Sally Hemings

Dates Alive: 1773-1835

Family: Hemings-Elizabeth

Occupation: Lady’s-maid; Household servant

Sally Hemings came to Monticello as an infant as part of Jefferson’s inheritance from his father-in-law, John Wayles. She spent two years as lady’s-maid to Jefferson’s daughters in Paris, where she could have claimed her freedom. After returning to Monticello in 1789, she was a domestic servant in the main house. She was unofficially freed after Jefferson’s death in 1826 and lived with her sons Madison and Eston in Charlottesville until her own death.

Years after his wife’s death, Thomas Jefferson fathered at least six of Sally Hemings’s children. Four survived to adulthood and are mentioned in Jefferson’s plantation records:  Beverly, Harriet, Madison, and Eston Hemings. According to her son Madison Hemings, Jefferson promised Sally Hemings in Paris to free any children they might have at the age of twenty-one. Four of their children reached adulthood and became free close to their twenty-first birthdays. Beverly Hemings and his sister Harriet Hemings were allowed to leave Monticello without pursuit and passed into white society. Madison Hemings and Eston Hemings Jefferson — freed by the terms of Jefferson’s will — left for Ohio in the 1830s and chose to live on different sides of the color line.


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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)