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.”
Hear Their Stories
“The ‘Colonel’ Commenced Singing”
“The ‘Colonel’ Commenced Singing”
Julia Jefferson in 1877 thanks her son John Wayles Jefferson for a gift of money and tells him about her singing bird and a snowstorm.
My dear precious son:
I am glad to inform you that your letter with Post Office order came to me on the evening of the same day I wrote to you that I had not received it. I, as usual, return to you my heartfelt thanks for your kindness. I wish I could give you something better. I hope you will take the will for the deed. God grant you may never want or even miss what you are so good as to give me. I am satisfied and grateful for it. I believe I am now more resigned to what seems to be my lot than ever before. At times, I am quite cheerful, at other times old and new troubles come back to me, but I know now better what to do with them than ever before. I believe God helps me to cast my burdens on Him.
I believe I wrote to you about the snow and cold weather, but today and last night a snow storm has set in that is far in advance of any thing of the kind for severity. It is now 10 o’clock at night and it is blowing and snowing as hard as ever. The drifts in some places are four and five feet high. At noon today the boys went out to remove some of the snow so we could get out, but now it is as bad if not worse than before. It is about knee deep on a level. While it lasts, we shall be warm inside for every hole is stopped and we are banked up in some places above the windows. I don’t know how it will be by morning. Probably we shall have to be dug out.
I am glad to tell you that the “Colonel” commenced singing on the 27th of Dec. just in low sad notes. He continued in this way for several successive days, when all at once he broke out with the finest singing I ever heard from the bird kind, and so he has kept on ever since. I understand him now when he wants anything. He doesn’t like the lamp to shine in on him, and he gives an unusual cry. I get up and cover his cage and he is perfectly quiet. I attend to him altogether myself and I believe he thinks as much of me as I do of him. The ceiling is so low that I can’t hang him up, so he has been kept all the time on a stand by the window and he seems to feel perfectly at home there.
It is now much later than I thought it was, and must close, wishing my dear son good night and praying the good God to bless him. (Julia Jefferson to John Wayles Jefferson, 15 Jan. 1877, courtesy of Julia Jefferson Westerinen)
“Wife Of E. H. Jefferson”
“Wife Of E. H. Jefferson”
A few months before her death, Julia Jefferson provides for the support for her Irish servant, Margaret Bryan, and specifies the inscription for her gravestone.
My dear Son:
…. What I wanted to say, my dear son, in regard to Margaret, is that I would be glad if you would see that she does not come to want after I am gone. She has been with me off and on for a long time, and now is not young or strong enough to make her living. We have had our ups and downs. I forgive all and believe now she would do more for me than any other woman. She is not faultless; neither am I. I have always given her more comforts than I have allowed my own body. When I took B[everly]’s children, I had a bargain and have paid her, though the account stands now imperfect for want of time, which if lengthened out a little longer, I may fix it more correctly. I would like for you to let her have a sum at my decease, say $50. or more to enable her to go or stay or do what she pleases and also to allow her at least $3.00 per week as support during her life, but more if misfortune or old age overtakes her. Whatever she may desire of my few effects to furnish a room for herself she can take. The greater part of furniture belongs to Beverly. She knows which is mine. The portraits of my daughter and granddaughter are to be given Fred and Walt Pearson and anything else of my effects they may desire. The piano, being bought by their father, I give Walter. He can do what he pleases with it. My portrait is for you, yours for Beverly. Two large silver spoons, marked J.J. – one for you, the other for Beverly. The silver set is yours. Whatever either of you desire of what I call mine, take it. There may be a few gifts to some old friends of which I will tell Margaret and she can tell you or I may live to write it down; it matters not. The sale of the house will more than three times cover all debts and expense whenever you sell it. I shall endeavor to make it with as little trouble to you, my dear son, as I can. You have had your share of it. Would like a good gold ring given to each of my seven grandsons as a keepsake for me if you can do it. Lay me beside your father without pomp or show, if you deem it as a duty or something like that. Let the stone be plain like that of dear Julia’s, costing about $20.00 or $25.00, no more. Say on the arch (where it says Julia on hers) “Mother” or “Julia”, etc. (on the front side) “Wife of E. H. Jefferson, born Nov. 21, 1814 and died – -.” This is all. This has been disagreeable because I know it will make you feel sorrowful, but I could not let it go longer, seeing the uncertainty of my condition. What more can I say than God bless my save [sic] my dear son. If I live, I will write again. (Julia Jefferson to John Wayles Jefferson, 16 Nov. 1888, courtesy of Julia Westerinen)