Archive for the ‘Jefferson, Martha “Patsy”’ Category

Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson

Since Sally Hemings has come up in recent posts (here, and here) I think it is time to deal with the controversy surrounding her and her presumed sexual relationship with Thomas Jefferson. Hence this long post.

Sally Hemings, her mother and five siblings, were among the 139 slaves inherited by Thomas Jefferson’s wife upon the death of her father John Wayles. Moved to Monticello, the Hemingses had privileged positions there—most were domestic servants or trained as artisans. Sally was a maid to the two Jefferson daughters and had other light domestic duties.

When his wife died in 1782, weeks after their daughter Lucy was born, Jefferson was heartbroken and, it is said, promised Martha on her deathbed that he would never marry again. (He never did.) Jefferson was only 39 years old. Given the fact that in the ten years of their marriage, Martha had six children—two of whom lived to adulthood: Martha “Patsy” and Mary “Polly”—it would not be amiss to infer that Jefferson had a fairly strong libido. On the other hand, most couples at that time had large families and did not practice any sort of birth control.

In 1784, Jefferson went to Paris to take up his duties the following year as minister to France, replacing Benjamin Franklin who chose to retire. He took Patsy with him—placing her in a convent school—but left Polly, her maid and companion Sally Hemings, and toddler Lucy with their Aunt Elizabeth Wayles Eppes in Southside, Virginia. Jefferson was crushed when he learned of Lucy’s death from whooping cough at the age of two-and-a-half.

AN ASIDE—Alone and lonely, Jefferson was introduced to Maria Cosway in August 1786. The daughter of an English father and an Italian mother, Cosway, an artist married to fellow artist Richard Cosway, was beautiful and intelligent. Jefferson was smitten by her. The two found they shared an interest in art and architecture and spent many days together going to exhibits in Paris and traveling through the French countryside. It is unclear whether their romantic attachment was consummated. Maria’s return to London in October, at the insistence of her husband, inspired Jefferson to compose a 4,000-word love letter called “The Dialogue of the Head vs. the Heart,” a conversation he has with himself about the struggle between the practical and the romantic. Although Jefferson and Cosway corresponded throughout their lives, expressing affection for each other, they never resumed their close relationship. END OF ASIDE.

It may be that the death of Jefferson’s daughter Lucy prompted him to send for his daughter Polly. At any rate, Sally Hemings accompanied Polly, in 1787, to London and on to Paris. It is unclear whether Sally lived in the Jefferson household at the Hôtel de Langeac or whether she was with the Jefferson daughters at their convent school. What is known is that Jefferson had her inoculated against smallpox, that she was tutored in French, and boarded for a time at a laundry where she received instruction. At some point she was paid a wage of $2 a month.

Jefferson had also brought James Hemings, Sally’s brother, to Paris to have him trained in the art of French cooking. It is worthy of note that a slave brought to France could sue for his/her freedom as slavery was illegal in that country. Neither Sally nor James did that; they opted to return to the United States with Jefferson in 1789—they had large families there—when he was appointed secretary of state in the new national government.

It may have been in Paris that a sexual relationship developed between the Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson. She was, after all, a stepsister of his wife and may have resembled her. Their liaison became a subject of speculation during Jefferson’s lifetime, chiefly in 1802 when political journalist, James Callender, published an article in a Richmond newspaper claiming that Sally was Jefferson’s concubine.

The controversy continued over the years until 2000 when The Thomas Jefferson Research Foundation assembled the pertinent information on the subject, including documentary and statistical evidence, oral evidence from descendants, as well as scientific evidence, namely DNA results. The study’s report found that someone carrying the Jefferson Y-chromosome fathered Eston Hemings, the last child born to Sally Hemings (1808). Based on the findings, the report stated that “the simplest and most probable” conclusion was that Thomas Jefferson had fathered Eston Hemings. Most historians now agree that Jefferson was the father of at least one and probably all of Sally’s six children.

The evidence indicates a high degree of probability; this does not mean that the conclusion is incontrovertible. Indeed, in 2011, the Jefferson Heritage Society issued its own report, after reviewing the same material, concluding that it was more likely that Jefferson’s younger brother Randolph was the father of at least some of Sally Hemings’s children.

With regard to Sally’s children: all were given their freedom, some of the males prior to Jefferson’s death in 1826, and the other children, according to Jefferson’s will, after the age of twenty-one. No other slaves were freed by his will; the remainder—140— were auctioned off in 1827 to pay his many debts. Sally herself was not technically freed. She was “given her time,” probably by Patsy Jefferson Randolph. This was an informal method of emancipation that prevented the freed individual from having to leave Virginia within a year as ordered by law. Sally lived at first with two of her sons in Charlottesville, and later on her own.

