Shades of Walter White in his meth lab:
[Jefferson] launched the nailery in 1794 and supervised it personally for three years. "I now employ a dozen little boys from 10. to 16. years of age, overlooking all the details of their business myself." He said he spent half the day counting and measuring nails. In the morning he weighed and distributed nail rod to each nailer; at the end of the day he weighed the finished product and noted how much rod had been wasted.
Henry Wiencek details Thomas Jefferson's nail-making operation at Monticello in the latest issue of Smithsonian. The article is an excerpt from Wiencek's new book, Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves. In part, Wiencek writes, the nailery appealed to Jefferson as a way determine the aptitudes and skills of his young male slaves.
The nailery "particularly suited me," he wrote, "because it would employ a parcel of boys who would otherwise be idle." Equally important, it served as a training and testing ground. All the nail boys got extra food; those who did well received a new suit of clothes, and they could also expect to graduate, as it were, to training as artisans rather than going "in the ground" as common field slaves.
Some nail boys rose in the plantation hierarchy to become house servants, blacksmiths, carpenters or coopers. Wormley Hughes, a slave who became head gardener, started in the nailery, as did Burwell Colbert, who rose to become the mansion's butler and Jefferson's personal attendant. Isaac Granger, the son of an enslaved Monticello foreman, Great George Granger, was the most productive nailer, with a profit averaging 80 cents a day over the first six months of 1796, when he was 20; he fashioned half a ton of nails during those six months. The work was tedious in the extreme. Confined for long hours in the hot, smoky workshop, the boys hammered out 5,000 to 10,000 nails a day, producing a gross income of $2,000 in 1796. Jefferson's competition for the nailery was the state penitentiary.
Stop and read that last sentence again. It contains the entire history of the South, or maybe the country.
Jefferson was also juiced by his new-found cash flow:
Just months after the factory began operation, [Jefferson] wrote that "a nailery which I have established with my own negro boys now provides completely for the maintenance of my family." Two months of labor by the nail boys paid the entire annual grocery bill for the white family. He wrote to a Richmond merchant, "My groceries come to between 4. and 500. Dollars a year, taken and paid for quarterly. The best resource of quarterly paiment in my power is Nails, of which I make enough every fortnight [emphasis added] to pay a quarter's bill."
There's a lot more, just in the excerpt. None of it gets any better. All men are created equal. But Jefferson, like Walter White, was in the empire business.