Artist, businesswoman, and mother of four, Julia Westerinen did not learn of her connection to Monticello and her African American ancestry until the 1970s. After genetic testing in 1998 established a link between her family line and Jefferson’s, she went on the Oprah Winfrey show and met Shay Banks-Young, a descendant of Madison Hemings, brother of her ancestor Eston Hemings Jefferson.
Since then, they have been speaking to audiences around the country about their family history and issues of race in America. In her joint interview with Banks-Young, Westerinen notes that since learning of her African American heritage, “I don’t see color anymore like I used to.”
Beverly Jefferson, the youngest child of Eston Hemings and Julia Isaacs Jefferson, lived as an African American in southern Ohio until the age of eleven, when his family moved to Madison, Wisconsin, changed their surname from Hemings to Jefferson, and thereafter lived as white people. Until 1872 Beverly Jefferson worked in the hotel business, becoming a very popular hotel proprietor after the Civil War. Thereafter he focused on what became the Jefferson Transfer Company, the leading carriage and omnibus firm in the capital. Long obituaries followed the death of this “well known and prominent citizen of Madison.”
Beverly Jefferson and his wife, Anna Maud Smith, had five sons, who included graduates of the University of Wisconsin, a lawyer, and a physician. He apparently spoke of his descent from Thomas Jefferson only to close friends. Long after his death, his grandsons altered the family history to erase the connection to the Hemings family. Present-day descendants had no knowledge of their African American heritage until the 1970s.
Eston Hemings was the youngest son of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson. Eston Hemings learned the woodworking trade from his uncle, John Hemmings, and became free in 1829, according to the terms of Thomas Jefferson’s will. He and his brother Madison left Monticello to live in the town of Charlottesville with their mother, Sally Hemings. Together they purchased a lot and built a two-story brick and wood house.
In 1832, Eston Hemings married a free woman of color, Julia Ann Isaacs. About 1838 they sold their property and moved to Chillicothe, OH, where Hemings led a very successful dance band. He was remembered as “a master of the violin, and an accomplished ‘caller’ of dances.”
At mid-century Eston and Julia Hemings and their three children, John Wayles, Anna, and Beverly, left Ohio for Wisconsin, changing their surname to Jefferson and living henceforth as white people. They settled in the capital, Madison, where Eston Jefferson pursued his trade as a cabinetmaker. A 1998 study genetically linked his male descendants with male descendants of the Jefferson family.
John Wayles Jefferson, the oldest child of Eston Hemings and Julia Isaacs Jefferson, lived as an African American in southern Ohio until the age of fifteen, when his family moved to Madison, Wisconsin, changed their surname from Hemings to Jefferson, and thereafter lived as white people. He operated a restaurant and the city’s oldest hotel until the Civil War, when he joined the 8th Wisconsin infantry regiment as its major. Over three years of arduous campaigns in Mississippi and Louisiana he rose to the rank of colonel, at one time commanding the whole regiment. When he encountered an acquaintance from his Ohio years, he begged him “not to tell the fact that he had colored blood in his veins, which he said was not suspected by any of his command.”
After the war, John Wayles Jefferson settled in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was a prominent citizen, plantation owner, and wealthy cotton broker. He never married and died in Memphis, described in an obituary as “a model man.”
Julia Ann Isaacs, daughter of German Jewish merchant David Isaacs and Nancy West, a free woman of color, lived with her family on Charlottesville’s main street until 1832, when she married Eston Hemings. About 1838 they moved to Chillicothe in southern Ohio, where Hemings led a popular dance band.
At mid-century the Hemingses made a fateful decision. They and their three children, John Wayles, Anna, and Beverly, left Ohio for Madison, Wisconsin, changing their surname to Jefferson and living henceforth as white people. Julia Jefferson an active member of the Congregational church and, in the Civil War, the Ladies Aid Society. Her sons and grandsons, whom she helped raise, prospered in society, business, and the professions. Many years after her death she was still remembered in her family as “its best and bravest character.”