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“I Can Confirm His Statement”

I know that it was a general statement among the older servants at Monticello, that Mr. Jefferson promised his wife,…
“I Can Confirm His Statement”

Israel Jefferson speaks of Madison Hemings as the son of Thomas Jefferson.

“I know that it was a general statement among the older servants at Monticello, that Mr. Jefferson promised his wife, on her death bed, that he would not again marry.  I also know that his servant, Sally Hemmings, (mother to my old friend and former companion at Monticello, Madison Hemmings,) was employed as his chamber-maid, and that Mr. Jefferson was on the most intimate terms with her; that, in fact, she was his concubine.  This I know from my intimacy with both parties, and when Madison Hemmings declares that he is a natural son of Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, and that his brothers Beverly and Eston and sister Harriet are of the same parentage, I can as conscientiously confirm his statement as any other fact which I believe from circumstances but do not positively know.

I think that Mr. Jefferson was 84 years of age when he died.  He was hardly ever sick, and till within two weeks of his death he walked erect without a staff or cane.  He moved with the seeming alertness and sprightliness of youth.” (Israel Jefferson, Pike County Republican, 25 Dec. 1873)

Themes: Hemings-Jefferson Relationship, Jefferson Descent, Monticello

“Auntie Called Them Hemmings Eyes”

My first recollection of hearing about Betsy Hemmings, my great-great-grandmother, occurred when I was two years old. This memory of…
“Auntie Called Them Hemmings Eyes”

Edna Jacques describes early memories of learning about her Hemmings ancestors.

My first recollection of hearing about Betsy Hemmings, my great-great-grandmother, occurred when I was two years old. This memory of her is especially clear because it is forever associated with orange ice cream.

It was August 1938, and my parents and I were in Virginia to visit my great-aunt Olive (Auntie) Rebecca Bolling and attend a homecoming church service, at the Hemmings and Bolling church. Ninety-one year old Auntie still spent her summers at the family’s 1200 acre farm, which I was visiting for the first time. Although I had been told about the farm, city life did not prepare me for the new experiences that awaited me. During that visit, I touched pigs, horses, and bird dogs; saw a cow milked; rode on a horse; picked pears from the tree; tried to play the organ; and ran merrily through the fields.

One afternoon during that visit, Auntie gave me orange ice cream, which delighted me. Immediately, I asked my parents why we didn’t have orange ice cream at home. Auntie explained that perhaps the people there didn’t have the recipe, since it was very old, coming from Grandmother Bettie’s grandmother. While the ice cream was discussed, I don’t recall any mention of Betsy or Monticello. Later I would learn that Grandmother Bettie’s grandmother’s name was Betsy Hemmings and that she brought the recipe for orange ice cream from Monticello.

Children have selective memories, and I remembered that Grandmother Bettie was mentioned when the ice cream was discussed. I probably focused on her name because she had recently become a lovely vision for me. Earlier in the week, I had been taken to the Bolling cemetery and shown the graves of my ancestors, including that of Grandmother Bettie. At her grave, she was described to me as being very beautiful with long straight white hair that hung to her waist, which she wore tied back. I was also told that she rode a white horse and that Daddy’s eyes were the same color as hers – an unusual gray with a hint of blue. Auntie called them Hemmings eyes, and on that same trip, I noticed that several of my Hemmings cousins had eyes similar to Daddy’s.

Grandmother Bettie was a daughter of Betsy Hemmings’s daughter Frances. As was often the case with entwined black and white plantation families, their children had the same names. Maria Jefferson and John Wayles Eppes named their son Francis. Therefore, it was not surprising that Betsy Hemmings and John Wayles Eppes named their daughter Frances, an Eppes name, one not traditionally used by the Hemings family. (Edna Bolling Jacques, “The Hemmings Family in Buckingham County, Virginia”; for entire account, see http://www.buckinghamhemmings.com/)

Themes: Oral History Transmission

“The American Idea Of Fair Play”

In the south, the policy of white toward Negro is one of suppression and antagonism.  Once the issue of social…
“The American Idea Of Fair Play”

In 1922, Frederick Roberts warns of the growing threat to the ideals of the Founders.

In the south, the policy of white toward Negro is one of suppression and antagonism.  Once the issue of social equality is raised, the whole American idea of fair play is laid aside in favor of mob force and lynching bees.  The result is that our national tranquility is shaken to the roots, and the very life of American ideals is threatened.

In the west, on the other hand, the athletic ideal governs the relation between the races.  Here the American idea of fair play prevails.  The race issue is never present in politics, but rather Negro and Caucasian vote on all questions from a moral and purely objective viewpoint.

The problem of racial disorder in the south is not a Negro problem, but a purely American one.  If in one corner of the land law and order may be set aside to favor the passions of a group, why is it not feasible to do the same thing in other parts of the country?  Thus the very existence of the principles, upon which our nation was founded are at stake.   (San Jose Evening News, 2 Sep. 1922)

Themes: Racial Prejudice, Struggle for Equality