Thomas Hennings was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on 25th June, 1903. After graduating from Cornell University (1924) and Washington University (1926) he worked as a lawyer in St. Louis.
Henning's served as assistant circuit attorney (1929-34) and lecturer on criminal jurisprudence at the Benton College of Law (1934-1938).
A member of the Democratic Party Hennings was elected to Congress in 1935. However, he resigned to become circuit attorney for St. Louis in 1941. During the Second World War Hennings served as a lieutenant commander of the United States Naval Reserve (1941-1943).
Henning's was elected to the Senate in 1950. He became chairman of the Committee on Rules and Administration. Thomas Hennings remained in the Senate until his death on 13th September, 1960.
Historians Uncover Slave Quarters of Sally Hemings at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Archaeologists have excavated an area of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello mansion that has astounded even the most experienced social scientists: The living quarters of Sally Hemings, the enslaved woman who, historians believe, gave birth to six of Jefferson’s children.
“This discovery gives us a sense of how enslaved people were living. Some of Sally’s children may have been born in this room,” said Gardiner Hallock, director of restoration for Jefferson’s mountaintop plantation, standing on a red-dirt floor inside a dusty rubble-stone room built in 1809. “It’s important because it shows Sally as a human being — a mother, daughter, and sister — and brings out the relationships in her life.”
Hemings’ living quarters was adjacent to Jefferson’s bedroom but she remains something of an enigma: there are only four known descriptions of her. Enslaved blacksmith Isaac Granger Jefferson recalled that Hemings was “mighty near white . . . very handsome, long straight hair down her back."
Her room — 14 feet, 8 inches wide and 13 feet long — went unnoticed for decades. The space was converted into a men’s bathroom in 1941, considered by some as the final insult to Hemings’ legacy.
“For the first time at Monticello we have a physical space dedicated to Sally Hemings and her life,” Mia Magruder Dammann, a spokeswoman for Monticello, told NBCBLK. “It’s significant because it connects the entire African American arch at Monticello.”
By the late 1960s, Magruder said, the earlier bathrooms had become too small to accommodate Monticello’s growing number of visitors so local restoration architect Floyd Johnson renovated and enlarged the bathrooms in 1967.
But recently, historians studied a description provided long ago by a grandson of Jefferson who placed Hemings’ room in the home’s South Wing.
So archaeologists started digging.
Fraser Neiman, director of archeology at Monticello, said Hemings’ quarters revealed the original brick hearth and fireplace, the brick structure for a stove and the original floors from the early 1800s.
“This room is a real connection to the past,” Neiman said. “We are uncovering and discovering and we’re finding many, many artifacts.”
The Mountaintop Project is a multi-year, $35-million effort to restore Monticello as Jefferson knew it, and to tell the stories of the people — enslaved and free — who lived and worked on the 5,000-acre Virginia plantation.
In an effort to bring transparency to the grounds' difficult past, there are tours that focus solely on the experiences of the enslaved people who lived and labored there, as well as a Hemings Family tour.
Monticello unveiled the restoration of Mulberry Row in 2015, which includes the re-creation of two slave-related buildings, the “storehouse for iron” and the Hemings cabin. In May 2015, more than 100 descendants of enslaved families participated in a tree-planting ceremony to commemorate the new buildings.
And today, Hemings’ room is being restored for eventual public viewing. Monticello’s curators are working diligently to incorporate Hemings’ life as part of Jefferson’s comprehensive story, which counters old newspaper accounts citing Hemings as Jefferson’s “concubine."
Gayle Jessup White, Monticello’s Community Engagement Officer, is a descendant of the Hemings and Jefferson families and an integral part of Monticello’s African American legacy: Sally Hemings was White’s great-great-great-great aunt.
White first learned of her Jefferson family lineage as a young girl and years later, she still ponders the emotional complexities associated with Jefferson, the third president of the United States, the author of the Declaration of Independence — and an unapologetic proprietor who enslaved 600 people.
“As an African American descendant, I have mixed feelings — Thomas Jefferson was a slave holder,” White said.
“I am appreciative of the work that my colleagues are doing at Monticello because this is an American story, an important story,” she said. “But for too long our history has been ignored. Some people still don’t want to admit that the Civil War was fought over slavery. We need to face history head-on and face the blemish of slavery and that’s what we’re doing at Monticello.”
White took the job at Monticello in July, 2016 and says her role is to help build a bridge between Monticello and the local community.
“We have a great story on the mountaintop, an inclusive story,” White said. “We’re telling a complete story. We’re not just talking about Thomas Jefferson and his family, we’re talking about the enslaved people and their families, too.”
Last year, Monticello, along with the National Endowment for the Humanities and the University of Virginia, hosted a public race summit entitled, Memory, Mourning, Mobilization: Legacies of Slavery and Freedom in America. It featured leading academics like Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Annette Gordon-Reed, artists like Nikki Giovanni, activists like Bree Newsome, descendants of Monticello’s enslaved families and community members.
White said the local African American community has not always embraced Monticello because Jefferson was a slave owner.
