You are here
Elizabeth (Betty) Hemings (1735-1807) was born in slavery, probably in Chesterfield County. According to her grandson Madison Hemings, she was the daughter of an English sea captain and an enslaved woman, possibly born in Africa. She was the property of Martha Eppes, who became the first wife of John Wayles, Jefferson's father-in-law.
Not long after Wayles's death in 1773, Elizabeth Hemings was brought to Monticello with her ten children, six of whom were, according to Madison Hemings, fathered by Wayles (Robert, James, Thenia, Critta, Peter, and Sally). Two more children were born to her at Monticello (Lucy and John). More than seventy-five of her descendants lived at least some part of their lives in bondage at Monticello.
Elizabeth Hemings was a valued domestic servant, whose children and grandchildren occupied the most important household and trades positions on the mountaintop. Three of her sons and six of her grandchildren were freed, or allowed to go free, by Jefferson in his lifetime or in his will -- the only slaves to whom he granted freedom. Many descendants of her daughters Mary, Betty, and Sally have been interviewed as part of Monticello's Getting Word oral history project.
- Gordon-Reed, Annette. The Hemingses of Monticello: an American Family. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2008.
- Neiman, Fraser D., Leslie McFaden and Derek Wheeler. Archaeological Investigation of the Elizabeth Hemings Site. Charlottesville, Va.: Thomas Jefferson Foundation, 2000.
- Stanton, Lucia. Free Some Day: The African-American Families of Monticello. Charlottesville: Thomas Jefferson Foundation, 2000.
- Thomas Jefferson Foundation. Getting Word.