Phill Hubbard was born at Poplar Forest in 1786, one of eleven children in the family of headman Jame Hubbard and his wife Cate. Jefferson sent Phill, at age ten, to Monticello to work in the nailery, making nails for the plantation and for sale. During the years he lived at Monticello, Phill was allowed to visit his family for a few days at Christmas time. For the remainder of the year, he depended on news from home carried by others traveling between the plantations. From 1810-1812, when not needed elsewhere, he worked as a field hand at Jefferson’s Tufton quarter farm in Albemarle County.
As a young man, Phill was also engaged in carpentry, masonry and landscaping. In 1807, Jefferson asked his mason Hugh Chisolm to seek volunteers among the slaves to dig the lawn south of the house under construction at Poplar Forest, offering to pay them for their time. The following summer, Chisolm brought Phill Hubbard and other slaves to Bedford. He assigned the task of digging to Phill, providing him assistance when possible. Hubbard continued working on the lawn at least through year’s end.
Jefferson then ordered his return to Monticello, where he was to saw wood for carpenter Elisha Watkins who had been hired to construct a fence enclosing the 1000-foot-long kitchen garden and north orchard. In 1809, Hubbard was back at Poplar Forest, assisting plasterer John Richardson with his work. Three years later, Jefferson recommended that Phill be one of two Poplar Forest slaves assigned to work with Chisolm in plastering the house “because he understands the making mortar so well.”
Phill Hubbard returned permanently to Poplar Forest in 1812, and was assigned to the Tomahawk quarter. Also residing at Tomahawk was Hanah, the daughter of Dick and Dinah. She worked as a spinner, and was ten years his junior. The two agreed to marry at Christmas-time in 1814. Although slave marriages were not legally recognized, Jefferson encouraged them between men and women living on his plantations, writing “certainly there is nothing I desire so much as that all the young people in the estate should intermarry with one another and stay at home. They are worth a great deal more in that case than when they have husbands and wives abroad.”
Overseer Jeremiah Goodman interfered with the match between the two young people, claiming he did not realize that the two had married. In a letter to Jefferson, he said that he would offered the couple a pot and one end of Dick’s house to live in (most probably half of a duplex cabin), but that Phill had run away. A few days later, Phill arrived at Monticello to plead his case before Jefferson, saying them the overseer had driven him off and punished Hanah for receiving him at her home. Jefferson interceded on the couple’s behalf. He further warned Goodman against punishing Phill, explaining that he had known Hubbard since he was a boy and that he did not have the character of a runaway. Phill returned to Bedford, and as he had requested, moved his wife to Bear Creek. There he lived close to his family, and outside of the influence of Goodman. The following summer, Hanah gave birth to a son who she named Dick.
In the spring of 1819, overseer Joel Yancey reported that some Poplar Forest slaves were sick, and that at least one man, Phill’s brother-in-law Hall, believed himself to have been poisoned. By summertime, Yancey wrote again, noting that he would be short handed for the wheat harvest, adding that Hercules, the suspected poisoner, “is better but Phill Hubard I fear will hardly ever be of much service.” Phill died in late June at age 33, having never recovered. Joel Yancey wanted to prosecute Hercules and the “negroe doctor” who was suspected to have caused such sickness but there was not enough evidence to jail them. Later that year, Phill’s step-brother Nace married Hanah.