“I find that some people are receptive to the message and some are resistant,” White said. “But our message is that we want the underserved communities and communities of color to become partners with us. Anecdotally, we have seen an uptick in African Americans visiting Monticello so I know we’re making progress.”
On a sunny weekday this spring, Monticello tour guide Tom Nash spoke to a group of white tourists and shared stories about slavery on the sprawling Jefferson plantation.
“This is a spectacular view from this mountaintop,” Nash said. “But not for the enslaved people who worked these fields. This was a tough job and some of them — even young boys 10 to 16 years old —felt the whip.”
Questions for Nash from tourists were wide-ranging:
Why did some slaves want to pass for white when they were freed?
Why did Jefferson own slaves and write that all men are created equal?
How many slaves did Jefferson set free?
“Working in the fields was not a happy time,” Nash said. “There were long days on the plantation. Enslaved people worked from sunup to sundown six days a week. There was no such thing as a good slave owner.”
Meanwhile, Hallock said the physical evidence shows that Sally Hemings probably lived a higher-level lifestyle than other enslaved people on Jefferson’s plantation. Still, her room had no windows and would have been dark, damp and uncomfortable.
“I think about the daily life of people in these quarters,” Hallock said. “Even though their lives were beyond their control, they were still a family and they shared this space. They would heat up a late meal and huddle by the fire to keep warm when the day was done.”
Sally Hemings (1773-1835)
Sally Hemings was born into slavery in Virginia, probably at Guinea Plantation in Cumberland County, the youngest of six children of Elizabeth Hemings allegedly fathered by her white master John Wayles. Her mother was herself the child of an enslaved African woman and an English sea-captain, making Sally three-fourths white in ancestry.
On Wayles’ death in 1773, the Hemings family was inherited by Martha, his eldest legitimate child, and brought to the Monticello plantation of Thomas Jefferson whom Martha had married the previous year. There the children grew up as house slaves staffing Monticello during the years that encompassed Martha Jefferson’s death in September 1782 and Jefferson’s departure to Paris, France on diplomatic service in 1784. Three years later, Sally Hemings traveled to France as companion and maid to Jefferson’s eight-year-old daughter Maria, staying until 1789.
As France was overtaken by revolution and the status of slavery abolished, Sally and her older brother James, in Paris as Jefferson’s personal servant, were paid a monthly wage. There too, Sally’s son Madison later recalled, his mother began a relationship with Jefferson that would produce six children between 1795 and 1808, including three while Jefferson was president. This relationship, a political scandal at the time but one long denied by Jefferson’s admirers, now seems not only circumstantially possible in terms of Jefferson’s recorded stays at Monticello but highly probable, and with recent DNA evidence showing that Eston, the youngest of Sally’s children, was fathered by a Jefferson, most likely Thomas.
After returning from France, Sally Hemings lived on at Monticello with her family, in the slave quarters and then in one of the “servant’s rooms” under Monticello’s south terrace. Her fellow slave Isaac Jefferson remembered her as “mighty near white…very handsome, long straight hair down her back,” while Thomas Jefferson’s grandson recalled her as “light colored and decidedly good looking.” In the 1820s, two of her children were allowed to leave Monticello for freedom elsewhere and two more were freed by the terms of Jefferson’s will, two of only five slaves he ever formally emancipated and a further indication of his special regard for the Hemings family.
After Jefferson’s death in 1825, his daughter Martha gave Sally Hemings her “time” (she was listed as “free” in 1826) and she moved with sons Eston and Madison to a house in Charlottesville where she died in 1835. Of her surviving children, all of whom moved north out of Virginia, two would pass for “white” and two for “black,” indicative of the complex life strategies imposed by a world of racial groupings at once legally segregated yet socially and emotionally intermingled. Sally Hemings’ own life embodies both the narrow options and hard choices open to a woman defined as born black and enslaved in early America.
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Sally Hemings, (born 1773, Charles City county, Virginia [U.S.]—died 1835, Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S.), American slave who was owned by U.S. Pres. Thomas Jefferson and is widely believed to have had a relationship with him that resulted in several children.
Hemings, known as Sally but who was likely named Sarah, was born into slavery to a white father, John Wayles, and his mulatto slave, Elizabeth Hemings. According to oral history passed down through the Hemings family, Elizabeth was the daughter of a white sea captain named Hemings and an African slave owned by Wayles. Sally was thus three-fourths white. When Wayles died in 1773, Elizabeth and her children were inherited by Martha Jefferson, who was Wayles’s daughter by Martha Eppes Wayles and the wife of Thomas Jefferson. The Hemings family was sent to Monticello, Jefferson’s farm and estate in Virginia, where they were given positions as house slaves.
Two years after Martha’s death in 1782, Jefferson went to France to serve as a diplomat. In 1787 he sent for his youngest daughter, Maria, who was escorted by Hemings, then 14 years old. It was during that time that an intimate relationship between Hemings and Jefferson is thought to have begun. In 1789 Jefferson and Hemings returned to the United States. She resumed her work at Monticello, and Jefferson’s records noted that, over the next two decades, she gave birth to six children. Harriet was born in 1795 but lived only two years. Hemings gave birth to a son, Beverly, in 1798 and another daughter named Harriet, in 1801. An unnamed daughter was born in 1799 but died in infancy. Hemings later had two sons, Madison and Eston, who were born in 1805 and 1808, respectively. Some have claimed that Hemings’s first child was Thomas C. Woodson, born in 1790. However, there is no evidence that Hemings had a child that year—notably, Jefferson never noted the birth—and later DNA tests revealed that he was not the father.
