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Sally Hemings

Updated on September 30, 2014

Sally Hemings' Legacy

Sally Hemings was born to slave master and sea captain, John Wayles and his slave Elizabeth "Betty" Hemings. John Wayles died the year Sally was born. Sally's family then became the property of Thomas Jefferson. Sally's oldest son, Madison Hemmings, claimed that Thomas Jefferson is the father of Sally's children.

This was further argued by Eugene Abram Foster, who conducted a prominent DNA study that linked descendants of Thomas Jefferson to Sally Hemings.

The fact that her children were fathered by Thomas Jefferson is no longer really in dispute. It has been proven with dna. Now, the question seems to be whether or not their sexual encounters were consensual for Sally. Were they in love? Or did Jefferson give her no choice?

Husbands in denial? - An example of "mixed" children of slaves

This painting shows a good example of the "typical" children of many slave women in Jefferson's time.

While some may want to deny Thomas Jefferson's heritage, if it is true it is likely closer to the "norm" than not.

Reader Feedback

Do you think Thomas Jefferson really fathered Sally Hemings' children?

There is no denying it

There is no denying it

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    • anonymous 4 years ago

      YES

    • anonymous 5 years ago

      He fathered Sally's chlidren and then let them be free when they urned 21. Thatis history. SSally washs deadwife's half sister and could have reminded Jefferson of her.

    • anonymous 5 years ago

      The real question is where these children sold as slaves? He sold his own flesh and blood?meg

    • anonymous 5 years ago

      I say, that we, all are related to each other by our birthrights. We decend from the first two humans known to exist. Adam and Eve. Therefore, the shade of your skin is what makes us "unique". As a race of humans, we just need to accept this as fact and embrace each other as one. If we do not, we fail as inhabitants of this planet.

    • anonymous 5 years ago

      yes I do believe that he is the father

    • anonymous 6 years ago

      i say theres no denying that we all know back in the time of slavery black people didn't have any choices if u didn't do what u told u were beaten and sold away so if he wanted to have children with her i don't think she had the choice of saying no

    • anonymous 6 years ago

      My aunt has traced back our roots and has proof of our bloodline to Sally Hemings. My grandmother was considered a "passer", could pass for black or white, but was favored on the white looking side. Considering the times, it is very likely. It doesn't take away from whom he was a person, what he did as our president or how he treated all his children.

    • anonymous 6 years ago

      heck yeah

    • anonymous 6 years ago

      Yes. Jefferson was a famous man with high ideas trapped in a time of strict boundaries that existed in the depths of the American way of life. I do think he loved Sally most likely to the same depth he loved her half sister before her death. In the end he did right by his children with Sally and seems to me Sally had the choice to stay or go as well...but she too loved him. Too bad after all these years the white side of the Jefferson family can't get past the narrow mindedness of his eldest Martha, who certainly had some batty problems in her brain...there's something to be so proud of. I love the story of Sally and Thomas...and I hope they are together in eternity free and happy now. Be proud of your heritages Hemmings family

    • Karen Kay 7 years ago from Jackson, MS

      If it walks like a duck.....

      At the very least they were fathered by a white man.

      Being a huge fan of Thomas Jefferson, I have to say it is quite possible. He was a sad and lonely man. She was very pretty, and likely very kind to him.

    I highly doubt it

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      • Maxine Hepner 6 months ago

        Is some one researching William Beverly & Harriet Hemings or is there no possible way to find their lineage.

      • reasonablerobby 5 years ago

        There has to be some doubt, although anything is possible.

      Sally Hemings' Great Grandchildren

      Sally Hemings' Great Grandchildren
      Sally Hemings' Great Grandchildren

      Monticello - Where Thomas met Sally

      Her life with Mr. Jefferson began here, at his beloved home.

      Monticello
      Monticello

      Evolving History

      What makes history fun for me is that even though it is based on facts, it is constantly changing. Even eyewitness accounts can be proven false centuries later. These false accounts are not because the witness lied, but because their perception was limited to the knowledge available to them at the time. What a person sees and hears can only be explained with their personal understanding of the events. The more we uncover and discover about events, the more exciting they can sometimes get. A simple slave girl, a companion to his children, Thomas Jefferson's "Sarah" as she was called, was probably not thinking of her life as anything exceptional. Though she was pretty, and her life as a slave was very likely more fortunate than most, she was still not free, and therefore, not equal in the eyes of the country during her time. Her life would have been fairly routine, and were it not for the question of her descendants being also of our former president and forefather of our country's lineage, we would probably never have heard of her at all.

      Yet, what we do, when we look into the life of this now extraordinary woman, as history has put her in the spotlight, is make her a sort of hero. She has become the voice of black women treated as property for generations - forced to bear children of rape and bring them up as more "property" for the perpetrator. On the other hand, it could be that she and Jefferson were truly enamored with each other too. In that case, she is the voice for secret romances that had to be kept hidden away and publicly denied for fear of shame to the "owners" and likely worse for their slave/love interest. Whichever the case, her story brings out both cases, and compels us to dig deeper into the secret world of sex and slavery in the early years of our country. The more time that passes, the less "taboo" the subject, the fewer folks around to be hurt by the truth, and the more we can decipher from the clues left in her wake, the more we want to know.

