Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings... A Look at Some Original Documents
Jefferson and Sally Hemings
... A Look at Some Original Documents
From Heritage Quest Magazine
by Jeanette K. B.
Daniels, AG, CGRS, Marietta Glauser,
Diana Harvey, and Carol Hubbell Ouellette
There have been a plethora of books, articles, and dissertations, as well as documentaries, and numerous television programs addressing the scandalous issue of a possible liaison between Thomas Jefferson and his slave, Sally Hemings. The pros and cons continue to be argued by historians and descendants of the Jefferson and Hemings families, with no one able to agree, one way or the other.
As a class in Genealogical Problem
Solving at the Heritage Genealogy College, we were very interested in the
September 2001 issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly and
its concentration on the Jefferson-Hemings discussion. In fact, we were so
interested that we decided to make further investigation of the matter our
focus for the semester. This article is the culmination and presentation of our
We determined that we would search for primary sources,(1) not derivative ones, and we focused our research efforts in three areas:
- An examination and evaluation of records of that time, which would help identify other Jefferson males that might have fathered Eston Hemings, Sally’s youngest son.
- Locate documents from the 1800s that might provide evidence of the paternity of Sally’s children.
- Locate and evaluate evidence that might provide additional information about Harriet Hemings, Sally’s only daughter, who survived to adulthood.
charts provided with this link Jefferson relationships will help readers understand the Jefferson family
It appears that Thomas Jefferson may
have followed the example of his father-in-law, John Wayles, who after losing
his wife fathered children by his slave, Betty Hemings. The Jefferson chart
shows the family of Thomas Jefferson. Thomas and Martha Jefferson had six
children but only two lived to adulthood— Martha and Maria.
For a timeline that shows important events in the lives of Thomas Jefferson, Martha Wayles, and Sally Hemings, see the Library of Congress Web site: http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/mtjhtml/.
Randolph Jefferson and Sons
DNA testing by Dr. Eugene Foster, (Nature, November
1998)(2) is considered 99 percent accurate. Evidence shows that descendants of
Eston Hemings, or E. H. Jefferson, as he was known in Madison, Wisconsin,(3)
carry the heritage of a bona fide Jefferson male.(4) In fact, there were 25
adult male descendants of Thomas Jefferson Sr.(5) (grandfather to the
President), who lived in Virginia between 1794 and 1807. Only eight were living
less than a hundred miles from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello plantation in
Albemarle County. George Jefferson Jr. and John Garland Jefferson, grandsons of
Field Jefferson (Thomas Jefferson’s uncle), lived seventy miles away in Amelia
County.(6) These family members are not mentioned in Thomas Jefferson’s Farm
Book(7) as being visitors to Monticello [The Farm Book does not appear to
be a log of visitors, but lists an accounting of his plantations, e.g.
livestock, land, crops, costs, and slaves.] Living only twenty miles away in
Buckingham County were the other six: Thomas Jefferson’s brother, Randolph
Jefferson, and Randolph’s five sons, Peter Field, Thomas Jr., Isham Randolph,
Robert Lewis, and James Lilburne. By the 1810 census, Thomas Jr. is found in
Major discrepancies exist regarding
the ages and possible birth dates of Randolph’s sons. Therefore, a study of
census, tax, land, and marriage records was undertaken in the area surrounding
Monticello—Goochland, Albemarle, Fluvanna, Buckingham, and Nelson Counties in
Virginia for the 1790 to 1813 time period.(8) The tax records identify white males over 21 years of age and include references to
real estate holdings, personal property, slaveholdings, and inheritances.(9)
The Virginia censuses for 1810, 1820, and 1830 help to identify the locations and age ranges of Randolph’s sons. We believe all five sons of Randolph Jefferson were born between 1785 to 1795. Randolph Jefferson married Ann Lewis on 30 July 1781, in Albemarle County, Virginia.(10) In researching the 1830, 1840, 1850, and 1860(11) Albemarle County census records, we determined that the birth date of their son Peter Field was between the years of 1785 and 1791. Peter married in 1819.(12) Thomas Jr. married in 1808(13) but does not appear on the tax lists until 1810,(14) giving him a calculated birth date in the last half of 1788.(15) We found Thomas Jr. and Peter Field both listed in the Albemarle County census records for the years 1830, 1840, 1850, and 1860. Isham Randolph is listed in the 30 to 40 age bracket on the 1830 census,(16) giving him a calculated birth date between 1790 and 1800. Isham had married in 1813, which would place his birth year in the early 1790s.(17) Robert Lewis is age 63 on the 1850 census(18) and had married in 1828,(19) but had become a property owner by 1813.(20) We calculated his birth date as between 1787 and 1792. James Lilburne seems to appear in the correct age bracket on the 1810 census(21) as a child, age 10 to 16 years old, giving him a birth date between 1794 and 1800.
