Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings

Thomas Jefferson
and Sally Hemings
Chronology—the Jefferson-Hemings
• (adapted from Annette Gordon-Reed, The Hemingses of
Monticello. New York: W. W. Norton.)
• 1735: Elizabeth Hemings (EH) (mother of Sally Hemings) is
born; she is a slave of the Eppes family in VA
• 1746: Martha Eppes marries John Wayles;
• 1748: Martha Wayles is born (future wife of Thomas
Jefferson); Martha Eppes dies and leaves EH the property of
John Wayles
• 1762-70: EH gives birth to five children by John Wayles (her
• 1772: Martha Wayles marries Thomas Jefferson (TJ)
• 1773: Sally Hemings born (the last child of EH and John
• NB: Sally Hemings (SH), therefore, is the half sister of Martha
Jefferson, TJ’s wife!
Chronology—the Jefferson-Hemings
• 1782: Martha Jefferson dies at Monticello; Jefferson promises
Martha on her deathbed that he will never marry again; Sally
Hemings present.
• 1784: TJ and James Hemings (Sally’s older brother, also
Martha’s half-brother) go to Paris, France
• 1787: SH joins TJ and her brother James in Paris; her
assignment is to tend to TJ’s youngest daughter, but SH also
works as TJ’s chambermaid.
• 1789: When SH balks at returning to America (she would be
freed, under French law, if she had staid in Paris), TJ promises
her a good life and freedom of their children when they
become adults. JH and SH return to Monticello in December.
• 1790: SH gives birth to her first child (with TJ). The infant dies.
Chronology—the Jefferson-Hemings
• 1793: Thomas Jefferson puts his agreement to free James Hemings
in writing; JH becomes legally free in 1796; JH later turns down TJ’s
request to become chef at the White House; in 1801, JH commits
• 1795: Harriet Hemings I, daughter of SH and TJ is born at Monticello.
Harriet dies in 1797.
• NB: All of SH and TJ’s children, therefore, are cousins as well as
siblings of TJ’s white children with his wife Martha…
• 1798: William Beverly Hemings, son of SH and TJ is born at
• 1799: first published allusions to TJ and SH’s relationship appear in
the press
• 1800: SH and TJ’s daughter Harriet II born at Monticello
• 1802: James Callender exposes the relationship between SH and TJ.
• 1805: James Madison Hemings, 2nd son of SH and TJ is born at
Chronology—the Jefferson-Hemings
• 1807: Elizabeth Hemings, Sally’s mother, dies at Monticello (she
remained a slave…)
• 1808: Thomas Eston Hemings, the last child of SH and TJ, is born at
• 1809: TJ retires from public life; stays at Monticello
• 1810-26: SH and TJ’s children learn various trades at Monticello
• 1822: Beverly and Harriet freed; they leave Monticello to live as
white people.
• 1826: TJ drafts a will that formally frees his sons Madison and Eston
Hemings. TJ dies on July 4, 1776
• SH, Madison, and Eston move to Charlottesville, VA.
• 1831: Monticello, along with many of TJ’s slaves, is sold at auction to
pay for TJ’s large debt.
• No date of SH’s death is officially recorded. Madison claimed she
died in 1835, though some other reports of travelers to
Charlottesville claim to have seen her as late as 1837.
Jefferson’s Blood. PBS Frontline
In his own words:
Thomas Jefferson on Slavery and Race
• Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (Paris, 1785
[private edition]; London, 1787).
• Query 14: Laws (see handout!)
Thomas Jefferson and Sally
Hemings in Paris
• Jefferson in Paris. Director, James Ivory. 1995
William Wells Brown, Clotel, or, The President’s
Daughter: A Narrative of Slave Life in the United
States. 1853.
• Questions:
• What is the relationship between fiction and non-fiction in
Brown’s novel, i.e. how does Brown combine a fictional story
with the facts and reality of slavery? (“fiction founded in
• What is the significance/function of Brown’s autobiographical
account? How does the fictional account return to specific
paradigms set up in the autobiographical narrative (e.g. the
selling of blood relatives by white masters)?
• Why does Brown choose to write fiction, rather than nonfiction anti-slavery tracts?
• How does he cast/re-cast the stock figure of the “tragic
mulatta” and other figures?
William Wells Brown, Clotel, or, The President’s
Daughter: A Narrative of Slave Life in the United
States. 1853.
• Questions—Continued:
• Does the formal difficulty of the novel (e.g. its lack of unity)
have a correlative in the ideas that are conveyed?
• How does the novel play with the meanings of freedom?
• In how far does the important theme of the separation of
families comment on 19th-century ideals of domesticity, family
values, marriage, virtue, etc.?
• How does Brown use but also undermine the discourse of
sentimentalism in 19th-century culture and fiction?
• What does the novel say about the ways in which slavery
undermines the important notion of republican virtue? How
does it topple/deconstruct the ideals of a nation built on
virtue, sentiment, education, Republican womanhood,
religion, authority of the people, etc….?

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