      Was she truly the daughter of another affair between her mother and her own slave owner? If so, that slave owner was the father of Jefferson's wife, which would make Sally Hemings his own sister-in-law. Interesting!

      Quick, what do you think of Sally Hemings?

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      Vote for your favorite Sally Hemings stuff

      Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy
      Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy

      Now updated with a new author's note about the recent DNA study confirming the Jefferson-Hemings liaisonRumors of Thomas Jefferson's sexual involvement with his slave Sally Hemings have circulated for two centuries. It remains, among all aspects of Jefferson's renowned life, perhaps the most hotly contested topic. With Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, Annette Gordon-Reed promises to intensify this ongoing debate as she identifies glaring inconsistencies in many noted scholars' evaluations of the existing evidence. She has assembled a fascinating and convincing argument: not that the alleged thirty-eight-year liaison necessarily took place but rather that the evidence for its taking place has been denied a fair hearing.Friends of Jefferson sought to debunk the Hemings story as early as 1800, and most subsequent historians and biographers have followed suit, finding the affair unthinkable based upon their view of Jefferson's life, character, and beliefs. Gordon-Reed responds to these critics by pointing out numerous errors and prejudices in their writings, ranging from inaccurate citations, to impossible time lines, to virtual exclusions of evidence--especially evidence concerning the Hemings family. She demonstrates how these scholars may have been misguided by their own biases and may even have tailored evidence to serve and preserve their opinions of Jefferson.Possessing both a layperson's unfettered curiosity and a lawyer's logical mind, Annette Gordon-Reed writes with a style and compassion that are irresistible. Each chapter revolves around a key figure in the Hemings drama, and the resulting portraits are engrossing and very personal. Gordon-Reed also brings a keen intuitive sense of the psychological complexities of human relationships--relationships that, in the real world, often develop regardless of status or race. The most compelling element of all, however, is her extensive and careful research, which often allows the evidence to speak for itself. Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings is a controversial new look at a centuries-old question that should fascinate general readers and historians alike. It promises to be the definitive word on the subject for years to come.

       
      In Defense of Thomas Jefferson: The Sally Hemings Sex Scandal
      In Defense of Thomas Jefferson: The Sally Hemings Sex Scandal

      The belief that Thomas Jefferson had an affair and fathered a child (or children) with slave Sally Hemings---and that such an allegation was proven by DNA testingâhas become so pervasive in American popular culture that it is not only widely accepted but taught to students as historical fact. But as William G. Hyland Jr. demonstrates, this âfactâ is nothing more than the accumulation of salacious rumors and irresponsible scholarship over the years, much of it inspired by political grudges, academic opportunism, and the trend of historical revisionism that seeks to drag the reputation of the Founding Fathers through the mud. In this startling and revelatory argument, Hyland shows not only that the evidence against Jefferson is lacking, but that in fact he is entirely innocent of the charge of having sexual relations with Hemings.Historians have the wrong Jefferson. Hyland, an experienced trial lawyer, presents the most reliable historical evidence while dissecting the unreliable, and in doing so he cuts through centuries of unsubstantiated charges. The author reminds us that the DNA tests identified Eston Hemings, Sallyâs youngest child, as being merely the descendant of a âJefferson male.â Randolph Jefferson, the presidentâs wayward, younger brother with a reputation for socializing among the Monticello slaves, emerges as the most likely of several possible candidates. Meanwhile, the author traces the evolution of this rumor about Thomas Jefferson back to the allegation made by one James Callendar, a âdrunken ruffianâ who carried a grudge after unsuccessfully lobbying the president for a postmaster appointment---and who then openly bragged of ruining Jeffersonâs reputation. Hyland also delves into Hemings family oral histories that go against the popular rumor, as well as the ways in which the Jefferson rumors were advanced by less-than-historical dramas and by flawed scholarly research often shaped by political agendas. Reflecting both a laypersonâs curiosity and a lawyerâs precision, Hyland definitively puts to rest the allegation of the thirty-eight-year liaison between Jefferson and Hemings. In doing so, he reclaims the nationâs third president from the arena of Hollywood-style myth and melodrama and gives his readers a unique opportunity to serve as jurors on this enduringly fascinating episode in American history.

       

      Shout Out For Sally Hemings!

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          reasonablerobby 5 years ago

          what a fascinating story

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          Nancy Tate Hellams 4 years ago from Pendleton, SC

          Very interesting, indeed. I have read some about Sally Hemings but enjoyed reading more.

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          anonymous 4 years ago

          i feel that thomas and sally, were probably in love, but being a slave would prohibit their relationship as far as being married. i do believe that thomas is the father of sally's, children. he was a normal man wasn't he?

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          Colin323 3 years ago

          I learned something new and interesting today, thank you. Your module on the challenge of interpretating history was spot-on. The 'truth' is often swallowed by time and the biases of the period in question.

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