Sally Hemings died in 1835; her burial place is not known. Was she was literate? Nothing written by her has surfaced. And there are no known images of her. Slave owners often had sexual relations with female slaves—this was the case with Jefferson’s father-in-law. Few openly acknowledged these liaisons or legally recognized the resulting offspring.

Sources can be found online HERE, and HERE, and HERE. Read about Maria Cosway HERE. Jefferson’s Dialogue can be found HERE.

posted January 29th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Americans Abroad,Cosway, Maria,Free blacks,Hemings, James,Hemings, Sally,Jefferson, Martha "Patsy",Jefferson, Mary "Polly",Paris,Slaves/slavery

Patsy and Polly Jefferson; Mary and Sally Hemings

Please see the corrected version of the previous post on Martha Jefferson Randolph, another post about her here and, since the subject has come up, further information on the Hemings.

Thomas Jefferson, made his daughter Martha, known as “Patsy”, a wedding present of eight slaves, when she married Thomas M. Randolph, Jr., as was mentioned in the previous post. One of the slaves was Molly Hemings, a child of Mary Hemings, a slave in the household of Jefferson’s father-in-law, John Wayles. The daughter of Elizabeth “Betty” Hemings, Mary was fathered by John Wayles, as were Betty’s other children, including Sally Hemings. When Wayles died, his slaves were inherited by his daughter, Jefferson’s wife Martha, and joined the Jefferson household at Monticello.

In 1785, Jefferson was appointed minister to France. While he was in Paris his slave Mary Hemings was hired out to Thomas Bell (a common practice) who later purchased and freed her. Mary became his common-law wife (marriage between whites and blacks was against Virginia law) and bore him two children whom he acknowledged and freed. When Bell died he left considerable property to Mary who lived out her life in comfort. Her older children, of whom Molly was one, remained slaves at Monticello. Molly was gifted to Patsy and a son, Daniel was given to Jefferson’s sister. Sally, however, was destined for a different life.

When Jefferson left for Paris he took his daughter Patsy with him but left his younger child Mary, known as “Polly,” with relatives in Virginia. Jefferson decided in 1786 that he wanted Polly to join him in Paris. Polly did not want to go, as is clear from this pitiful letter she wrote to her father.

Dear Papa [ca. 22 May 1786]I long to see you, and hope that you and sister Patsy are well; give my love to her and tell her that I long to see her, and hope that you and she will come very soon to see us. I hope you will send me a doll. I am very sorry that you have sent for me. I don’t want to go to France, I had rather stay with Aunt [Elizabeth Wayles] Eppes. . . .
Your most happy and dutiful daughter Polly Jefferson

Despite her protestations, Jefferson decided that 9-year-old Polly must join him and that the slave Sally Hemings, then 14 years old, should escort her to Paris. The child was tricked into going aboard a vessel (supposedly to visit friends) and fell asleep. When she awoke, to her dismay, she found herself on the high seas. On arrival In London, Abigail Adams took the pair into her care. For Abigail’s reaction see the next post.

Polly’s letter can be found on page 234 of In the Words of Women. Information about Sally Hemings can be found HERE, and more about Mary Hemings HERE.

posted January 24th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,France,Hemings, Mary,Hemings, Sally,Jefferson, Martha "Patsy",Jefferson, Mary "Polly",Jefferson, Thomas

“more sickness than I ever saw in a family in my life”

At this season in 2015, when the flu is widespread given the ineffectiveness of this year’s vaccine, one need only look back at the incidence of illness during the eighteenth century to realize how much better our situation is.

Martha “Patsy” Jefferson, daughter of Thomas Jefferson and Martha Wayles, was tall and slender with red hair and freckles. She had accompanied her father to Paris, when he was named American minister to France, and attended a nearby convent school. In 1790 she married Thomas M. Randolph, Jr. who later became governor of Virginia. Her father gave the newlyweds eight slaves as a gift. Patsy was devoted to her father and kept him informed of the goings-on at Monticello and her own plantation, Belmont. In 1798, she described in a letter to him the widespread illness that prevailed there.

January 22nd, 1798It was with infinite pleasure that we learned you had got the better of your cold and were at least comfortably if not agreeably fixed for the winter. It is much more than we can boast of, for the extreme dampness of the situation and an absolute want of offices of every kind to shelter the servants whilst in the performance of their duties, have occasioned more sickness than I ever saw in a family in my life. Pleurisies, rhumatism and every disorder proceeding from cold have been so frequent that we have scarcely had [anyone] at any one time well enough to attend the sick.

Martha Jefferson Randolph served as her father’s hostess when he was president. Her son, James Madison Randolph, was the first child born in the White House.

The excerpt above can be found on page 164 of In the Words of Women. The portrait is by Thomas Sully, done in 1836 when Martha was sixty-four years old. It appears on this website.

posted January 22nd, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Health,Jefferson, Martha "Patsy",Jefferson, Thomas

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