Undra Jeter’s journey to overseeing the care of Colonial Williamsburg’s animals began with a vacation visit to the Historic Area in March 2017. Adam Canaday, a longtime coachman, was between rides and noticed Jeter eyeing the carriage horses.
“If you want, you can touch them,” Canaday told Jeter.
“No, I’m fine,” Jeter replied.
But Canaday could sense Jeter’s interest in horses, and they struck up a conversation. Canaday quickly realized Jeter knew a lot about horses. Colonial Williamsburg was looking for a coachman, and Canady thought Jeter might be interested.
Acting on a hunch from that initial meeting, Canaday sent Jeter a Facebook message describing the opening. And Jeter got the job.
By June 2019, Jeter had been promoted to stud groom supervisor, and in November 2019 he became the Bill and Jean Lane Director of Coach and Livestock.
Working with horses was, Jeter said, “in my blood.”
“My great-grandpa Jesse Jackson trained draft horses and mules,” Jeter said. “He died before I was born, but everybody said that’s where I got my knack for horses.”
Growing up on a farm in South Carolina, Jeter admitted that he “preferred working with animals to working with crops.” He worked with all kinds of animals — cows, turkeys, chickens and pigs — but he was especially drawn to the horses.
Athletics was also a passion when he was a young man. Jeter was an outside linebacker in high school and college, but an ankle injury put an end to his dreams of a professional football career. He took a job working at a printing company, but, driven by his love for horses, he also continued working in stables.
“I’d take care of the horses, but I’d watch the trainers,” Jeter said. “That’s how I learned.”
In 2010 Jeter opened a chicken farm in Campobello, a small town in South Carolina. He started with 25 chickens, selling eggs to bakeries, co-ops and farmers markets. He added pigs and cows, all while still working at the printing company. The farm business grew until Jeter had 1,500 chickens. But by 2017, he was ready for a change, which presented itself as a result of that spring vacation in Williamsburg.
Jeter is the first director to have been promoted from inside the department’s ranks. He is also the department’s first Black director, which holds special meaning for Canaday for several reasons.
“One of the things that made me take notice of Undra was that he looked like me,” Canaday said, recalling that first conversation when Jeter was visiting Williamsburg. “It was another man of color and someone for me to identify with.”
Canaday also noted that Blacks played an important role in the development of the coach and livestock programs from the very beginning, even in the early days of Colonial Williamsburg’s restoration. Before the Foundation began formally interpreting slavery in 1979, African Americans were the museum’s main carriage drivers and key workers in the stables with duties of training and taking care of horses, as former Colonial Williamsburg historian Ywone Edwards-Ingram wrote in a 2014 article in the Public Historian.
While the knowledge of animals and the desire to work with them was important, Jeter had another advantage.
“I think Colonial Williamsburg appreciated not just my experience training horses but also my experience managing a business,” Jeter said.
Beth Kelly, Colonial Williamsburg’s Royce R. and Kathryn M. Baker Vice President for Education, Research and Historical Interpretation, agreed that Jeter’s background was unusually appropriate. “Directing Coach and Livestock is more than just managing livestock and a carriage business,” she said. “It is about relating to staff, volunteers, guests and donors. Undra’s experience made him the perfect fit.”