imagination as some citizens called into motion the ability of private enterprise to flourish in the new democracy. today, private prisons net income from the low-paid or unpaid work that prisoners perform, having dispensed with the explicit department of defense of “ enlightenment. ”


“ Cloutier Grossier ” ( Large nail-making ), L ’ Encyclopédie by Denis Diderot and Jean d ’ Alembert, 1763 ( hypertext transfer protocol : // )

Alexi Garrett received her ph from the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia. She is the Institute for Thomas Paine Studies and University of Virginia Press Post-Doctoral Fellow at Iona College ( 2020-2022 ). She was a chap at the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies in 2019.

[ 1 ] Library of Virginia Manuscripts, Acc. # 41558, Records of the Virginia State Penitentiary, Series I, Subs. E, Box 4, Folder 6, May 12, 1800. Alexandra Daily Advertiser, April 21, 1804. Lucia Stanton, “ Those Who Labor for My Happiness ” : bondage at Thomas Jefferson ’ mho Monticello ( Charlottesville : UVA Press, 2012 ), 79-80.

[ 2 ] Jefferson to Short, April 13, 1800 hypertext transfer protocol : //

[ 3 ] Jefferson to James Lyle, July 10, 1795, in Edwin M. Betts ’ s Thomas Jefferson ’ s Farm Book ( Princeton, NJ, 1953 ), 430.

[ 4 ] The Richmond Enquirer, Oct. 15, 1805.

[ 5 ] Archibald McCall to Jefferson, November 19, 1802, hypertext transfer protocol : //

[ 6 ] Jefferson to Archibald McCall, October 13, 1803, hypertext transfer protocol : // .

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