Elizabeth Hemings

Dates Alive: 1735-1807

Family: Hemings-Elizabeth

Occupation: Household servant

The majority of those interviewed for the Getting Word project trace their ancestry to Elizabeth (Betty) Hemings. According to her grandson Madison Hemings, she was the daughter of an English sea captain named Hemings and an enslaved woman. She came with her children to Monticello about 1775, part of the inheritance from John Wayles, Jefferson’s father-in-law. There she was a valued domestic servant. Over seventy-five of her descendants lived and worked at Monticello as butlers, seamstresses, weavers, carpenters, blacksmiths, gardeners, and musicians.

Elizabeth Hemings had twelve known children. According to Madison Hemings, six of them were fathered by Wayles (Robert, James, Thenia, Critta, Peter, and Sally). All of the men and women freed by Jefferson (either officially or unofficially) were her children or grandchildren. Oral histories passed through many generations of the descendants of her daughters Mary Hemings Bell, Betty Brown, and Sally Hemings include the tradition of descent from Jefferson.


  • African Woman & Captain Hemings
  • Elizabeth Hemings

Related People

Hear Their Stories

“Such Is The Story That Comes Down To Me”

I never knew of but one white man who bore the name of Hemings; he was an Englishman and my…
“Such Is The Story That Comes Down To Me”

Madison Hemings speaks in 1873 of his grandmother Elizabeth Hemings.

“I never knew of but one white man who bore the name of Hemings; he was an Englishman and my greatgrandfather.  He was captain of an English trading vessel which sailed between England and Williamsburg, Va., then quite a port.  My grandmother was a fullblooded African, and possibly a native of that country.  She was the property of John Wales, a Welchman [incorrect; she then belonged to the Eppes family].  Capt. Hemings happened to be in the port of Williamsburg at the time my grandmother was born, and acknowledging her fatherhood he tried to purchase her of Mr. Wales, who would not part with the child, though he was offered an extraordinarily large price for her.  She was named Elizabeth Hemings.  Being thwarted in the purchase, and determining to own his flesh and blood he resolved to take the child by force or stealth, but the knowledge of his intention coming to John Wales’ ears, through leaky fellow servants of the mother, she and the child were taken into the “great house” under their master’s immediate care.  I have been informed that it was not the extra value of that child over other slave children that induced Mr. Wales to refuse to sell it, for slave masters then, as in later days, had no compunctions of conscience which restrained them from parting mother and child of however tender age, but he was restrained by the fact that just about that time amalgamation began, and the child was so great a curiosity that its owner desired to raise it himself that he might see its outcome.  Capt. Hemings soon afterwards sailed from Williamsburg, never to return.  Such is the story that comes down to me.”

“Elizabeth Hemings grew to womanhood in the family of John Wales, whose wife dying she (Elizabeth) was taken by the widower Wales as his concubine, by whom she had six children—three sons and three daughters, viz: Robert, James, Peter, Critty, Sally and Thena.  These children went by the name of Hemings….”\

“My very earliest recollections are of my grandmother Elizabeth Hemings.  That was when I was about three years old.  She was sick and upon her death bed.  I was eating a piece of bread and asked her if she would have some.  She replied: ‘No; granny don’t want bread any more.’  She shortly afterwards breathed her last.  I have only a faint recollection of her.” (Madison Hemings, 13 Mar. 1873, Pike County Republican [Waverly, Ohio])