Archive for the ‘Hemings, Sally’ 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

“The Girl she has with her, wants more care than the child”

After five weeks at sea, Polly Jefferson and Sally Hemings (see previous post) arrived in London. Thomas Jefferson was not on hand to greet them, having sent Adrien Petit in his place with orders to bring them to Paris. Abigail Adams was living in London at the time with her husband John who was Ambassador from the United States to Great Britain. She welcomed Polly and her companion and cared for them in Jefferson’s absence. In the following letter she chastised Jefferson for his behavior, albeit in diplomatic language, and provides a lovely description of the precocious Polly.

London july 6, 1787My Dear Sir
If I had thought you would so soon have Sent for your dear little Girl, I should have been tempted to have kept her arrival here, from you a secret. I am really loth to part with her, and she last evening upon [Adrien] Petit’s arrival [who was to take her to Jefferson], was thrown into all her former distresses, and bursting into Tears, told me it would be as hard to leave me as it was her Aunt Epps. She has been so often deceived that She will not quit me a moment least She should be carried away. . . She says she does not remember you, yet she has been taught to consider you with affection and fondness, and depended upon your comeing for her. She told me this morning, that as She had left all her Friends in virginia to come over the ocean to see you, She did think you would have taken the pains to come here for her, & not have sent a man whom She cannot understand. I express her own words. . . .
She is a child of the quickest Sensibility, and the maturest understanding, that I ever met with for her years. She has been 5 weeks at Sea, and with men only, so that on the first day of her arrival, She was as rough as a little Sailor, and then She been decoyed from the Ship, which made her very angry, and no one having any Authority over her; I was apprehensive I should meet with Some trouble, but where there are such materials to work upon as I have found in her, there is no danger. She listened to my admonitions, and attended to my advice and in two days, was restored to the amiable lovely Child which her Aunt had formed her. In short She is the favorite of every creature in the House, and I cannot but feel Sir, how many pleasures you must lose by committing her to a convent. Yet Situated as you are, you cannot keep her with you. The Girl she has with her [Sally Hemings], wants more care than the child, and is wholy incapable of looking properly after her, without Some Superiour to direct her.
As both miss Jefferson & the maid had cloaths only proper for the Sea, I have purchased & made up for them, Such things as I should have done had they been my own; to the amount of Eleven or 12 Guineys. . . .
I have not the Heart to force her into a Carriage against her will and send her from me almost in a Frenzy; as I know will be the case, unless I can reconcile her to the thoughts of going . . . Books are her delight, and I have furnished her out a little library, and She reads to me by the hour with great distinctness, & comments on what She reads with much propriety. . . . A. Adams

On July 16 Abigail wrote her sister Mary Cranch about Polly Jefferson.

My dear Sister,
. . . . I have had with me for a fortnight a little daughter of Mr. Jefferson’s, who arrived here with a young negro girl, her servant, from Virginia. Mr. Jefferson wrote me some months ago that he expected them, and desired me to receive them. I did so, and was amply repaid for my trouble. A finer child of her acre I never saw. So mature an understanding, so womanly a behaviour, and so much sensibility, united, are rarely to be met with. I grew so fond of her, and she was so attached to me, that, when Mr. Jefferson sent for her, they were obliged to force the little creature away. She is but eight years old. She would sit sometimes, and describe to me the parting with her aunt who brought her up, the obligations she was under to her, and the love she had for her little cousins, till the tears would stream down her cheeks ; and how I had been her friend, and she loved me. Her papa would break her heart by making her go again. She clung round me so that I could not help shedding a tear at parting with her. She was the favorite of every one in the house. I regret that such fine spirits must be spent in the wall of a convent. She is a beautiful girl, too.

When Polly arrived in Paris on July 15, she did not recognize her sister but, as Jefferson reported, “recollected something of me” when the three were reunited. The Jefferson family returned to America in 1789. More about Sally Hemings in the next post.

Abigail’s letter can be found on pages 234-35 of In the Words of Women Her letter to her sister can be found HERE.

posted January 26th, 2015 by Janet, comments (0), CATEGORIES: Adams, Abigail,Adams, John,Children,Hemings, Sally,Jefferson, Mary "Polly",London

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

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