Gravesite of the Fossett Family
A remarkable family journey from slavery to freedom.
This gravestone in Union Baptist Cemetery marks the burial location of four remarkable individuals: Edith Hern Fossett, her husband Joseph, their son Peter Farley Fossett, and Peter’s spouse Sarah Mayrant Walker Fossett.
Born into the community of enslaved persons at Thomas Jefferson’s plantation Monticello, 1787, Edith Hern Fossett was trained in French cookery in Washington, DC. During Jefferson’s retirement, she served as the chief cook at Monticello. Daniel Webster was desciring Fossett’s cooking when he said that meals at Monticello were in “Half French, half Virginian style, in good taste and abundance.”
Edith’s husband Joseph Fossett – who is also buried here – was an enslaved man who ran Monticello’s blacksmith shop. Overseer Edmund Bacon recalled that Joseph Fossett “could do anything it was necessary to do with steel or iron.” Joseph Fossett made all the metal parts of an elaborate carriage that Jefferson designed in 1814.
When Thomas Jefferson died in 1826, Joseph Fossett was freed by Jefferson’s will. But Joseph’s spouse Edith was not, so Joseph purchased Edith’s freedom. They then purchased the freedom of several of their children, including Peter, who had been sold in the 1827 auction following the death of Thomas Jefferson.
The family moved to Ohio, where Peter Farley Fossett became a Baptist Minister and an important Underground Railroad leader. He married Sarah Mayrant Walker in Ohio.
In 1860, Sarah Fossett was late to an appointment, so she attempted to board a Cincinnati streetcar – something not permitted for African Americans at this time. As Fossett stepped up onto the platform, the white conductor tried to push her off. She held on for three blocks, clinging to the outside of the platform, and she was slightly injured when the conductor finally succeeded in pushing her off.
Sarah Fossett sued the streetcar company. One of the witnesses at the trial, a passenger on the streetcar, said that Fossett had exhibited, “a determined spirit of resistance.” Fossett won her lawsuit, establishing the right of African American women to ride on Cincinnati streetcars. There is more about Sarah Fossett here.