Sarah "Sally" Hemings

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Sarah Hemmings

Also Known As: "Sarah Hemings", "Sally Hemings", "Sally Hemmings", "Sally"
Birthdate: (62)
Birthplace: Guinea Plantation, Cumberland, Virginia
Death: Died in Charlottesville, Albemarle, Virginia, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of John Wayles of "The Forest" and Elizabeth "Betty" Hemings
Partner of Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States of America
Mother of Thomas Corbin Woodson, Sr.; Harriet Hemings, (A); Edy Hemings; Beverly William Hemings; Thenia Jefferson Hemings and 3 others
Sister of Robert Hemings; James Hemings; Thenia Hemings; Critta Hemings and Peter Hemings
Half sister of Mary Bell; Betty Brown; John Hemings; Martha Skelton Jefferson; Sarah Wayles and 3 others

Managed by: Steven Miller
Last Updated:

About Sarah "Sally" Hemings

Sally Hemings (Shadwell, Albemarle County, Virginia, circa 1773 – Charlottesville, Virginia, 1835) was an American slave owned by Thomas Jefferson. She is said to have been the half-sister of Jefferson's wife Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson. Journalists and others alleged during the administration of President Jefferson that he had fathered several children with Hemings after his wife's death. Late 20th century DNA tests indicated that a male in Jefferson's line, likely Thomas Jefferson himself, was the father of at least one of Sally Hemings's children. Hemings's mother, Elizabeth Hemings, was the daughter of the English captain Hemings and an enslaved African woman. Along with other members of her family, she was owned by Jefferson's father-in-law, John Wayles, who died in 1773. He left nearly all members of the Hemings family to his daughter Martha Jefferson.

Several sources assert that Sally Hemings was a half-sister to Martha, both fathered by John Wayles, which is generally accepted, but not undisputed. Wayles had lost three wives by the time of his relationship with Betty Hemings, and he was said to have had several children with her, of whom the youngest was Sally. The Hemings family were light-skinned and multiracial, at the top of the slave "hierarchy" at Monticello in terms of their domestic work assignments.

If Sally Hemings was the daughter of John Wayles, then she was 3/4 white (quadroon), since she also had a white maternal grandparent. In 18th-century Virginia, such children's legal status followed the position of their mothers, no matter what their racial mixture and no matter how "white" they appeared or were by descent. Therefore Sally was a slave as her mother was. As Annette Gordon-Reed, in her 2008 book The Hemingses of Monticello, points out, the 18th-century and pre-Civil War attitude towards miscegenation was rather more relaxed than in the late 19th and 20th century, when the one-drop rule became the norm. Nonetheless, in the 18th century, largely white slaves were still regarded as slaves and the property of their owners, who were sometimes their fathers.

Sally Hemings, whose given name was probably Sarah, was the daughter of Elizabeth (Betty) Hemings and, allegedly, John Wayles, Thomas Jefferson's father-in-law. She became Thomas Jefferson's property as part of his inheritance from the Wayles estate in 1774 and came with her mother to Monticello by 1776. As a child she was probably a "nurse" to Jefferson's daughter Mary (slave girls from the age of six or eight were childminders and assistants to head nurses on southern plantations.)

Sally Hemings and Mary Jefferson were living at Eppington -- residence of Mary's aunt and uncle -- in 1787, when Jefferson's long-expressed desire to have his daughter join him in France was carried out. Fourteen-year-old Sally and eight-year-old Mary crossed the Atlantic Ocean to London that summer. They were received by John and Abigail Adams, who wrote that Sally "seems fond of the child and appears good naturd."[1] Jefferson's French butler, Adrien Petit, escorted the two girls from London to Paris.

It is not known whether Sally Hemings lived at Jefferson's residence, the Hotel de Langeac, or at the Abbaye de Panthemont, where Martha (Patsy) and Mary (Maria) Jefferson were boarding students. Jefferson, who had expressly asked that someone who had had smallpox or been inoculated against it accompany his daughter to France, soon had Sally inoculated by the famous Dr. Robert Sutton. While in Paris, she undoubtedly received training -- especially in needlework and the care of clothing -- to suit her for her position as lady's maid to Jefferson's daughters. She was occasionally paid a monthly wage of twelve livres (the equivalent of two dollars).

