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.
Do you think Thomas Jefferson really fathered Sally Hemings' children?
There is no denying it
Sally Hemings' Great Grandchildren
Monticello - Where Thomas met Sally
Her life with Mr. Jefferson began here, at his beloved home.
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?
Want to Dig Deeper in the Sally Hemings Story? - Here are some great resources!
- Sally Hemings ~ Thomas Jefferson's Monticello
Jefferson's Monticello Plantation and Slavery
Vote for your favorite Sally Hemings stuff
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.
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.