Sally Hemings

4.1.5.1.OintmentJar.jpg
Jar, tin-glazed earthenware, from the pharmacy of P.f.m. Teissier, Paris, excavated from a slave dwelling on Mulberry Row.Thomas Jefferson Foundation

 

Sally Hemings (1773–1835)—daughter of Elizabeth Hemings and (probably) Jefferson’s father-in-law, John Wayles—came to Monticello with her mother and siblings in the mid-1770s. At age 14 she accompanied Jefferson’s daughter Mary to Paris as a lady’s maid. Hemings’s son recalled that her later duties at Monticello were "to take care of [Jefferson's] Chamber and wardrobe, look after us children, and do light work such as sewing, etc." 

Her name has been linked with Jefferson’s since 1802 when a newspaper reported that Jefferson kept a “concubine” named Sally. Their relationship has been the subject of debate ever since. Documentary and genetic evidence leads most historians now to believe that, years after his wife’s death, Thomas Jefferson fathered Sally Hemings’s children.  

Her two older children, Beverly and Harriet, were allowed to leave Monticello in 1822, and the younger two, Madison and Eston, were freed in Jefferson’s will. After Jefferson’s death, Sally Hemings lived out her life in unofficial freedom in Charlottesville.

 

Hemings and Jefferson: What the DNA Says

In 1998 Dr. Eugene Foster and a team of geneticists tested DNA samples from male-line descendants of Field Jefferson (Thomas Jefferson's uncle) and of Eston Hemings (Sally Hemings’s son). (The surviving children from Thomas Jefferson’s marriage were female, so their descendants could not be tested in this way.) 

The test results show a genetic link between the Jefferson and Hemings descendants: A man with the Jefferson Y chromosome fathered Eston Hemings (born 1808). While there were other adult males with the Jefferson Y chromosome living in Virginia at that time, most historians now believe that the documentary and genetic evidence, considered together, strongly support the conclusion that Jefferson was the father of Sally Hemings’s children.  

 

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