Sally Hemings was certainly acting as Martha Jefferson's attendant in the spring of 1789, when Patsy began to "go out" in French society (increased expenditures for clothing for both Patsy and Sally reflect this). When booking accommodations on the Clermont for the return to America, Jefferson asked that Sally's berth be "convenient to that of my daughters."[2]

After the family's return to Virginia in 1789, Sally Hemings seems to have remained at Monticello, where she performed the duties of a household servant and lady's maid (Jefferson still referred to her as "Maria's maid" in 1799)[3]. Sally's son Madison recalled that one of her duties was "to take care of [Jefferson's] chamber and wardrobe, look after us children, and do light work such as sewing, &c."[4]

There are only two known descriptions of Sally Hemings. The slave Isaac Jefferson remembered that she was "mighty near white. . . very handsome, long straight hair down her back." Jefferson biographer Henry S. Randall recalled Jefferson's grandson Thomas Jefferson Randolph describing her as "light colored and decidedly good looking."[5]

Sally may have lived in the stone workmen's house (now called the "Weaver's Cottage") from 1790 to 1792, when she -- like her sister Critta -- might have removed to one of the new 12'x14' log cabins farther down Mulberry Row. After the completion of the south dependencies, she apparently lived in one of the "servant's rooms" under the south terrace (Thomas J. Randolph pointed it out to Randall many years later).[6]

Sally Hemings was never officially freed by Thomas Jefferson. It seems most likely that Jefferson's daughter Martha Randolph gave Sally "her time," a form of unofficial freedom that would enable her to remain in Virginia (the laws at that time required freed slaves to leave the state within a year). Madison Hemings reported that his mother lived in Charlottesville with him and his brother Eston until her death in 1835.[7]

According to Jefferson's records, Sally Hemings had four surviving children. Beverly (b. 1798), a carpenter and fiddler, was allowed to leave the plantation in late 1821 or early 1822 and, according to his brother, passed into white society in Washington, D.C. Harriet (b. 1801), a spinner in Jefferson's textile shop, also left Monticello in 1821 or 1822, probably with her brother, and passed for white. Madison Hemings (1805-1878), a carpenter and joiner, was given his freedom in Jefferson's will; he resettled in southern Ohio in 1836, where he worked at his trade and had a farm. Eston Hemings (1808-c1853), also a carpenter, moved to Chillicothe, Ohio, in the 1830s; there he was a well-known professional musician before moving about 1852 to Wisconsin, where he changed his name (to Eston Jefferson) along with his racial identity. Both Madison and Eston Hemings made known their belief that they were sons of Thomas Jefferson.[8]

The descendants of Thomas C. Woodson (1790-1879) carry the strong family tradition that he was the firstborn child of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson. Woodson, who does not appear in Jefferson's records, left Greenbrier County, Virginia, for southern Ohio in the early 1820s. He was a successful farmer in Jackson Country.

--Lucia C. Stanton, Monticello Research Department, November 1989, revised October 1994. A brief report of the Hemings-Jefferson Controversy, containing a bibliography of primary and secondary sources, is also posted on this site.


  • 1. Abigail Adams to TJ, 27 June and 6 July 1787, B.11.502,551.
  • 2. TJ to James Maurice, 16 September 1789, B.15.433.
  • 3. TJ to John W. Eppes, 21 December 1799, ViU.
  • 4. Reminiscences of Madison Hemings, Pike County Republican, 13 March 1873. Note: several letters of Jefferson's granddaughter Ellen Randolph make reference to sewing tasks for "Sally," including adding puffed sleeves, flounces, and other trim to her dresses; it is not certain, however, that she refers to Sally Hemings, as Ellen's own maid was named Sally.
  • 5. Bear, Jefferson at Monticello, p.4; Randall to James Parton, 1 June 1868, in Flower, Parton, pp. 236-9.
  • 6. Flower, Parton, pp. 236-9.
  • 7. One of Martha Randolph's wills, dated 18 April 1834, asked that "Sally" be given her "time" (ViU). A register of free blacks for 1833 lists Sally Hemings, as free since 1826, with her son Madison (Library of Virginia).
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Elizabeth Hemings had twelve known children. According to Madison Hemings, six of them were fathered by Wayles (Robert, James, Thenia, Critta, Peter, and Sally).


Sarah "Sally" Hemings was a mixed race slave owned by the third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson. She was said to be the half-sister of Jefferson's wife, Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson. There is no record of any marriage between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. Thomas Jefferson's account book shows that on April 6, 1789 he spent 96 francs on "clothes for Sally". Then, on April 16, 1789, he spent 72 francs on more clothes for Sally. Then, on April 26, 1789 he spent 23 francs on "making clothes for servants". Finally, on May 25, 1789, he "paid making clothes for Sally 25 francs." This is the only time before or after that the records of Thomas Jefferson show him buying anything at all for Sally or for any of his other slaves. Thus, it appears more than likely that it was in April, 1789 that he started having relations with her. Also, the entire volume of his letters is missing for the year 1789. It appears likely that the letters for that year were destroyed because they contained references to the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. Recent research set forth in the latest edition of "The Slave Children of Thomas Jefferson" shows that Sally spent the last years of her life in the place of her birth, Shadwell, Virginia, and died there.