In Jefferson’s records from 1822, Harriet and Beverly were listed as runaways, but they actually were allowed to leave freely. Their light-coloured skin helped them blend into the white world of Washington, D.C. Madison and Eston were freed in 1826 at the time of Jefferson’s death. Hemings was not mentioned in Jefferson’s will. In 1827 she was listed as a slave on the official slave inventory of the Jefferson estate and valued at $50. It later appears that she received unofficial freedom from Jefferson’s daughter Martha, and Hemings lived the rest of her life with her sons Madison and Eston in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The first public mention of Hemings came in 1802, when The Recorder newspaper published an article by James Callender, an adversary of Jefferson, who claimed a relationship between her and Jefferson. Jefferson never responded to the allegations, which became the source of much debate and speculation. Although some of his white descendants later denied the claims—Peter Carr, a nephew of Jefferson, was often cited as the father of Hemings’s children—Hemings’s descendants argued, on the basis of oral history and an 1873 memoir by Madison Hemings, that Jefferson was the father. With conflicting and inconclusive evidence, the majority of scholars found the allegations unlikely. In 1998, however, DNA samples were gathered from living descendants of Jefferson and Hemings, and the subsequent tests revealed that Jefferson was almost certainly the father of some of Hemings’s children Carr was ruled out. Although the scholarly consensus became that Jefferson and Hemings were sexual partners, some, citing the lack of scientific certainty, continued to contest Jefferson’s paternity. (See “Tom and Sally”: the Jefferson-Hemings paternity debate.)
This article was most recently revised and updated by Amy Tikkanen, Corrections Manager.
To Thomas C. Hennings
we note the third hearing has been scheduled for friday july 18 on the long pending nomination of assistant attorney general w wilson white as head of the new civil rights division of the justice department stop 2 we urge immediate action on mr whites appointment which has been hanging fire in the committee since january 13th stop it is tragically ironic that the senate should find itself in the embarrassing position of being unable to implement so important an arm of our democracy at the very moment when the world seems on brink of war number three to protect the basic freedom which a civil rights division promises to ensure to millions of loyal negro americans stop the long and continued denial of civil justice to southern negroes especially cries out for action. as does the blood of negro servicemen who have died helping their country defend the freedoms which today their children are denied stop may these cries not be in vain=
rev martin l king jr president southern
christian leadership conference 208 auburn ave ne atlanta ga=
1. Chairman of the Civil Rights Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee, Thomas Carey Hennings, Jr. (1903-1960) was born in St. Louis. He received a B.A. (1924) from Cornell University and an LL.B. (1926) from Washington University. A Democrat, Hennings served as U.S. Senator from Missouri from 1951 to 1960 and worked to expedite the 1957 Civil Rights Bill through the Judiciary Committee.
2. William Wilson White (1906-1964) grew up in Philadelphia and received his B.A. (1930) from Harvard University and an LL.B. (1933) from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. As assistant attorney general, White wrote Eisenhower’s legal defense and executive order for using the military to enforce school integration in Arkansas. In December 1957 Eisenhower appointed White to serve as the first head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, but his confirmation was held up by southern Democrats on the Judiciary Committee for seven months before they voied to send it to the Senate for final approval. White resigned the post in 1959 facing criticism from African Americans, who charged that he was slow to protect black civil rights.
TCHP-MoU, Thomas C. Hennings, Jr., Papers, 1934-1960, University of Missouri, Columbia
Did John Adams Out Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings?
The first eight months of 1802 were mercifully dull for President Jefferson. France and England signed a peace treaty, reopening European and Caribbean ports to American commerce. The Navy was making headway against Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean. West Point was established. A prime concern was paying off the national debt. The bitter election of 1800 was fading from memory.
From This Story
Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy
Then, in the September 1 issue of the Richmond Recorder, James Callender, a notorious journalist, reported that the president of the United States had a black slave mistress who had borne him a number of children. “IT is well known that the man, whom it delighteth the people to honor, keeps, and for many years past has kept, as his concubine, one of his own slaves,” the story began. “Her name is SALLY.”
Federalist newspapers from Maine to Georgia reprinted the story. Racist poems were published about the president and “Dusky Sally.” Jefferson’s defenders were more muted, waiting in vain for the denial that never came from the Executive Mansion. The scandal rocked the fledgling nation.
How “well known” was the relationship between Jefferson and Hemings? Callender wrote that it had “once or twice been hinted at” in newspapers, as indeed it was in 1800 and 1801. And in reaction to his muckraking, the Gazette of the United States said it had “heard the same subject freely spoken of in Virginia, and by Virginia Gentlemen.” But while scholars have combed the sources, they have identified no specific written reference to the Jefferson-Hemings liaison prior to the appearance of Callender’s scandalous report.