the calculated birth dates of Randolph’s sons with the birth dates of Sally
Hemings’ children, the problem quickly becomes obvious. Randolph’s sons were
very young to be considered as fathers for Sally’s children, who were born
beginning in 1790. His oldest two sons were not even in their teens when
Sally’s first child was born. There is no extant evidence that indicates they
were either at Monticello or even in the area at the appropriate time frame to
account for the birth of Sally’s later children.
Thomas’ brother, certainly was in the area, being only 20 miles away, and was a
Jefferson male capable of fathering children. But again, no records have been
found stating that he visited Monticello on a regular basis.(22) In fact, an
examination of the letters he exchanged with his brother leads to the opposite
conclusion. Written later, mainly between 1809 and 1815, Randolph’s letters
contain a series of rather plaintive expressions of regret that he has not
visited and does not foresee a visit in the near future.
If I should git any [iron], it Wont be Very long before We Will be over but at this time, it is out of My power to fix on any Certain time.(23)
I intend coming over some time next Month Which I expect will be towards the last of the month as I shall be very busy in getting my crop of Wheat down to Richmond and sowing my present crop.(24)
He writes, further,
. . . as soon as the roads gits in good order Will come over I expect it will be the last of next Month or the first of April, . . . 25 and, . . . would be happy to see you and family When ever convenient.(26)
Even the death of his sister did not bring Randolph to Monticello:
. . . am extremely sorry to hear of My sisters death and Would of bin over but it was not raly in My power. . . .(27)
The oft-quoted letter of 1807, where Thomas tells his brother that,
Our sister Marks arrived here last night and we shall be happy to see you also . . .(28)
On closer inspection, does not yield the impression
that Thomas actually believed Randolph would come. The whole first paragraph
of the letter contains instructions on what Randolph is to do with the clover
and greensward seed that he has ordered. If Thomas had expected to see
Randolph, either that same day, or within a short period of time, such
instructions would have been unnecessary.
Two claims exist that we felt
needed to be addressed. A History of Todd County, Kentucky, a
biographical sketch of Dr. Walter B. Jefferson, states that his father,
Randolph’s son Isham, was a native of that [Albemarle] county, and was raised
by his uncle, Thomas.”(29) However, the history is not documented. Randolph
Jefferson did not die until 1815, two years after Isham married, so there is
no known reason that Isham should have been raised by his uncle. Family
letters contain no hint or discussion of Isham’s presence at Monticello. The
same is true of the claim, used by several authors, that Randolph’s sons were
schooled at Monticello. No evidence has been found to support that claim in
either Thomas Jefferson’s Farm Book or in family letters of the period.
Rather, during much of the time period in question, Monticello was undergoing
renovation and Jefferson was not in residence.(30) The only one of Randolph’s
sons mentioned in a letter(31) is James Lilburne, and that is not until 1813,
five years after Sally’s last child was born: In
conversing with your son Lilburne, I found that he would prefer employing
himself in reading and improving his mind rather than in being idle. It is
late for him to begin, but he has still time enough, to acquire such a degree
of information as may make him a very useful and respectable member of
society . . . if both you and he approve of it, I think he had better come
and pass some time here.(32)
Documents from the 1800s
number of letters and other documents from the early nineteenth century still
survive. Although some of these documents, such as James T. Callendar’s
newspaper articles, are connected directly to the problem, others, such as
John Hartwell Cocke’s diary, and the Frances Wright story, are not connected,
and only reveal information by implication. Taken together, however, the
documents create an interesting picture.