They “reputedly” had the following children:

F i Harriett HEMINGS 1 was born on 5 Oct 1795 in Monticello, Virginia. She died on 7 Dec 1797 in Monticello, Virginia.

M ii Beverley HEMINGS 1 was born on 1 Apr 1798 in Monticello, Albermarle, Virginia. Ancestor of Dr. Edward Graham Jefferson, retired Chairman of DuPont Chemical Corp.

F iii Harriet II HEMINGS 1, 2 was born on 22 May 1801 in Monticello, Albermarle, Virginia. Ran away in 1822. However, she obviously did not run away because in the memoirs of Edmund Bacon, a white overseer for Thomas Jefferson, he says that he gave her $50 stage fare to take a stage to Washington, as she had turned 21 years old. Her subsequent whereabouts are a mystery. Some say she married a white man as she was 7/8ths white and lived the rest of her life in Charlottesville.

M iv Madison HEMINGS was born on 19 Jan 1805. He died in 1877.

M v Eston Hemings JEFFERSON was born on 21 May 1808. He died in 1856.

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Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings:

The claim that Thomas Jefferson fathered children with Sally Hemings, a slave at Monticello, entered the public arena during Jefferson's first term as president, and it has remained a subject of discussion and disagreement for nearly two centuries.

In September 1802, political journalist James T. Callender, a disappointed office-seeker who had once been an ally of Jefferson, wrote in a Richmond newspaper that Jefferson had for many years "kept, as his concubine, one of his own slaves." "Her name is Sally," Callender continued, adding that Jefferson had "several children" by her.

Although there had been rumors of a sexual relationship between Jefferson and a slave before 1802, Callender's article spread the story widely. It was taken up by Jefferson's Federalist opponents and was published in many newspapers during the remainder of Jefferson's presidency.

Jefferson's policy was to offer no public response to personal attacks, and he apparently made no explicit public or private comment on this question (although a private letter of 1805 has been interpreted by some individuals as a denial of the story). Sally Hemings left no known accounts. Jefferson's daughter Martha Jefferson Randolph privately denied the published reports. Two of her children, Ellen Randolph Coolidge and Thomas Jefferson Randolph, maintained many years later that such a liaison was not possible, on both moral and practical grounds. They also stated that Jefferson's nephews Peter and Samuel Carr were the fathers of the light-skinned Monticello slaves some thought to be Jefferson's children because of their resemblance to him.

The Jefferson-Hemings story was sustained through the 19th century by Northern abolitionists, British critics of American democracy, and others. Its vitality among the American population at large was recorded by European travelers of the time. Through the 20th century, some historians accepted the possibility of a Jefferson-Hemings connection and a few gave it credence, but most Jefferson scholars found the case for such a relationship unpersuasive.

Over the years, however, belief in a Thomas Jefferson-Sally Hemings relationship was perpetuated in private. Two of her children - Madison and Eston - indicated that Jefferson was their father, and this belief has been relayed through generations of their descendants as an important family truth. That a Jefferson-Hemings relationship could be neither refuted nor substantiated was challenged in 1998 by the results of DNA tests conducted by Dr. Eugene Foster and a team of geneticists. The study - which tested Y-chromosomal DNA samples from male-line descendants of Field Jefferson (Thomas Jefferson's uncle), John Carr (grandfather of Jefferson's Carr nephews), Eston Hemings, and Thomas C. Woodson - indicated a genetic link between the Jefferson and Hemings descendants. The results of the study established that an individual carrying the male Jefferson Y chromosome fathered Eston Hemings (born 1808), the last known child born to Sally Hemings. There were approximately 25 adult male Jeffersons who carried this chromosome living in Virginia at that time, and a few of them are known to have visited Monticello. The study's authors, however, said "the simplest and most probable" conclusion was that Thomas Jefferson had fathered Eston Hemings. The DNA study found no link between the descendants of Field Jefferson and Thomas C. Woodson (1790-1879), whose family members have long held that he was the first son of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. Madison Hemings, Sally's second-youngest son, said in 1873 that his mother had been pregnant with Jefferson's child (who, he said, lived "but a short time") when she returned from France in 1789. But there is no indication in Jefferson's records of a child born to Hemings before 1795, and there are no known documents to support that Thomas Woodson was Hemings' first child.

The DNA testing also found no genetic link between the Hemings and Carr descendants.

Shortly after the DNA test results were released in November 1998, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation formed a research committee consisting of nine members of the foundation staff, including four with Ph.D.s. In January 2000, the committee reported its finding that the weight of all known evidence - from the DNA study, original documents, written and oral historical accounts, and statistical data - indicated a high probability that Thomas Jefferson was the father of Eston Hemings, and that he was perhaps the father of all six of Sally Hemings' children listed in Monticello records - Harriet (born 1795; died in infancy); Beverly (born 1798); an unnamed daughter (born 1799; died in infancy); Harriet (born 1801); Madison (born 1805); and Eston (born 1808).

