Sally Hemings: Woman US President Thomas Jefferson Enslaved

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Sally Hemings was born into slavery in Virginia. After the death of their master, Hemings family was inherited by the daughter of their master, Martha, who had married Thomas Jefferson and lived in Monticello.

When the Jeffersons went to Paris, France on diplomatic service in 1784, Sally also went there 3 years later as a companion and maid to Jefferson’s eight-year-old daughter Maria.

Years after his wife’s death, Thomas Jefferson fathered at least six of Sally Hemings’s children.

Four survived to adulthood and are mentioned in Jefferson’s plantation records:  Beverly, Harriet, Madison, and Eston Hemings. 

Sally and her older brother James, in Paris as Jefferson’s personal servant, were paid a monthly wage and later she began a ‘relationship’ with Thomas and she later became pregnant.

James Hemings, brother to Sally Hemings was the first American to train as a chef in France. He was enslaved by Thomas Jefferson at 8.

Enslaved females had no legal right to refuse unwanted sexual advances. Hemings, at 16 years and living free in Paris, had negotiated with Jefferson to return to enslavement in exchange for “extraordinary privileges” for herself and freedom for her unborn children.

Monticello home of Thomas Jefferson

She raised four children for years because daddy promised them for emancipation when they were grown. Sally Hemings was never freed, nor did she negotiate for her freedom.

Sally Hemmings servant quarters

Thomas Jefferson did not free Sally Hemings. She was permitted to leave Monticello by his daughter Martha Jefferson Randolph not long after Jefferson’s death in 1826, and went to live with her sons Madison and Eston in Charlottesville.

Decades later, Jefferson freed all of Sally Hemings’s children – Beverly and Harriet left Monticello in the early 1820s; Madison and Eston were freed in his will and left Monticello in 1826. Jefferson did not grant freedom to any other enslaved family unit.

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