DNA evidence has proven that Jefferson (in a portrait above) fathered at least one child of his slaves Sally Hemings
Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743, on the Shadwell Plantation outside Charlottesville, Virginia.
He was the third of 10 children of one of the most prominent families of Virginia’s planter elite.
Throughout his life, Jefferson was an American statesman, diplomat, lawyer, architect, and philosopher, and Founding Father who served as the third president between 1801 and 1809.
During his presidency, he stabilized the country’s economy and defeated pirates from North Africa during the Barbary War.
He is also credited with doubling the size of the US by successfully brokering the Louisiana purchase.
Jefferson was the main author of the Declaration of Independence, which motivated American settlers to break out of Britain and form a new nation.
Congress formally adopted the Declaration on July 4, 1776, now celebrated as Independence Day.
The statement famously reads: “We take these truths for granted, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
But despite this, Jefferson is known to have kept more than 600 slaves throughout his life.
He’d said slavery was a “moral depravity” and a “abominable stain,” but Jefferson took immediate advantage of it.
Jefferson even wrote in his text Notes on the State of Virginia that he suspected black people were inferior to whites.
He thought that white Americans and enslaved blacks were two “separate nations” that could not live together peacefully in the same country.
Through his 1772 marriage to Martha Wayles, Jefferson inherited two plantations, and by 1776 he was one of the largest planters in Virginia.
Though Jefferson believed that slavery was harmful to both slave and master, he expressed reservations about releasing them into freedom with no education or means to support themselves.
Instead, he advocated gradual voluntary training and drafted legislation that allowed owners to free slaves.
In 1806, he officially called for anti-slavery legislation banning the import or export of slaves, a law passed in 1807.
One of Jefferson’s slaves was mixed-race Sally Hemings, a half-sister of his wife Martha, who lived on his primary plantation in Monticello.
There are no known portraits of Sally Hemings, but the above is based on descriptions of her appearance
Jefferson and Sally shared a relationship and DNA evidence proved he fathered at least one of her children, Eston Hemings, although rumors suggest he fathered a total of six children.
The couple’s sexual relationship is said to have started when Hemings was an underage teenager and Jefferson in his 40s.
She wouldn’t have been in a position to give or withhold consent since Jefferson owned her, and many historians describe his treatment of Sally as rape.
Very little is known about Sally, but one of the few stories of her being enslaved by an enslaved blacksmith named Isaac Granger Jefferson described her as “mighty almost white…very handsome, long straight hair down her back.”
As a child, she was likely a nanny to Jefferson’s daughter Maria, as enslaved girls from the age of six or eight were nannies and assistants to chief nurses on Southern plantations.
Congress formally adopted the declaration on July 4, 1776, now celebrated as Independence Day
Sally served as a servant to Maria Jefferson, as well as Martha Jefferson, accompanying them on several trips to Paris.
After her return to Virginia in 1789, Sally Hemings remained in Monticello and worked as a housekeeper.
Sally’s son Madison recalled that one of her duties was to ‘take care of’ [Jefferson’s] room and wardrobe, taking care of us children and doing light work, such as sewing.’
Sally was enslaved in Jefferson’s home along with her surviving children, who Jefferson released when they both came of age.
However, Sally was forced to remain a slave in the house until Jefferson’s death on July 4, 1826 – the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.