Peter Fossett

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Peter Fossett was a former slave of President Thomas Jefferson, who upon gaining his freedom moved to Ohio.

Fossett was born in 1815, at Jefferson's plantation, Monticello, in Virginia. Fossett's parents, Joseph and Edith Fossett, worked as Jefferson's blacksmith and head cook. According to Fossett, his childhood was relatively easy. His grandmother, Mary Hemings, was a free African American woman in nearby Charlottesville, Virginia. She provided her grandson with finer clothes than most slave children received. Fossett spent most of his youth assisting his parents, avoiding the more physically demanding work that field slaves typically endured. Unlike most slaves, Fossett also learned to read and write.

Fossett's life took a turn for the worst in 1826. On July 4, 1826, Jefferson died. While Jefferson freed Fossett's father in his will, the remainder of the Fossett family still remained in bondage, being sold at auction in January 1827. Peter Fossett became the property of John R. Jones. Fossett's father attempted to purchase Peter's freedom, but Jones refused to sell his slave. In 1843, after purchasing several family members' freedom, Joseph Fossett moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, leaving Peter behind in Virginia as a slave. Joseph Fossett made several trips back to Virginia to see his enslaved family members. Twice, Peter Fossett tried to run away to join his family in Ohio. Both times his owner recaptured him. After the second escape attempt, Jones auctioned Fossett. With the assistance of some white Virginians, Joseph Fossett purchased his son, reuniting him with his family members in Cincinnati in 1850.

Upon arriving in Cincinnati, Fossett first found work as a whitewasher and supplemented his income working as a waiter and for a caterer. During the 1870s, Fossett opened his own catering business. Many of Cincinnati's elite citizens hired Fossett. There is reason to believe that he excelled at French cooking, as his mother received extensive training in this form of food preparation while a slave at Monticello.

Fossett also became an important community leader in Cincinnati. He served on the board of directors for the city's segregated school system. Fossett also advocated prison reform and actively assisted Levi Coffin's efforts on the Underground Railroad. During the American Civil War, Fossett served as captain of the Black Brigade, a unit of African Americans from Cincinnati that helped construct the cities defenses on the south side of the Ohio River.

Perhaps Fossett's most memorable contributions occurred in the field of religion. Upon arriving in Cincinnati, he joined the Union Baptist Church, eventually serving as a clerk and trustee. In 1870, Fossett became an ordained Baptist minister, forming his own church, which eventually became the First Baptist Church of Cumminsville, that same year. Fossett served as the church's pastor until his death in 1901.

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