Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings
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Thomas Jefferson is best remembered as the author of the Declaration of Independence and third President of the United States. His other achievements include writing the of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, creating the University of Virginia, and inventing or improving on inventions such as the moldboard plow, portable copying press and "automatic" double doors. However, like many successful men throughout history, he was no stranger to scandal. For over 200 years, questions swirled about his involvement with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings. Even the DNA tests of 1998 showing a genetic link between Jefferson and Hemings' descendents has not resolved the question in some historians' minds.
Jefferson inherited Sally along with her mother and nine other siblings from his father-in-law, John Wayles who was likely Sally's father. She was described as "near white" and beautiful. She worked as a lady's maid to Jefferson's daughters, a chambermaid and seamstress. In 1787, at 14 years old, she accompanied Jefferson's 9-year old daughter, Mary to Paris, where the widowed Jefferson served as minister to France. Historians suspect that the sexual relationship started in Paris, pointing to Sally's delivery of a child three months following her return to Virginia in 1789 as proof. Sally's son, Madison also reported that the 38-year relationship started in Paris and that a child who died shortly after birth was born in 1790, although no documentation about this child exists. Sally ultimately bore six children although she never married and no father was listed on birth records. Four children lived to adulthood. Her sons, Madison and Eston always claimed Jefferson was their father.
Rumors about Jefferson's alleged affair with a slave named Sally first appeared in a Richmond newspaper in 1802. Neither Jefferson nor Sally made any public or written statement about the allegations. Historians were skeptical, as the reporter had a grudge against Jefferson for not assigning him a political post. However, in 1998, DNA tests done on descendents of both families found a genetic link. The Thomas Jefferson Foundation studied the research and determined that there was a high probability that Jefferson fathered Eston Hemings and possibly Sally's six other children. However, the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society rejected the idea and instead suggested that Jefferson's brother Randolph was the father.
Jefferson freed only seven slaves, all of whom were Hemings'. Of Sally's children, two were allowed to leave during Jefferson's lifetime and two others were freed upon his death. Three of the children "passed" for white once they were free. Jefferson's daughter, Martha gave Sally "her time" and allowed her to leave following Jefferson's death. Sally lived in Charlottesville, Virginia with her freed sons, Madison and Eston until her death in 1835.