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Sally Hemings

Sally Hemings (or Hemmings) may originally have been called Sarah. It is thought she was the daughter of a slave and John Wayles, Thomas Jefferson's father-in-law. Hemings was inherited by Jefferson and his wife in 1774 and apparently served as a nurse and companion to the Jefferson children. In 1787, the 14-year-old Hemings accompanied Jefferson's daughter Mary to France to join her father on a diplomatic mission. Some have speculated that a relationship between Hemings and Jefferson began at this time. Two extant descriptions of Sally Hemings agree on her complexion and comeliness: Thomas J. Randolph, Jefferson's grandson, described her to be "light colored and decidedly good looking." A resident slave remembered her as "mighty near white. . . very handsome, long straight hair down her back." Hemings continued to serve the Jefferson family and was never legally freed. According to the Virginia statutes of the time, freed slaves could no longer maintain residence within the state. Hemings bore at least four children; accusations of Jefferson's complicity were first put forward by an embittered former employee. An article in Nature (November 5, 1998) reported that DNA samples taken from Jefferson descendants was compared with Hemings' descendants and concluded that Jefferson may have fathered one of Sally Hemings' sons. Later research casts doubt on the earlier findings and notes that other Jefferson relatives lived in close proximity to the Monticello household and one could have been the father of the child or children in question. Two of Hemings' children, Madison and Eston, let their belief be known that they were fathered by Thomas Jefferson, and descendants of one Thomas C. Woodson emphatically maintain that he was the first child of Sally Hemings and Jefferson. However, unlike Madison and Eston, Woodson does not appear in Jefferson's records.

See Important and Famous Women in America.