I believe I have found two such references. They precede the exposé by more than eight years, and they come from the pen of none other than Jefferson’s old friend and political rival John Adams. In letters to his sons Charles and John Quincy in January of 1794, Adams points to the relationship between the sage of Monticello and the beautiful young woman known around the plantation as “Dashing Sally.” The references have escaped notice until now because Adams used a classical allusion whose significance historians and biographers have failed to appreciate.
Adams’ letters offer tangible evidence that at least one of the country’s leading political families was aware of the Jefferson-Hemings relationship long before the scandal broke. The documents cast new light on the question of elite awareness of the relationship, on the nature of the press in the early republic, and on Adams himself.
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This article is a selection from the November issue of Smithsonian magazine
Jefferson resigned as George Washington’s secretary of state on the last day of 1793. It had not been a good year. His efforts to force his hated rival Alexander Hamilton out of the cabinet for financial misconduct failed miserably. Continuing to support the French Revolution despite the guillotining of the king and queen and the blossoming of the Terror, he alienated Adams and was disappointed by Washington’s proclamation of American neutrality in France’s latest war with England. At 50 years old, he was eager to return to his beloved Virginia estate to live as a gentleman farmer and philosopher.
Adams, the vice president, refused to believe that his estranged friend was really done with public life. In letters to his two eldest sons, he sourly assessed the man he was convinced would challenge him to succeed Washington as president. On January 2 he wrote to Charles:
Mr Jefferson is going to Montecello to Spend his Days in Retirement, in Rural Amusements and Philosophical Meditations—Untill the President dies or resigns, when I suppose he is to be invited from his Conversations with Egeria in the Groves, to take the Reins of the State, and conduct it forty Years in Piety and Peace.
On January 3 he wrote to John Quincy at greater length, enumerating seven possible motives for Jefferson’s resignation.
5. Ambition is the Subtlest Beast of the Intellectual and Moral Field. It is wonderfully adroit in concealing itself from its owner, I had almost said from itself. Jefferson thinks he shall by this step get a Reputation of an humble, modest, meek Man, wholly without ambition or Vanity. He may even have deceived himself into this Belief. But if a Prospect opens, The World will see and he will feel, that he is as ambitious as Oliver Cromwell though no soldier. 6. At other Moments he may meditate the gratification of his Ambition Numa was called from the Forrests to be King of Rome. And if Jefferson, after the Death or Resignation of the President should be summoned from the familiar Society of Egeria, to govern the Country forty Years in Peace and Piety, So be it.
In the vernacular of the time, “conversation” was a synonym for sexual intercourse and “familiar” was a synonym for “intimate.” The obvious candidate for the person whose conversation and familiar society Jefferson would supposedly be enjoying at his bucolic home is Sally Hemings.
But who was Egeria, and how confident can we be that Adams intended Hemings when he invoked her name?
Egeria is a figure of some importance in the mythical early history of ancient Rome. According to Livy and Plutarch, after the death of the warlike Romulus, the senators invited a pious and intellectual Sabine named Numa Pompilius to become their king. Accepting the job with some reluctance, Numa set about establishing laws and a state religion.
To persuade his unruly subjects that he had supernatural warrant for his innovations, Numa claimed that he was under the tutelage of Egeria, a divine nymph or goddess whom he would meet in a sacred grove. The stories say she was not just his instructor but also his spouse, his Sabine wife having died some years before. “Egeria is believed to have slept with Numa the just,” Ovid wrote in his Amores.
Age 40 when he became king, Numa reigned for 43 years—a golden age of peace for Rome during which, in Livy’s words, “the neighboring peoples also, who had hitherto considered that it was no city but a bivouac that had been set up in their midst, as a menace to the general peace, came to feel such reverence for them, that they thought it sacrilege to injure a nation so wholly bent upon the worship of the gods.”
Numa Pompilius converses with the nymph Egeria in a 1792 sculpture by the Danish artist Bertel Thorvaldsen. (Library of Congress)
Adams, who was well versed in Latin and Greek literature, had every reason to feel pleased with his comparison. Like Rome at the end of Romulus’ reign, the United States was a new nation getting ready for its second leader. Jefferson would be the American Numa, a philosophical successor to the military man who had won his country’s independence. Like Numa, Jefferson was a widower (his wife, Martha, died in 1782) who would prepare himself for the job by consorting with a nymph, his second wife, in a grove that was sacred to him.
I asked Annette Gordon-Reed, the Harvard scholar and author of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, what she made of the Adams references. “While the two letters to his sons do not definitively prove that Adams knew about the Jefferson-Hemings liaison in early 1794,” Gordon-Reed said in an email, “this elucidation of the allusion to Egeria makes that an intriguing possibility.”
One didn’t require a classical education to grasp the Egeria allusion in the early 1790s. In 1786, the French writer Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian had published Numa Pompilius, Second Roi de Rome, a romantic novel dedicated to Marie Antoinette—she liked it—and intended as a guide for an enlightened monarchy in France. (“People will believe I’ve written the story / Of you, of Louis, and of the French,” Florian’s dedicatory poem declares.) Soon translated into English, Spanish and German, the novel became a runaway best seller in the North Atlantic world.
