m. bef. 1753
Facts and Events
Sarah "Sally" Hemings (c. 1773 – 1835) was an enslaved woman of mixed race owned by President Thomas Jefferson through his wife's inheritance. Jefferson likely had an intimate relationship with her that resulted in her having six children by him. The youngest of six siblings by the planter John Wayles and his slave Betty Hemings, Hemings was therefore a half-sister of Jefferson's wife, Martha Wayles Skelton. Hemings and her children along with all of Wayles' slaves were inherited by the Jeffersons a year after their marriage and were taken to Monticello.
In 1787, Sally Hemings, at the age of 14, accompanied Jefferson's youngest daughter Mary (Polly) to London and then to Paris, where the widowed Jefferson was serving as the United States Ambassador to France. Hemings spent two years there. Hemings and Jefferson are believed by some to have begun a sexual relationship either in France or soon after their return to Monticello. Hemings had six children of record born into slavery; four survived to adulthood. Sally Hemings remained a domestic servant in Jefferson's house until his death.
The historical question of whether Jefferson was the father of Hemings' children is known as the Jefferson–Hemings controversy. Following renewed historic analysis and a 1998 DNA study that found a match between the Jefferson male line and a descendant of Hemings' last son, Eston Hemings, a consensus among historians supports the conclusion that the widower Jefferson fathered her son Eston Hemings and likely all her children. However, some historians disagree.
Hemings' children lived in Jefferson's house and were trained as domestic servants and artisans. Even though he was deeply in debt, Jefferson freed all of Hemings' children: Beverly, Harriet, Madison, and Eston, as they came of age. They were seven-eighths European in ancestry, and three of the four entered white society as adults. Their descendants self-identified as white. As the historian Edmund S. Morgan has noted, "Hemings herself was withheld from auction and freed at last by Jefferson's daughter, Martha Jefferson Randolph, who was, of course, her niece." Hemings lived her last nine years with her two younger sons in Charlottesville, and saw a grandchild born in the house her sons owned. After their mother's death in 1835, Eston and Madison Hemings migrated with their families to Chillicothe in the free state of Ohio.