Since then, a committee commissioned by the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society, after reviewing essentially the same material, reached different conclusions, namely that Sally Hemings was only a minor figure in Thomas Jefferson's life and that it is very unlikely he fathered any of her children. This committee also suggested in its report, issued in April 2001, that Jefferson's younger brother Randolph (1755-1815) was more likely the father of at least some of Sally Hemings' children.

While Thomas Jefferson's paternity of one or more of Sally Hemings' children cannot be established with absolute certainty, and there are noticeable gaps in the historical record, many elements are widely accepted. Among these are:

  • Sally Hemings (1773-1835) was a slave at Monticello; she lived in Paris with Jefferson and two of his daughters from 1787 to 1789; and she had at least six children.
  • Sally Hemings' duties included being a nursemaid-companion to Thomas Jefferson's daughter Maria (c. 1784-1787), lady's maid to daughters Martha and Maria (1787-1797), and chambermaid and seamstress (1790s-1827).
  • There are no known images of Sally Hemings and only four known descriptions of her appearance or demeanor.
  • Sally Hemings left no known written accounts. It is not known if she was literate.
  • In the few scattered references to Sally Hemings in Thomas Jefferson's records and correspondence, there is nothing to distinguish her from other members of her family.
  • Thomas Jefferson was at Monticello at the likely conception times of Sally Hemings' six known children. There are no records suggesting that she was elsewhere at these times, or records of any births at times that would exclude Jefferson paternity.
  • There are no indications in contemporary accounts by people familiar with Monticello that Sally Hemings' children had different fathers.
  • Sally Hemings' children were light-skinned, and three of them (daughter Harriet and sons Beverly and Eston) lived as members of white society as adults.
  • According to contemporary accounts, some of Sally Hemings' children strongly resembled Thomas Jefferson.
  • Thomas Jefferson freed all of Sally Hemings' children: Beverly and Harriet were allowed to leave Monticello in 1822; Madison and Eston were released in Jefferson's 1826 will. Jefferson gave freedom to no other nuclear slave family.
  • Thomas Jefferson did not free Sally Hemings. She was permitted to leave Monticello by his daughter Martha Jefferson Randolph not long after Jefferson's death in 1826, and went to live with her sons Madison and Eston in Charlottesville.
  • Several people close to Thomas Jefferson or the Monticello community believed that he was the father of Sally Hemings' children.
  • Eston Hemings changed his name to Eston Hemings Jefferson in 1852.
  • Madison Hemings stated in 1873 that he and his siblings Beverly, Harriet, and Eston were Thomas Jefferson's children.
  • The descendants of Madison Hemings who have lived as African-Americans have passed a family history of descent from Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings down through the generations.
  • Eston Hemings' descendants, who have lived as whites, have passed down a family history of being related to Thomas Jefferson. In the 1940s, family members changed this history to state that an uncle of Jefferson's, rather than Jefferson himself, was their ancestor.

Among the unresolved matters is the genealogy of Sally Hemings. According to Madison Hemings, Sally's mother, Elizabeth Hemings (1735-1807), was the daughter of an African woman and an English sea captain. By Madison's and other accounts, Sally Hemings and some of her siblings were the children of John Wayles, Thomas Jefferson's father-in-law. If so, Sally Hemings would have been the half-sister of Jefferson's wife, Martha Wayles Jefferson (1748-1782). Elizabeth Hemings and her children lived at John Wayles' plantation during his lifetime, but there are no documentary records relating to Wayles' possible paternity of any Hemings children.

Also unknown are the precise nature of the relationship that existed between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings; whether a child was born at Monticello shortly after they returned from France in 1789; and whether there is anything to connect Jefferson, Hemings, and Thomas C. Woodson. Although the relationship between Jefferson and Sally Hemings has been for many years, and will surely continue to be, a subject of intense interest to historians and the public, the evidence is not definitive, and the complete story may never be known. The Foundation encourages its visitors and patrons, based on what evidence does exist, to make up their own minds as to the true nature of the relationship.

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A very pleasant Painting, "not of Sally" is used to fill the square.

A very pleasant Painting, "not of Sally" is used to fill the square....

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Sarah "Sally" Hemings's Timeline

Cumberland, Virginia
December 1789
Age 16
Virginia, United States
October 5, 1795
Age 22
Age 23
April 1, 1798
Age 25
December 7, 1799
Age 26
Albemarle County, Virginia, United States
May 1801
Age 28
Albemarle, Virginia, United States