The earliest of these documents
was a newspaper article written in the Richmond Recorder by James T.
Callendar. Written in 1802, the article made allegations that Jefferson had a
child with “Dusky Sally.” Callendar referred to the child as “President Tom,”
and remarked that the child bore an uncanny likeness to President Jefferson.
The publication of the article aroused a storm of controversy that has still
not abated. But we know that James T. Callendar, had become a political enemy
of Jefferson. He and other enemies of Jefferson wrote concerning Jefferson’s
relationship and children with Sally, in an effort to tarnish his image.
As for evidence from Thomas Jefferson
himself regarding his association with Sally, he wrote the following letter
to his daughter, Mary Jefferson Eppes, in July of 1802, concerning her
proposed visit to Monticello and the presence of measles at the plantation: I have not heard yet of the disease having got to
Monticello, but . . . it cannot have failed to have gone there immediately;
and as there are no young children there but Bet’s and Sally’s, and the
disease is communicable before a person knows they have it, I have no doubt
those children have past through it. The children of the plantation being a
mile and a half off, can easily be guarded against. . . . I think therefore
you may be there in perfect security.(33)
In December of 1802, the Richmond
Recorder reprinted a Frederick-town Herald item concerning Callendar’s
charges: Other information assures us, that
Mr. Jefferson’s Sally and their children are real persons, and that the woman
has a room to herself at Monticello in the character of seamstress to the
family, if not as housekeeper, that she is an industrious and orderly
creature in her behavior, but that her intimacy with her master is well
known, and that on this account, she is treated by the rest of the house as
one much above the level of his other servants. Her son, who Callendar calls
President Tom, we are also assured, bears a strong likeness to Mr. Jefferson.
We make bold to these circumstances of confirmation, because although the
subject is a delicate one, we can not see why we are to affect any great squeamishness against
speaking plainly of what we consider an undoubted fact interesting to the
Secondly, this letter, and presumably the
enclosure, was written in response to a situation involving Betsy Walker and
her husband. The Walkers had made a number of charges against Jefferson,
including that he had pursued a romantic relationship with her into the early
years of his marriage. The words, “all their allegations against me,” refer
to the Walkers and the specific charges they had brought, not the Hemings
affair. Further, Jefferson himself, in an 1816 reference to Federalist charges,
wrote: As to federal slanders, I never wished
them to be answered.(39)
You asked me in conversation, what
constituted a mulatto by our law. . . . Our canon considers two crosses with
the pure white, and a third with any degree of mixture, however small, as
clearing the issue of Negro blood.(40)
An English writer, Frances Trollope,
included in her book Domestic Manners of the Americans (published in 1832),
the following story told by political lecturer, Frances Wright, who had
visited Jefferson at Monticello in 1824: Mr.
Jefferson is said to have been the father of children by almost all of his
numerous gang of female slaves . . . when, as it sometimes happened, his
children by Quadroon slaves were white enough to escape suspicion of their
origin he did not pursue them if they attempted to escape, saying laughingly,
“Let the rogues get off, if they can; I will not hinder them.”(41)
Cocke was not writing for the public, or with any intention that his words would be published. These entries were in his private diary, for his eyes alone. Why would he bother to use a fact he knew to be untrue? He was Jefferson’s friend and a frequent visitor at Monticello, and was certainly in a position to know—or guess at—the paternity of persons on the estate.
The census taker who took the 1870 census for
Huntington Township, Ross County, Ohio, and listed Madison Hemings, son of
Sally, wrote, “This man is the son of Thomas Jefferson” after Madison’s
entry.(45) Obviously, what was said between these two men will never be known,
but it must have been powerful and persuasive. The census taker knew he was
creating a federal document that would eventually go to Washington, D.C. To
write such a statement was an extraordinary occurrence.
