Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History

By Fawn M. Brodie | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXVI

Jefferson under Attack

When the accident of situation is to give us a place in history, for which nature has not prepared us by corersponding endowments, it is the duty of those about us carefully to veil from the public eye the weaknesses, and still more, the vices of our character.

Jefferson on George III, January 1776 1

When Callender's first article exploded in Richmond in September 1802, Jefferson was vacationing at Monticello with his daughters. No editor had the temerity to send a reporter there, but many freely indulged in editorial fantasy about the interplay of affection and jealousy among the women who loved Jefferson. Boston and Philadelphia papers depicted his daughters as "weeping to see a negress installed in the place of their mother." 2 The Virginia Gazette reproached Jefferson for treating Sally Hemings "in the same manner as he formerly treated their mother." 3 Callender freely painted Sally as a common slut "from which the debauchee, that prowls for prey in the purlieus of St. Giles, would have shrunk with horror." 4

None seemed to understand that some kind of accommodation had been made long ago. Sally Hemings had been at Monticello since childhood; Martha and Sally, virtually the same age, had grown up together. Maria had been at Monticello when Sally bore three of her five children, and both Maria and Martha may have genuinely grieved for her when her two infant daughters died. Whatever the accommodation, long-standing but probably always fragile, it had now, however, been shattered by the publicity. For only secrecy and denial could have made bearable whatever Jefferson's daughters had long known, or assumed, or feared, or buried, about the relationship between "Dashing Sally" and their father.

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