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

“We had a lovely passage in a beautiful new ship. . . .”

MARTHA “PATSY” JEFFERSON accompanied her father to Paris in 1785 when he was appointed minister to France. She was enrolled for her schooling at the prestigious Abbaye Royale de Panthemont convent. There she penned a letter to Elizabeth House Trist whose mother kept a boarding house in Philadelphia where Thomas Jefferson regularly stayed. Patsy, too, had lived there where she received some schooling. In her letter she describes her sea voyage; it is a nice follow-up to Abigail Adams’s account. The passage across the English Channel was typically difficult as Patsy’s letter attests. The rest of the letter is charming, Patsy describing all of the confusion of setting up house in a new and foreign city, being groomed to appear in French society, getting adjusted to life in the convent school. Although Martha devoted part of her letter to the voyage and early days in France, it is certain that a year at least had elapsed before she wrote it. (I have created paragraphs to make for easier reading.)

de l’abbey royale de Panthemont a Paris
[after 24 Aug. 1785]
My dearest friend
Your letter put an end to the inquietude that your silence had caused us. Be assured that I will remember you as long as I live. I am very happy in the convent and it is with reason for there wants nothing but the presence of my friends of America to render my situation worthy to be envied by the happiest. I do not say kings, for far from it. They are often more unfortunate than the lowest of their subjects. I have seen the king and the queen but at too great a distance to judge if they are like their pictures in Philadelphia. We had a lovely passage in a beautiful new ship that had only made one voyage before. There were only six passengers, all of whom papa knew, and a fine sun shine all the way, with the sea which was as calm as a river. I should have no objection at making an other voyage if I could be sure it would be as agreable as the first. We landed in England where we made a very short stay.
The day we left it we set off at six a clock the evening, and arived in France at 7 the next morning. I can not say that this voyage was as agreable as the first, tho it was much shorter. It rained violently and the sea was exceedingly rough all the time, and I was allmost as sick as the first time, when I was sick two days. The cabane was not more than three feet wide and about four long. There was no other furniture than an old bench which was fast to the wall. The door by which we came in at was so little that one was obliged to enter on all four. There were two little doors at the side of the cabane was the way to our beds, which were composed of two boxxes and a couplle of blankets with out eather bed or matras, so that I was obliged to sleep in my cloathes. There being no winder in the cabane, we were obliged to stay in the dark for fear of the rains coming in if we opended the door.
I fear we should have fared as badly at our arival for papa spoke very little french and me not a word, if an Irish gentleman, an entire stranger to us, who seeing our embarrassment, had not been so good as to conduct us to a house and was of great service to us. It is amazing to see how they cheat the strangers. It cost papa as much to have the bagadge brought from the shore to the house, which was about a half a square apart, as the bringing it from Philadelphia to Boston. From there we should have had a very agreable voyage to Paris, for havre de grace is built at the mouth of the seine, and we follow the river all the way thro the most beautiful country I ever saw in my life, it is a perfect garden if the singularity of our cariage had not atracted us the attention of all we met, and when ever we stopped we were surounded by the beggars. One day I counted no less than nine while we stopped to change horses. We saw a great number of chalk hills near Rouen, where we saw allso a church built by William the conqueror, and another at Ment which had as many steps to go to the top as there are days in the year. There are many pretty statues in it. The architectures is beautiful. All the winders are died glass of the most beautiful colours that form all kinds of figures.
I wish you could have been with us when we arrived. I am sure you would have laughfed, for we were obliged to send imediately for the stay maker, the mantumaker, the milliner and even a shoe maker, before I could go out. I have never had the friseur but once, but I soon got rid of him and turned down my hair in spite of all they could say, and I differ it now as much as possible, for I think it allways too soon to suffer.
I have seen two nuns take the veil. I’ll tell you about that when I come to see you. I was placed in a convent at my arival and I leave you to judge of my situation. I did not speak a word of french, and no one here knew english but a little girl of 2 years old that could hardly speak french. There are about fifty or sixty pensioners in the house, so that speaking as much as I could with them I learnt the langauge very soon. At present I am charmed with my situation. I am afraid that you will be very much disapointed if you expect to see me perfect, for I have made very little progres. Give my love to Mrs. House. . . .
Tho you have a great deal of patience I am afraid that this scrawl will tire it. But if you knew the pleasure I take in writing to you and receiving letters from you, you would pardon me. Pray write me very long letters by evry occassion. I should be very glad to write for papa, but I am sure that he could not have an occupation which gives him more pleasure than that. How ever when he cant leave his business I will do it with pleasure. I do not know when we shall come. Pardon this letter, being so badly written for I have not the time at present. There comes in some new pensionars evry day. The classe is four rooms excedingly large for the pensionars to sleep in, and there is a fith and sixth one for them to stay in in the day and the other in which they take their lessens. We were the uniform which is crimson made like a frock laced behind with the tail like a robe de cour hoocked on muslin cufs and tuckers. The masters are all very good except that for the drawing. I end here for I am sure my letter must tire you. Papa sends his most affectionate compliments to you and Mrs. House and begs you not to forget that you are indebted a letter to him. . . . Adieu my dear freind, be assured that I am and ever will be yours affectionately,
Martha Jefferson

“Martha Jefferson to Eliza House Trist, [after 24 August 1785],” Founders Online, National Archives, accessed April 11, 2019, [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 8, 25 February–31 October 1785, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953, pp. 436–439.] The illustration is from the Library Company: Rufus W. Griswold, The Republican Court, or, American Society in the Days of Washington. New and rev. ed. (New York, 1856), plate opposite 219. First ed., 1855.

posted November 11th, 2019 by Louise, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Americans Abroad,English Channel,Fashion,Jefferson, Martha "Patsy",Ocean Voyages,Paris,Travel,Trist, Elizabeth House

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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