- NAME: Sally Hemings
- BIRTH DATE: c. 1773
- DEATH DATE: 1835
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Shadwell, Albermarle County, Virginia
- PLACE OF DEATH: Charlottesville, Virginia
Best Known For
Sally Hemings was an enslaved African-American woman who’s believed to have had several children with one-time U.S. president Thomas Jefferson.
A look at the private life of Thomas Jefferson, and the reputed sexual relationship he had with one of his own slaves, Sally Hemings.
Thomas Jefferson had a 37 year relationship and fathered several children with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings.
Sojourner Truth was born into slavery and escaped to freedom. Her prominence quickly rose when she advocated for the abolition of slavery and women's rights. She is best known for her speech "Ain't I a Woman?"
Thomas Jefferson wrote the "Head and Heart" letter to Mariah Causeway.
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Sally Hemings, born in 1773 in Virginia, worked on the Monticello plantation of Thomas Jefferson. She was a nursemaid to his daughter Mary and traveled with the family to Paris. Though it was rumored that she had several children with Jefferson, both the family and historians denied the claim. Recent DNA testing has concluded however that Hemings’ children are connected to the Jefferson bloodline.
African-American slave Sally Hemings was believed to have been the mistress of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and third president of the United States. Born around 1773 in Virginia, Hemings was the youngest of six children born to Elizabeth (Betty) Hemings, a slave of African and European descent; her probable given name was Sarah. Sally Hemings's father was allegedly her mother's owner, John Wayles, a white lawyer and slave trader of English descent who had emigrated to Virginia. As Wayles was also the father of Martha Wayles (Skelton) Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson's wife, Hemings and Martha Jefferson are believed to have been half-sisters.
After John Wayles's death, Hemings, along with her mother and siblings, moved to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's Virginia home, as part of Martha Jefferson's inheritance. Hemings arrived at Monticello when she was about three years old. As a child and young teenager, Hemings performed the duties of a household servant. After Martha Jefferson's death in 1782, Hemings became a companion for one of Jefferson's younger daughters, Mary.
Jefferson traveled to Paris in 1784 to serve as the American minister to France. He took his eldest daughter, also named Martha, with him, while his two younger daughters, Mary and Lucy, stayed with their relatives, as did Hemings. After Lucy Jefferson died of whooping cough, Jefferson called Mary to Paris in the summer of 1787. The 14-year-old Hemings came with her. Hemings spent the next two years living with the Jeffersons in Paris, along with her brother, James, who served as Jefferson's personal servant. There is strong evidence to suggest that during this time, Jefferson and Hemings began a sexual relationship.
While Hemings was entitled to her freedom under French law, and for a time reportedly even considered staying in France after Jefferson's departure, she ended up returning to Virginia in 1789. According to one of her youngest sons, Madison Hemings (who published his memoirs in 1873), Jefferson convinced his mother to return to America by promising her privileged status in his household and pledging to free her children when they reached the age of 21. Shortly after Hemings arrived at Monticello, she gave birth to her first child. (The fate of this child is uncertain. Madison Hemings stated that it lived only a short time, but the descendants of a man named Thomas Woodson claim that Woodson was the first child born to Jefferson and Hemings, and that he left Monticello as a young boy after rumors of his parents' relationship began to spread.)
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