Sally Hemings

Most Popular

Birth Sign

Thomas Jefferson, a former president and one of the founding fathers of the United States of America, owned the mixed-race slave Sarah “Sally” Hemings. Most historians agree that Jefferson was the father of each of her seven children. The historians hypothesize that they had a long-lasting relationship. Jefferson ultimately gave each of their four children who survived to adulthood their freedom. Hemings, the daughter of an enslaved mixed woman and her owner, was raised on many different Virginia estates before being relocated to Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello when she was still a little kid. She accompanied Thomas Jefferson’s daughter Mary to France in 1787, where she became friendly with the widowed statesman. The majority of historians concur that Jefferson started a sexual relationship with Hemings during this time. She would travel with him to the US and be his slave until his passing. She spent her final nine years with her two younger boys, who had just finished constructing a home in Charlottesville, Virginia after Jefferson had set her children free. In that home, she saw the birth of her grandchild. While it had long been disputed who the parents of her children were, a 1998 DNA analysis found a match between the Jefferson male line and a descendant of Hemings’ last son, Eston Hemings.

Early Childhood & Life

Sally Hemings, a biracial enslaved person, was born on a plantation in Charles City County, Virginia Colony, circa 1773. She was Betty Hemings’s slave and John Wayles’ owner. Wayles, who had been married and widowed three times in a row, took Betty as his concubine. Sally Hemings was the youngest of their six children together.

With the exception of Martha Wayles, who would eventually become Jefferson’s wife, Sally did not get along well with her step-siblings. The children of Betty Hemings had a three-quarters European background and looked unusually fair-skinned. The partus sequitur ventrem principle, which states that a child’s slave status follows that of his or her mother, required that children born to enslaved women be treated as slaves under Virginia slave law. So, even though their father was a master, Sally and all of her siblings were still regarded as slaves.

After John Wayles died the following year, Jefferson and Martha inherited his vast estate of 11,000 acres as well as the 135 slaves he owned, including the Hemings family. Jefferson and Martha were married in 1772.
Sally almost grew up in Monticello and was 25 years younger than Martha. She was elevated to the top of the slave social scale with her family. They were only taught how to clean houses, and they were never required to work in the fields. While some of them worked as artisans, others were household helpers.

Parisian life of Sally Hemings

In 1782, Martha perished. Two years later, while Jefferson was the American envoy to France, Sally went to Paris with Mary (Polly), his nine-year-old daughter. At first, he wanted the elderly nurse who cared for his daughter to go with her. Sally was instead sent since she was ill.

She spent around 26 months living in France. After the Revolution in 1789, slavery had been formally outlawed throughout the nation. Jefferson had to give Sally and the others their salary. He handed her the monthly equivalent of $2. Along with other family members, she began studying French. She had several pricey outfits that Jefferson bought her, indicating that she frequently accompanied Mary to social events.

Sally and other slaves might have filed a petition for their freedom in accordance with current French legislation, and they would have been permitted to reside in France as free men and women. Jefferson and Hemings started having intercourse in Paris, according to Madison Hemings, who would later write about it in his memoir.

She soon fell pregnant with their first kid at age 16, which was soon after. Eventually, she made the decision to go back to America with him, but only if her kids could go free when they grew up (at 21). She most likely returned as well due to her mother, with whom she had a close relationship.

Re-enter the US

Along with the Jefferson family, Sally and her brother James returned to the US in 1789. As a widower, Jefferson had a sustained relationship with Hemings in accordance with the custom of the time and place, as previously illustrated by his father-in-law. According to a historian named Joshua D. Rothman, it was common for Jefferson to date an enslaved woman. Just a certain level of discretion was expected of white gentlemen.

Madison said that Sally’s first child died not long after the party returned from Paris. According to the Jefferson documents, Sally gave birth to six children after her back to the United States. They were Beverley Hemings (April 1, 1798 – after 1873), nameless daughter (born in 1799 and died in infancy), Madison (January 19, 1805 – 1877), Eston Hemings, and Harriet Hemings (I), who lived from October 5, 1795, to December 7, 1797. (May 21, 1808 – 1856).
Every slave birth that took place on Jefferson’s property was noted in a farm book. It is more evidence that Jefferson was the father of all of Hemings’ children since none of the fathers of those children were mentioned in the book.
Hemings only carried out work within the home. She worked as a seamstress, lady’s maid, chambermaid, and nursemaid-companion. It is unknown if she was literate, despite the fact that she was able to speak and understand at least two languages—French and English. She has been referred to as being “light colored and undeniably well looking,” very fair, and having “Straight hair down her back” in a number of articles.

Hemings was never wed. She may have accepted a common-law husband, just as many other slaves at Monticello did, even though she was a slave and therefore could not engage in a marriage recognized by Virginia law. Her children were close to her at all times. According to what Madison wrote, he and his siblings were only required to do minor tasks like running errands when inside the “big home.”

All of Hemings’ children received the proper instruction when they turned 14 years old. While her brothers received training from the expert carpenter at the estate, Harriet was taught spinning and weaving. As Jefferson was a well-known violinist, the boys also took violin lessons.

Beverley, one of her four surviving children, escaped the plantation in 1822, and no effort was made to get him back. Harriet, who was 21 at the time, followed suit. Additionally, overseer Edmund Bacon gave her $50. In his posthumously published memoir, Bacon noted that rumors circulated that Jefferson released Bacon’s daughter because she was his daughter. Madison claims that the siblings were finally introduced to Washington, D.C.’s white culture and had successful marriages.

Five slaves who were all Hemings family members were formally liberated by Jefferson through his will. There were Madison and Eston among them. After Jefferson’s passing, his daughter Martha Jefferson Randolph set Sally free.

Later Life and Death

Despite coming from a wealthy family, Jefferson racked up debt throughout his life. By the time of his death, he was almost destitute because all of his assets, including his slaves, had been sold to settle the debts.
Hemings lived ten years longer than Jefferson and spent her final years in a home that her son built. In that home, she also saw the birth of her grandchild. 1835 saw her passing.

Legacy of Sally Hemings

A dispute concerning the mother of her children started to surface in the decades that followed Jefferson and Hemings’ deaths. Although it was rumored that Jefferson fathered Hemings’ children during his lifetime, his eldest grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, claimed in the 1850s that Hemings’ children’s father was the late Pete Carr, a Jefferson nephew.

For the next 150 years, the majority of historians held this assertion to be accurate. However, a DNA test on the Y-chromosome of Eston Hemings’ direct male line descendants was performed in 1998, and the findings of that test, coupled with those of related tests, allowed for the deduction that Thomas Jefferson was Eston Hemings’ biological father. Since the report’s publication, the consensus among historians has significantly altered, with the majority now accepting its conclusions.

In Culture Today

Hemings was portrayed by English actress Thandie Newton in the 1995 movie “Jefferson in Paris” opposite Nick Nolte’s Jefferson.

The French Revolution-era romance between Tom and Sally is the subject of the 2012 opera “Tom and Sally in Paris.”

Estimated net worth

The estimated net worth of Sally Hemings is unknown.