One could speculate that perhaps Madison, like his
brother Eston, bore a resemblance to Jefferson. A story in the Chillicothe Scioto
Gazette, on 1 August 1902, comments on the likeness: So striking was the likeness [to Jefferson] that on
one occasion the writer of this sketch in company with [four men, named] while
going from Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, came upon the bronze statue
of Jefferson, . . . “Gentlemen, who in Chillicothe looks most like that
statue?” I asked. “Why, Eston Hemings!”(46)
The oral histories of Madison Hemings and Edmund Bacon, Jefferson’s overseer, were also examined. Both men were interviewed when they were older, which leaves open the possibility that their memories are not entirely correct. Also, each of them has a point of view or belief to protect, again leading to the shading or distortion of memories. However, parts of each interview are supported by other testimonies or writings that would seem to lend them credence.
The last mention of
Harriet Hemings, in Thomas Jefferson’s Farm Book, is the notation by her name
“ran 22,”47 indicating that she “ran away” in 1822. In an interview, Edmund
Bacon reports that,
When she was nearly grown, by Mr. Jefferson’s direction, I paid her stage fare to Philadelphia, gave her fifty dollars.(48)
In Madison Hemings’ 1873 interview in the Pike County Gazette, he says of his sister Harriet that she
. . . married a white man in good standing in Washington City. . . . She raised a family of children, and so far as I know they were never suspected of being tainted with African blood in the community where she lived or lives. I have not heard from her for ten years. . . (49)
In all the years since those two interviews, only Pearl M. Graham, writing in The Journal of Negro History,50 in 1961, claims to have spoken with Harriet’s descendants.
Cautions, Anomalies, and ConclusionsOne of our most referenced books was Thomas Jefferson’s Farm Book, edited by Betts.(51) The first 178 pages of the book are photocopied pages from Jefferson’s original book. We noted an anomaly that bears mention here. In the ”Register of Births,” on page 31, appears a record of children born to Jefferson’s slaves. Listed under the year 1790, several entries have been erased or scraped away. Of the last several letters, all that remains after the “removal” of the third entry in the males column (entry #85) is one syllable—either an “ly’s” or a “by’s.” On other pages Jefferson has merely drawn a line through mistakes. Why were these entries removed, when, and by whom? Is it significant that this would have been the year that Sally gave birth to a child possibly conceived in France? Is this simply verification of Madison’s statement that Sally “gave birth to a child . . .it lived but a short time,”52 and had the name been removed when the child died? These entries could bear further study, using the original page, so that no questions remain.
Comparing the times that Thomas Jefferson was at Monticello to the estimated conception date for Sally’s children shows that Thomas Jefferson was in residence at Monticello at the right time to be the father of her children. The conception dates are based on the “average” length of a human pregnancy based on the date of birth. The conception date would be plus or minus a few days.
Although no absolute evidence that Thomas Jefferson fathered Eston Hemings was found, there was certainly a lack of evidence indicating Eston had been fathered by any other Jefferson in the area. Circumstantial evidence provided by tax and census records, and the lack of mention in Monticello records and family letters, would seem to rule out Randolph’s sons. Those letters that came later from Randolph to his brother seem to indicate that poor health and the business of running his own plantation kept his visits to Monticello infrequent. Other Jeffersons in the area lived a two-day ride away. Family letters do not mention that they visited. We concluded that only Thomas Jefferson was verifiably in constant close contact with Sally Hemings at the appropriate time to father Eston, and, most probably, Sally’s older children, as well. Our conclusion seems obvious, but it is a conclusion that may never be totally proven.
However, the game is still afoot . . .
1. The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual, Board for Certification of Genealogists (Orem, Utah: Ancestry Publishing, 2000), 9.
2. Eugene A. Foster, et al., “Jefferson Fathered Slave’s Last Child,” Nature 396 (November 5, 1998): 27, 28.
3. E. H. Jefferson listed in the 1855 Madison, Wisconsin directory, and in the Forest Hills Cemetery, online, www.ci.madison.wi.us/parks/thomas_jefferson__forest_hill_ce.htm; www.monticello.org/plantation/appendixh.html. Also, Eston’s son, John W. Jefferson, is listed in the 1860 U.S. Census, 2nd Ward, City of Madison, Dane County, Wisconsin, Population Schedule, p. 505, dwelling 248, family 256, line 24.
