1773–1835, African-American slave owned by Thomas Jefferson
, b. Charles City co., Va.; her original name was probably Sarah. Her father was John Wayles, Jefferson's father-in-law; her mother Wayles's slave Elizabeth Hemings. The Hemings family became household slaves at Monticello, where Sally was a maid to Jefferson's daughter Maria. In 1782 Jefferson's wife died; in 1784 Jefferson went to France as American ambassador. Three years later he sent for Maria, who was accompanied by Hemings; while they were there his intimacy with Hemings is thought to have begun. Jefferson returned in 1789 to Monticello, where Hemings continued to be a household servant and lady's maid. In 1795 she gave birth to her first child by Jefferson; their surviving three sons and daughter were born between 1798 and 1808. Little is known of her adult life, but she may have spent her last years with her freed sons Madison and Eston in Charlottesville, Va. Her name was first linked with Jefferson's in an 1802 Richmond, Va., newspaper, and rumors circulated through the years until DNA studies in 1998 proved a link among other descendents of Jefferson and those by Hemings. Some admirers of Jefferson hold that his younger brother, Randolph, is the more likely father of Hemings's descendants.
See A. Gordon-Reed, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings (1998) and The Hemingses of Monticello (2008); J. E. Taylor and P. S. Onuf, ed., Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson (1999).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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