It was while researching a novel of my own about the life and afterlife of Numa and Egeria that I happened upon the allusions in the two Adams letters. As a student of religion in public life, I have long been interested in Numa as an exemplary figure in the history of Western political thought from Cicero and St. Augustine to Machiavelli and Rousseau.
In fact, John Adams had made a point of invoking Numa and his divine consort in the three-volume Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, which he published while serving as minister to England in 1787. “It was the general opinion of ancient nations, that the divinity alone was adequate to the important office of giving laws to men,” he writes in the preface. “Among the Romans, Numa was indebted for those laws which procured the prosperity of his country to his conversations with Egeria.” Later in the work he explains, “Numa was chosen, a man of peace, piety, and humanity, who had address enough to make the nobles and people believe that he was married to the goddess Egeria, and received from his celestial consort all his laws and measures.”
In the Defence, Adams was at pains to inform the world that, unlike other nations past and present, the recently united American states “have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature.” In other words, no Egerias need apply: “It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had any interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the inspiration of heaven, any more than those at work upon ships or houses, or labouring in merchandize or agriculture: it will for ever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.”
In a 1794 letter, John Adams gossiped slyly to son Charles about Jefferson’s “Conversations with Egeria." (Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society) The second page of Adams' letter to Charles (Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society) The third page of Adams' letter to Charles (Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society) The letter written by John Adams to his son John Quincy Adams likely on January 3, 1794 (Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society) The second page of Adams' letter to his son John Quincy (Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society)
Jefferson was the American avatar of Enlightenment rationality, a staunch opponent of the government establishment of religion, and the Washington administration’s foremost advocate of war with the Barbary pirates. Adams’ portrayal of him consulting with a goddess in order to govern “in Piety and Peace” was sharply pointed on all counts. But did he intend the goddess in question to refer to Sally Hemings?
There’s good reason to think so. Seven years earlier, Jefferson had arranged for his 8-year-old daughter, Mary, to join him and his elder daughter, Martha, in Paris. Hemings, a slave who was also a half-sister of Jefferson’s late wife, accompanied Mary on the trans-Atlantic passage to England upon their arrival, the two girls went to stay with the Adamses in London. Hemings was then 14 years old but, tellingly, Abigail Adams thought she was 15 or 16.
Writing Jefferson that the two had arrived, Abigail Adams took them under her wing until an emissary showed up two weeks later to convey them to Paris, where Jefferson almost certainly began having sex with Hemings. So in 1787 John Adams had seen for himself that Jefferson had a nubile beauty in his possession. By the end of 1793, John Quincy and Charles presumably would have been aware of it, too. Otherwise, the sexual allusion to Egeria would have been lost on them.
Significantly, John Adams did not allude to the matter when he wrote to Abigail at around the same time. She and Jefferson had something of a mutual admiration society, after all. “My Love to Thomas,” she wrote her husband on the very day that Jefferson resigned as secretary of state (though she wasn’t yet aware of that). Despite the two men’s political rivalry, she maintained a high regard for Jefferson through the 1790s, describing him as a man of “probity” in a letter to her sister. So while John Adams, in Philadelphia, did not refrain from criticizing Jefferson in his January 6, 1794, letter to Abigail, in Massachusetts, he did so with care.
Jefferson went off Yesterday, and a good riddance of bad ware. I hope his Temper will be more cool and his Principles more reasonable in Retirement than they have been in office. I am almost tempted to wish he may be chosen Vice President at the next Election for there if he could do no good, he could do no harm. He has Talents I know, and Integrity I believe: but his mind is now poisoned with Passion Prejudice and Faction.
There was no mention of Numa and Egeria. As I see it, John knew that his wife would not be amused by the insinuation that Jefferson was retiring to an intimate relationship with the maidservant she had cared for in London seven years earlier. That joke was reserved for the boys.
Among the African-Americans enslaved at Monticello were up to 70 members of the Hemings family over 5 generations. (Library of Congress) A photograph of Jefferson’s Monticello, circa 1920 (Library of Congress)
A political eon passed between the vice president’s private joke and the presidential scandal. In 1796, Jefferson was narrowly defeated for the presidency by Adams and, under Article II of the Constitution (changed in 1804), indeed became vice president, having received the second-largest number of electoral votes. Four years later, he returned the favor, besting Adams in perhaps the ugliest presidential election in American history.
By then, Callender had won his muckraking spurs by publishing the story of Alexander Hamilton’s affair with a married woman and subsequent illicit financial arrangement with the woman’s husband. Jefferson was sufficiently impressed to provide the journalist with financial support to keep up his anti-Federalist work. But in May of 1800, Callender was convicted and sentenced to nine months in prison under the Sedition Act for “The Prospect Before Us,” a tract alleging pervasive corruption in the Adams administration. After his release, he approached Jefferson and asked to be appointed postmaster of Richmond. Jefferson refused. Callender traveled to Charlottesville and ferreted out the Hemings story, published under the headline “The President, Again.”