4. “Reply: The Thomas Jefferson Paternity Case,” Nature 397 (January 7, 1999): 32.
5. Thomas Jefferson (1677 to 1731) was the grandfather of President Thomas Jefferson. He only had two sons that lived to adulthood and married: Field and Peter. President Thomas Jefferson and his brother, Randolph, were sons of Peter Jefferson.
6. “The Possible Paternity of Other Jeffersons,” Report of the Research Committee on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, online, www.monticello.org/plantation/dnareport5.html, downloaded 8 April 2002.
7. Edwin Morris Betts, ed., Thomas Jefferson’s Farm Book, With Commentary and Relevant Extracts from Other Writings (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1953).
8. Several sources have listed the birth dates of Randolph’s children as being much earlier. Randolph had a daughter born about 1782/83. The boys appear to have been born after her.
9. Virginia Research Outline, (Salt Lake City: Family History Library).
10. N. R. Murray, Albemarle County, VA Marriages (Hammond, LA, 1986), 145.
11. 1830 to 1860 U.S. Censuses of Albemarle County, Virginia were searched to determine the birth dates of Randolph’s children.
12. John Vogt, Fluvanna County Marriages 1781 to 1849 (Athens, GA: Iberian Press, 1984), 29.
13. N. R. Murray, op cit, 145.
14. Tax list, Albemarle Co., Virginia, 1801to 1813, film 202444 (Salt Lake City: Family History Library).
15. Letter, Thomas Jefferson to Randolph Jefferson, 11 January 1789; in Thomas Jefferson and his Unknown Brother Randolph, Tracy J. McGregor Library (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1942) 13.
16. Isham R. Jefferson household, 1830 U.S. Census, Fluvanna Co., Virginia, p. 353, line 19; National Archives Microfilm Publication M19, roll 195.
17. John Vogt, op cit, 29.
18. Robert L. Jefferson household, 1850 U.S. Census, Albemarle Co., Virginia, Population Schedule, p. 283, dwelling 1853, family 1853; National Archives Microfilm Publication M432, roll 932.
19. N. R. Murray, op cit, 145.
20. Tax List, Nelson Co., Virginia, 1809 to 1845, film 1870172, (Salt Lake City: Family History Library).
21. Randolph Jefferson household, 1810 U.S. Census, Buckingham Co., Virginia, p. 785; National Archives Microfilm Publication M252, roll 66.
22. There are no records indicating that Sally Hemings ever traveled to Randolph Jefferson’s plantation, with or without Thomas Jefferson.
23. Letter, Randolph Jefferson to Thomas Jefferson, 8 June 1810; in Thomas Jefferson and his Unknown Brother Randolph, Tracy J. McGregor Library (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1942) 17.
24. Letter, Randolph Jefferson to Thomas Jefferson, 6 Oct. 1811; ibid, 20.
25. Letter, Randolph Jefferson to Thomas Jefferson, 8 Feb. 1812; ibid, 22.
26. Letter, Randolph Jefferson to Thomas Jefferson, 24 Feb. 1813; ibid, 24.
27. Letter, Randolph Jefferson to Thomas Jefferson, 6 Oct. 1811; ibid, 20.
28. Letter, Thomas Jefferson to Randolph Jefferson, 12 Aug. 1807; ibid, 14.
29. J. H. Battle, ed., A History of Todd County Kentucky (Easley, SC: Southern Historical Press, 1979), 296.
30. Monticello was renovated while Thomas Jefferson was in Washington as the President, 1801 to 1809. According to census and tax records, Randolph Jefferson was living at his plantation and not away requiring his children to be raised by someone else. The 1810 Census shows Randolph’s children at home with him.
31. Thomas Jefferson Jr., a small baby at the time, was mentioned briefly in his Uncle Thomas Jefferson’s letter of January 11, 1789 to his brother, Randolph Jefferson.
32. Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Randolph Jefferson, 25 May 1813; ibid, 26.
33. Edwin Morris Betts and James Adam Bear, Jr., eds., The Family Letters of Thomas Jefferson, (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1986; original, 1966 University of Missouri Press).
34. Ibid, 232.
35. Richmond Recorder, Dec. 1802; printed in Durey, With the Hammer of Truth, 159.
36. Boston Repertory, 31 May 1805; printed in Woodson, op cit, 73.
37. Thomas Turner was a close acquaintance of David Meade Randolph, whose wife was a sister of Jefferson’s son in law, Thomas Mann Randolph. “Report of the Research Committee on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings” (Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, Jan. 2000).
38. Dumas Malone, Jefferson and His Time (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1971) 4:222.
39. Letter, Thomas Jefferson to George Logan, 20 June 1816; quoted in Richard E. Dixon, “The Case Against Thomas Jefferson: A Trial Analysis of the Evidence on Paternity,” in Robert Eyler Coates, ed., The Jefferson and Hemings Myth (Jefferson Editions, 2001) 140.
40. Andrew Lipscomb and Albert Bergh, eds., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (Washington, D.C.: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1903) 14:267; in Woodson, op cit, 70.
41. Frances Trollope, Domestic Manners of the Americans (London: Whittaker, Treacher and Co., 1832) 97 to 98; in Woodson, op cit, 110.
42. Duc de La Rochefoucauld, Liancourt, Travels through the United States of North America (London, 1799) 2:69, 77; in Merrill D. Peterson, ed., Visitors to Monticello (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1989) 30.
43. Original images, www.lib.virginia.edu/speccol/collections/tj/jhc.html.
45. Madison Hemings household, 1870 U.S. Census, Ross County, Ohio, Population Schedule, Huntington Twp., Chilicothe post office; p. 699, dwelling 49, family 49; National Archives Microfilm Publication M593, roll 1262.
46. “Jefferson’s Blood,” www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/jefferson.
47. Betts, op cit, 130.
48. James A. Bear, ed., Jefferson at Monticello (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1981) 102.
49. Pike County Republican, 1873.
50. Pearl M. Graham, “Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings,” Journal of Negro History, 46, no. 2 (April 1961): 89, 103.
51. Betts, op cit, 30, 31.
52. 1873, op cit.
53. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Valley of Fear, from www.yoak.com/sherlock/stories /valley_fear/valley_of_fear.txt.
- Author Biographies of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings Article
Marietta Glauser put her education on hold to raise her children, returning to college in 2000 as a student of genealogy through Heritage Genealogical College/Salt Lake Community College. AS (magna cum laude) from Salt Lake Community College 2004. HGCC (certificate) from Heritage Genealogical College 2003. Member of the Alpha Chi Eta Chapter of Phi Theta Kappa International Scholastic Order. Marietta has volunteered at the Family History Library (international records) in Salt Lake since 1966. Volunteer at her local Family History Center 1966-2000. She loved hearing stories about her ancestors but got passionately interested in genealogy through her volunteer work. Areas of interest include Greece, Germany, France, and the United States.
Diana Harvey, B.S., M.ED., has been researching family history since 1989. She completed the NGS home study course and several seminars on research methodologies and her HGCC (certificate) from Heritage Genealogical College in 2003. She has presented genealogy workshops for the DAR and has had an article published in The Report of the Ohio Genealogical Society. She is currently researching records from Ireland and Poland, and has been a Heritage Genealogy College student, since 2001, at Salt Lake Community College and now at Heritage Genealogical College in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Carol Hubbell Ouellette graduated from the University of Colorado, later developing an interest in genealogy, enrolling in the Heritage Genealogy College/Salt Lake Community College in 2001. Her interest and desire to pursue a genealogy career is best expressed by Donald Sidney Hubbell, a distant cousin: "Let each man tell his tale before retiring into oblivion in order that all men may know the direction he took and ponder the reason why he did so . . . we will all be “if not wiser, at least better informed."