Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History

By Fawn M. Brodie | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVI

The Second Interlude

I love those most whom I loved first.

Jefferson to his sister, Mary Jefferson Bolling, July 23, 1787 1

When Abigail Adams on June 26, 1787, met the sea captain who had brought Jefferson's eight-year-old Polly across the Atlantic, she discovered with consternation that the slave accompanying the child was not a middle-aged woman, as she had expected, but an adolescent girl of considerable beauty. Sally Hemings, known at Monticello as "Dashing Sally," was described by one slave who knew her as "mighty near white," "very handsome," with "long straight hair down her back." 2 Jefferson's eldest grandson, who could have known her only as a middle-aged and old woman, told Henry Randall she was "light colored and decidedly good looking." 3 Jefferson had asked Francis Eppes to send Polly in care of a responsible friend, with "a careful negro woman, Isabel, for instance, if she has had the small pox." She need not, he said, "come farther than Havre, l'Orient, Nantes, or whatever port she should land at, because I could go there for the child myself, and the person could return to Virginia directly." 4

Francis and Elizabeth Eppes, who had fought with pleas and procrastination against Polly's going, who had even encouraged their fourteen-year-old son Jack (whom Polly later married) to write telling Jefferson that she would not come without being forced, 5 had capitulated in the spring of 1787, arranging to put her on a British vessel sailing from Norfolk to London in the care of the captain, John Ramsay. But since the slave woman Jefferson had specified was about to "lie in," Polly's kin, instead of finding a substitute of similar age

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