One of the more scurrilous commentaries on the story came from John Quincy Adams. On October 5, he sent his youngest brother, Thomas Boylston, a letter with an imitation of Horace’s famous ode to a friend who had fallen in love with his servant girl that begins: “Dear Thomas, deem it no disgrace / With slaves to mend thy breed / Nor let the wench’s smutty face / Deter thee from the deed.”
In his letter John Quincy writes that he had been going through books of Horace to track down the context of a quotation when what should drop out but this poem by, of all people, Jefferson’s ideological comrade in arms Tom Paine, then living in France. John Quincy professed bafflement that “the tender tale of Sally” could have traveled across the Atlantic, and the poem back again, within just a few weeks. “But indeed,” he wrote, “Pain being so much in the philosopher’s confidence may have been acquainted with the facts earlier than the American public in general.”
Historians have assumed that John Quincy, an amateur poet, composed the imitation ode in the weeks after Callender’s revelation hit the press. But in light of his father’s letters, it is not impossible that he had written it before, as his arch little story of its discovery implied. Thomas Boylston arranged to have his brother’s poem published in the prominent Federalist magazine The Port-Folio, where it did in fact appear under Paine’s name.
The Adamses never dismissed Callender’s story as untrue. No direct comment from Abigail Adams has come to light, but Gordon-Reed argues in The Hemingses of Monticello that the scandal deepened her estrangement from Jefferson after the bitter 1800 election. When Mary Jefferson died in 1804, Abigail wrote Thomas a chilly condolence letter in which she described herself as one “who once took pleasure in subscribing herself your friend.”
John Adams, in an 1810 letter to Joseph Ward, refers to James Callender in such a way as to imply that he did not consider the Hemings story credible. “Mr Jeffersons ‘Charities’ as he calls them to Callender, are a blot in his Escutchion,” he writes. “But I believe nothing that Callender Said, any more than if it had been Said by an infernal Spirit.” In the next paragraph, however, he appears more than prepared to suspend any such disbelief.
Callender and Sally will be remembered as long as Jefferson as Blotts in his Character. The story of the latter, is a natural and almost unavoidable Consequence of that foul contagion (pox) in the human Character Negro Slavery. In the West Indies and the Southern States it has the Same Effect. A great Lady has Said She did not believe there was a Planter in Virginia who could not reckon among his Slaves a Number of his Children. But is it Sound Policy will it promote Morality, to keep up the Cry of such disgracefull Stories, now the Man is voluntarily retired from the World. The more the Subject is canvassed will not the horror of the Infamy be diminished? and this black Licentiousness be encouraged?
Adams goes on to ask whether it will serve the public good to bring up the old story of Jefferson’s attempted seduction of a friend’s wife at the age of 25, “which is acknowledged to have happened.” His concern is not with the truth of such stories but with the desirability of continuing to harp on them (now that there is no political utility in doing so). He does not reject the idea that Jefferson behaved like other Virginia planters.
Adams’ sly joke in his 1794 letters shows him as less of a prude than is often thought. It also supports Callender’s assertion that the Jefferson-Hemings relationship was “well known,” but kept under wraps. It may be time to moderate the received view that journalism in the early republic was no-holds-barred. In reality, reporters did not rush into print with scandalous accusations of sexual misconduct by public figures. Compared with today’s partisan websites and social media, they were restrained. It took a James Callender to get the ball rolling.
John Adams’ reference to Jefferson’s Egeria put him on the cusp of recognizing a new role for women in Western society. Thanks largely to Florian’s 1786 best seller, the female mentor of a politician, writer or artist came to be called his Egeria. That was the case with Napoleon, Beethoven, Mark Twain, Andrew Johnson and William Butler Yeats, to name a few. In Abigail, Adams had his own—though so far as I know she was never referred to as such. It was a halfway house on the road to women’s equality, an authoritative position for those whose social status was still subordinate.
Gordon-Reed has criticized biographers who insist that it is “ridiculous even to consider the notion that Thomas Jefferson could ever have been under the positive influence of an insignificant black slave woman.” Ironically, Adams’ sarcastic allusion conjures up the possibility. Did Sally Hemings, Jefferson’s French-speaking bedmate and well-organized keeper of his private chambers, also serve as his guide and counselor—his Egeria? The question is, from the evidence we have, unanswerable.
In the last book of his Metamorphoses, Ovid portrays Egeria as so inconsolable after the death of Numa that the goddess Diana turns her into a spring of running water. When Jefferson died in 1826, he and Hemings, like Numa and Egeria, had to all intents and purposes been married for four decades. Not long afterward, his daughter Martha freed Hemings from slavery, as her children had been freed before her.
We do not know if, as she celebrated her liberation, she also mourned her loss. But we can be confident that her name, like Egeria’s, will forever be linked with her eminent spouse, as John Adams predicted.
About Mark Silk
Mark Silk is a professor and the director of the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College. A former reporter and editorial writer at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, he is the author of several books on religion in contemporary America and is a senior columnist for the Religion News Service.
Did Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson Love Each Other?
In the years since the publication of my book Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, I have traveled throughout the United States and overseas talking about them—and life and slavery at Monticello. Writers are, in the main, solitary creatures. Or, at least, the process of writing forces us into solitude for long stretches of time I find it refreshing and gratifying to meet people who have read one’s work (or plan to) and have questions, observations, and opinions about it. In all the venues I have visited, from Houston to Stockholm, one question always arises: Did they love each other?
