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Jefferson & Hemmings

A Scandal or Love Story?

Did you know that the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, was surrounded in the mist of a scandal with one of his slaves? Her name was Sally Hemmings and she bore six of the former president's children or so the story goes. Included below are some of the details of the story.

Sally Hemings was born in 1772, the illegitimate half-sister of Thomas Jefferson's wife, Martha, the offspring of a relationship between Martha's father, John Wayles and his slave, Elizabeth Hemings.

Sally became Thomas Jefferson's property as part of his inheritance from the Wayles estate in 1774 and came with her mother to Monticello in 1776.

In 1787, Thomas Jefferson who was a widower and the U.S. ambassador to France, summoned his daughter Martha to live with him in Paris. Martha was accompanied by her young attendant, Sally, who was then about 13.

In 1789, Sally Hemings returned with the Jefferson family to Virginia. By then, Sally was 16 years old & pregnant with her first child, Thomas was born soon after her return.

The affair between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings has recently been supported by DNA evidence.

While there are noticeable gaps in the historical record, many aspects of the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings are generally accepted. Among these are:

Shortly after the DNA test results were released in November 1998, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation formed a research committee consisting of nine members of the foundation staff, including four with Ph.D.s.

In January 2000, the committee reported its finding that the weight of evidence - from the DNA study, original documents, written and oral historical accounts, and statistical data - indicated a high probability that Thomas Jefferson was the father of Eston Hemings, and that he was most likely the father of all six of Sally Hemings' children listed in Monticello records.

Those children are: Harriet (born 1795; died in infancy); Beverly (born 1798); an unnamed daughter (born 1799; died in infancy); Harriet (born 1801); Madison (born 1805); and Eston (born 1808).

According to Jefferson's records, Sally Hemings had four surviving children.

The descendants of Thomas C. Woodson (1790-1879) carry the strong family tradition that he was the firstborn child of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson. Woodson, who does not appear in Jefferson's records, left Greenbrier County, Virginia, for southern Ohio in the early 1820s. He was a successful farmer in Jackson Country.

Records indicate that this was a love affair that spaned 38 years. There are those who refer to Sally Hemings as Thomas Jefferson's common law wife. Thomas Jefferson denied the affair before Congress during his presidency when he was confronted about it. What do you think? If you would like to know more about this, I would suggest seeing the movie, Sally Hemings: An American Scandal.