Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History

By Fawn M. Brodie | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVII

Sally Hemings

The earth belongs to the living, and not to the dead.

Jefferson to Madison, September 6, 1780 1

Sally Hemings' third son, Madison, born at Monticello in 1805, wrote explicitly of the beginnings of his mother's relationship with Jefferson:

Their stay (my mother and Maria's) was about eighteen months. But during that time my mother became Mr Jefferson's concubine, and when he was called home she was enciente by him. He desired to bring my mother back to Virginia with him but she demurred. She was just beginning to understand the French language well, and in France she was free, while if she returned to Virginia she would be re-enslaved. So she refused to return with him. To induce her to do so he promised her extraordinary privileges, and made a solemn pledge that her children should be freed at the age of twenty-one years. In consequence of his promises, on which she implicitly relied, she returned with him to Virginia. Soon after their arrival, she gave birth to a child, of whom Thomas Jefferson was the father. 2

Actually Sally Hemings was in Paris not eighteen but almost twenty‐ six months. Born in 1773, she was between fourteen and fifteen when she arrived, and between sixteen and seventeen when she went back to Virginia. She was certainly lonely in Paris, as well as supremely ready for the first great love of her life, and she was living daily in the presence of a man who was by nature tender and gallant with all women. For any slave child at Monticello Jefferson was a kind of deity. Since her own father John Wayles had died in the year of her

-228-

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