To call this a loaded question does not begin to do justice to the matter, given America’s tortured racial history and its haunting legacy. To be on the receiving end of that question is to be thrown into a large minefield. It is even worse for someone who is considered an expert on Hemings and Jefferson. You wrote the book about them, didn’t you?
Part of a historian’s job is to try to navigate the gap stretching between those who lived in the past and those who live today, especially pointing out the important differences. At the same time, it remains equally important to recognize and give due consideration to those points of commonality that the past the present share. While there’s truth in the old saying that the past is a foreign country, anyone visiting a foreign land also encounters many familiar sights, rituals, and behaviors, because the basic realities of the human condition remain the same.
See the essay in the June 1972 American Heritage, "The Great Jefferson Taboo" by Fawn Brody, which reignited the controversy over Jefferson and Hemings
What does this mean for Sally and Thomas, the enslaved woman and the man who owned her? Their legal relationship to one another—and the world they shared—is strange to us today. Certainly people suffer oppression today: many work for little or no pay, while countless women and children are forced into prostitution. Yet this cannot match the horrific nature of America’s racially-based chattel slavery, in which a person’s children were enslaved in perpetuity unless an owner decided to give up his or her ownership of that person. What love could exist between a man and a woman enmeshed in—and negotiation the rules of—that world? And what difference does it make if they “loved” each other? Why are members of my audience so intent on knowing that?
The question about Hemings and Jefferson, of course, does not arise from a vacuum. We modern people have a history, so to speak, with love, especially of the romantic kind. Not other human emotion excites such passionate interest and longing or gives rise to such high expectations at all levels of society. Songs tell us that “love” is “the answer” to almost everything that ails us: war, famine, disease, and racial prejudice. Love is all we need.
Indeed, I suspect that love’s supposed capacity to heal lies at the heart of people’s interest in Hemings and Jefferson. And he is the prime focus of the inquiry. My impression from talking with people and reading the letters they writing to me, not to mention the many operas, plays, screenplays, and proposals for novels they send, is that Jefferson’s love for Hemings could somehow redeem and heal him. Thomas Jefferson—in need of redemption?
As much as we admire the author of the Declaration of Independence and the two-term U.S. president, a man who doubled the size of the nation, sent Lewis and Clark west, founded the University of Virginia, championed religious freedom, and acted as an all-around renaissance man, Jefferson the slaveholder poses a great challenge. He publicly aired his suspicions that the mental capacity of blacks was inferior to whites’, not exactly as a popular believe in a society that claims (note the operative word “claims”) to find such notions completely abhorrent. For some, the knowledge that Jefferson had loved the enslaved African American woman with whom he had seven children would rescue him from the depravity of having been a slave owner who made disparaging comments about blacks—perhaps not totally exonerating him, but in some small but important way moderating the disturbing facts. That much-longed for human connection would have worked its magic.
Love, which remains extremely difficult to capture and define today or in the past, poses a major hurdle in sorting out the nature of their relationship. Speaking of love in the context of a master-slave relationship is even more difficult, given the moral and political implications. After all, the idea of “love” was used during the antebellum period and afterward as a defense of slavery. Apologists for the peculiar institution claimed that a genuine “love” existed between the races during slavery, putting the lie to northern abolitionists’ claim that the institution was evil and exploitative. Southern slaveholders often pointed to their affection for their individual “mammies” and the supposedly deep ties they formed with their enslaved playmates (of the same sex, of course) on the plantation. Significantly, they never spoke about the possibility of love and regular heterosexual relationships between males and females of mixed races. That type of love was taboo then, and it has remained discomfiting to many Americans even into the 21st century.
Then there’s the question of consent and rape. While Martha Jefferson had given her perpetual consent to sexual relations with her husband by the act of marrying him—there was no such thing as marital rape—Jefferson owned his wife’s half sister, Sally, in a completely different way. Being a man’s wife was not the same thing as being a man’s slave, even if Sally and Thomas’s relationship had begun under unusual circumstances. They became involved while Jefferson was serving as the American minister to France. Under French law, Hemings would have had a clear route to freedom had she chosen it. Instead, she agreed to return to America with him, placing herself entirely under his power. At any time, Jefferson had the right to sell her and their children if he wanted to.
White males, not just slave owners—exercised inordinate power over black women during slavery. Rape and the threat of it blighted the lives of countless enslaved women. At the same time, some black women and white men did form bonds quite different in character than from those resulting from sexual coercion. No social system can ever stamp out all the constitutive aspects of the human character. Heterosexual men and women thrown together in intimate circumstances will become attracted to one another.
Consider how Hemings and Jefferson lived at the Hôtel de Langeac in Paris between 1787 and 1789. What parents would send their pretty teenaged daughter to live in a house with a lonely, middle-aged widower whose daughters spent all week away at boarding school—and place him in charge of her well-being? Jefferson would never have allowed his daughters Patsy and Polly to live under such a situation unless a female chaperone was present. The question of appropriateness never came up with Sally Hemings, because she was a slave. Her mother, Elizabeth Hemings, had no say in the matter, just another of the countless reasons why slavery was an inhumane institution.
