Search the Encyclopedia
Little is known about Harriet Hemings the daughter of Sally Hemings. Jefferson's Farm Book provides the following information: she was born at Monticello in May 1801; at the age of fourteen, she was working in the textile "factory" as a wool spinner; and she left Monticello in 1822, probably at the beginning of the year.
Further information comes from accounts by Harriet's brother, Madison Hemings; two former Monticello slaves, Isaac and Israel Jefferson; Jefferson's granddaughter, Ellen Coolidge; and a former Monticello overseer, Edmund Bacon. Harriet Hemings was described as very light-skinned and beautiful. Bacon remembered that she "always worked in the cotton factory." Her brother recalled that she learned to weave as well as spin. He also stated that he and Harriet and their brothers were the children of Thomas Jefferson. This view of their paternity was endorsed by Israel Jefferson and denied by Ellen Coolidge and Edmund Bacon.
Several of the accounts mention Harriet's departure from Monticello. Ellen Coolidge recalled "one girl" (presumably Harriet) who left Monticello according to Jefferson's "principle" of allowing "slaves as were sufficiently white to pass for white..., to withdraw quietly from the plantation." Madison Hemings gave different reasons for Harriet's unofficial freedom: "We all became free agreeably to the treaty entered into by our parents before we were born"--that is, a "solemn pledge" he said Jefferson made to Sally Hemings to free her children at age twenty-one. According to Edmund Bacon, Jefferson authorized him to give Harriet fifty dollars and stage fare to her destination, which he remembered as Philadelphia. Madison Hemings reported that she went to Washington.
In 1873 Madison Hemings left the only known account of Harriet Hemings' life after Monticello: "Harriet 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."
1. This article is based on Lucia Stanton, Monticello Research Report, 1995.
2. Edwin M. Betts, ed. Thomas Jefferson's Farm Book: With Commentary and Relevant Extracts from Other Writings (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953. Rep. 1976, 1987, 1999), 128, 130, 152, 172. Manuscript and transcription available online at http://www.thomasjeffersonpapers.org/farm/
3. Bear, Jefferson at Monticello (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1967), 4, 102; Fawn Brodie, Thomas Jefferson: an Intimate History (New York: Norton, 1974), 475, 481-482; Dumas Malone, "Mr. Jefferson's Private Life," Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, (April 1974): 6-7.
4. Malone, 5, Bear, 102, and Brodie, 473.
5. Brodie, 473.