Suggesting that their possible feelings for one another made a difference is a romantic notion
So what do I say to people about Hemings, Jefferson, and love? I am ever mindful of the dangers of romanticizing the pair. Apologists for slavery have not all gone away, and they will fasten onto any story that appears to “soften” the harsh contours of that institution and mitigate southern slaveholder guilt. I believe, however, that saying that they may have loved each other is not romantic. Suggesting that their possible feelings for one another made a difference is a romantic notion. I am not one who believes that “love” is the answer to everything. Strong emotions that two individuals may have had cannot mitigate the problem of slavery or Jefferson’s specific role as a slave owner.
Other factors make it difficult to determine the nature of their relationship. Neither spoke publicly about it, leaving us only to draw inferences. We do know that Jefferson bargained intensely with Hemings to return to America, promising her a good life at Monticello and freedom for her children when they became adults. Was that merely in-the-moment lust? While lust can last minutes, months, or even a few years, it cannot typically span the decades during which they were involved. It simply takes more than lust to sustain an interest in another person over such an extended time period.
In addition, Jefferson had access to many other women at Monticello who could have satisfied his carnal interests. Yet, so far as the record shows, he remained fixated on Sally Hemings, arranging her life at Monticello so that she interacted with him on a daily basis for almost four decades. Despite the brutal public attention focused on the pair after James Callender exposed their relationship in 1802, Jefferson continued to have children with Hemings. Their children—James Madison, Thomas Eston, William Beverly, and Harriet—were named for people important to him. His white daughter was said to have wanted Jefferson to send Hemings and their children away so as to spare him further embarrassment. He declined.
Judging Hemings’s feelings about Jefferson proves more difficult, because she exercised no legal power over him. While she did abandon her plan to stay in France and then came home to live and have children with him, Hemings may well have had second thoughts about leaving her large and intensely connected family back home. Several of their great-grandchildren explain that Hemings returned to America because Jefferson “loved her dearly,” as if that meant something to her. Upon their return, Hemings’s relatives, both enslaved and free, behaved as if Jefferson was an in-law of sorts. After he died in 1826, Hemings left Monticello with several of Jefferson’s personal items, including pairs of his glasses, an inkwell, and shoe buckles, which she gave to her children as mementos.
While marriage is generally taken as a proof of love between a given man and woman, the quality of the relationship between couples who are not married, or cannot marry because of legal restrictions, may be better than that of men and women whose unions are recognized by law.
The most that can be said is that Hemings and Jefferson lived together over many years and had seven children, four of whom lived to adulthood. Jefferson kept his promises to Hemings, and their offspring got a four-decade head start on emancipation, making the most of it by leading prosperous and stable lives. That, I think, is about as much as one can expect from love in the context of life during American slavery.
A Note About the Term 'Mistress'
The terms "mistress" and "concubine" are often applied to Sally Hemings, but both are inaccurate descriptions. The terms refer to a woman who lives with and is sexually involved with a married man and—importantly—imply consent. Sally Hemings would not have been able to give consent because of her status as an enslaved woman, meaning she could not have been his mistress. Instead, she was an enslaved teenager who was forced to have sex with her enslaver.
1858: Levuka pioneers Mr. J. Hennings, a German. arrived from Samoa.
It was not until 1858 that the present town of Levuka could be said to have been properly founded, the pioneers having lived in the native villages, but about that date houses began to be built on tho beach.
Amongst the first to establish business on Ovalau was Mr. J. Hennings, a German, who arrived here from Samoa.
Mr. Pritchard, the first British Consul, also arrived from Otahoito, (Tahiti) and gradually others followed, until quite the nucleus of a town was formed.
The Mercury Supplement, (Hobart, Tasmania) Saturday 13 February, 1886. This item appears written by a Levuka resident in early 1886, or late 1885. It encourages tourism to Levuka, as a rest from an overheated Australia. Author uses the name “Tasmanian”. Possibly Frederick Langham Perhaps ship-owner and trader with a long term trading relationship with Levuka and Suva, for at least five years – since 1880.
Researching Food History - Cooking and Dining
In 1801, newly elected Thomas Jefferson wanted his former (freed in 1796) slave James Hemings (1765-1801) as his presidential chef, but Hemings wanted Jefferson to contact him personally and said he was busy with an engagement with Mr. Peck, a "Tavern Keeper" in Baltimore. William Evans, the owner of the Indian Queen, a block away on the same street as Peck's Columbian hotel, was the go-between for Jefferson and Hemings. James had accompanied Jefferson to France where he took lessons on French cooking.
The new President wanted French food served in his White House, and was able to hire a Frenchman, Honore Julien, who had worked for the wealthy Bingham in Philadelphia, then for President Washington.
Following excerpts from letters (online at Library of Congress) discuss the attempts to have James Hemings be the White House chef, and the last letters about his tragic early death by suicide, probably as a result of his drinking. The image shows his marvelous handwriting in a kitchen inventory.