Eston Hemings Jefferson (May 21, 1808 – January 3, 1856) was born a
slave at Monticello, the youngest son of Sally Hemings, a mixed-race
slave. Most historians who have considered the question believe that
his father was Thomas Jefferson, the United States president.
Evidence from a 1998
DNA test showed that a descendant of Eston
matched the Jefferson male line, and historical evidence also supports
the conclusion that
Thomas Jefferson was probably Eston's
father. Many historians believe that Jefferson had a
Sally Hemings and fathered her six children, four of
whom survived to adulthood.
Jefferson freed Eston and his older brother
Madison Hemings in his
will, as they had not yet come of age at his death. They each married
and lived with their families and mother Sally in Charlottesville,
Virginia, until her death in 1835. Both brothers and their young
families moved to Chillicothe, Ohio, to live in a free state, where
Eston Hemings earned a living as a musician and entertainer.
In 1852 Eston moved with his wife and three children to Madison,
Wisconsin, where they changed their surname to Jefferson and entered
the white community. Their sons both served in the Union Army, and the
John Wayles Jefferson, achieved the rank of colonel. He
moved to Memphis, Tennessee, becoming a wealthy cotton broker and
Eston's other children, Beverly and Anna Jefferson, married into the
white community, and their descendants have identified as white.
Beverley Jefferson's five sons were educated and three entered the
professional class as a physician, attorney, and manager at the
railroad. One of their male-line descendants was tested in the 1998
1 Early life
2 Post-slavery life
2.1 Marriage and family
4 Jefferson–Hemings controversy
7 Further reading
8 External links
What is known of Eston's life is derived from his brother Madison's
1873 memoir, a few entries in Thomas Jefferson's Farm Book, a handful
of contemporary newspaper accounts, various census and land/tax
records, and the family history of his descendants.
Eston was born into slavery as the youngest son of the slave Sally
Hemings. As she was one of the six mixed-race children of Betty
John Wayles (Jefferson's father-in-law), she and her
siblings were half-siblings to Jefferson's wife Martha Wayles and were
three-quarters European in ancestry, as their mother had a white
father. The historians
Philip D. Morgan and Joshua D. Rothman have
written about the numerous interracial relationships in the
Wayles-Hemings-Jefferson families and the region, often with multiple
generations repeating the pattern. The large Hemings family,
Betty Hemings as matriarch, was at the top of the slave hierarchy
at Monticello; its members working as domestic servants, chefs,
craftsmen and artisans.
Sally Hemings had light duties, and as children, Eston and his
siblings "were permitted to stay about the 'great house', and only
required to do such light work as going on errands." Like their
older brother Beverley, at age 14 Madison and Eston each began
training in carpentry, under tutelage of their uncle John Hemmings,
the master woodworker at Monticello. All three brothers learned to
play the violin (Jefferson also is known to have regularly played when
he was younger, and his younger brother Randolph, according to the
ex-slave Isaac Granger, "used to come out among black people, play the
fiddle & dance half the night".)
Madison and Eston were freed in 1827, in accordance with President
Jefferson’s will. (Madison was 22; Eston was freed at 19.)
Additionally, Jefferson's will petitioned the legislature to allow the
Hemingses to stay in Virginia after being freed, unlike most freed
slaves. In his 1873 memoir, Madison said the Hemings children
were freed as a result of a promise Jefferson made to Sally
After Jefferson's death,
Sally Hemings was "given her time" by his
daughter. The older woman lived freely with her two sons in
Charlottesville. In the 1830 census, the census taker in
Charlottesville classified all three Hemings as white, showing how
others perceived them by appearance because of their overwhelming
European ancestry. Sally was of three-quarters white ancestry. Her
children were seven-eighths white and thus legally white under the
Virginia law of the time. It was not until 1924 that Virginia passed
the Racial Integrity Act, which classified anyone as black who had any
known African ancestry, under the "one drop rule".
Upon gaining freedom, Hemings initially pursued a career in
woodworking and carpentry in Charlottesville, Virginia. In 1830, Eston
Hemings purchased property and built a house on Main Street, where his
mother lived with him until her death in 1835.
Marriage and family
In 1832, Eston married a free woman of color, Julia Ann Isaacs
(1814–1889). She was the daughter of the successful Jewish merchant
David Isaacs, from Germany, and Ann (Nancy) West, a free woman of
mixed race. Nancy West was the daughter of Priscilla, a former slave,
and Thomas West, her white master. Thomas West left property to his
children Nancy and James West in his will. Prohibited by law from
marrying, Isaacs and West maintained separate households and
businesses for years (she was a successful baker.) They had seven
children together, and later in their lives shared a
Eston and Julia Ann Hemings had three children:
John Wayles Jefferson
(1835–1892), Anne Wayles Jefferson (1836–1866), and Beverly
Frederick Jefferson (1838–1908) (their surname was changed from
Hemings to Jefferson as the family moved to Wisconsin after 1850). The
first two were born in Charlottesville.
1845 article in The Liberator about the Hemings family in Ohio
About 1837 Hemings moved with his family to Chillicothe, a town in
southwest Ohio (a free state) with a thriving community. Numerous free
blacks and white abolitionists had support stations linked to the
Underground Railroad to aid escaping slaves. There Hemings became a
professional musician, playing the violin or fiddle and leading a
successful dance band. The children were educated in integrated
schools. Anna for a time attended the Manual Labor School at Albany,
Ohio. A former classmate later wrote that she was introduced as "Miss
Anna (or Ann) Heming[s] [sic], the grand daughter of Thomas
In a 1902 article of the Scioto Gazette, a correspondent wrote that
while Hemings lived in Ohio in the 1840s, it was widely said that he
and his brother Madison were the sons of Thomas Jefferson. In
addition, several neighbors of Eston had traveled together to
Washington, DC, where they saw a statue of Jefferson; they commented
on how much Hemings resembled him. The correspondent also recollected:
“Eston Hemings, being a master of the violin, and an accomplished
"caller" of dances, always officiated at the "swell" entertainments of
The gravesite of
Eston Hemings Jefferson in Madison, Wisconsin.
Passage of the Fugitive
Slave Act in 1850 increased pressure on the
black communities in Ohio and other free states bordering slave
states. In towns along the Underground Railroad, slave catchers
invaded the communities, sometimes kidnapping and selling into slavery
free people as well as fugitive slaves. In 1852, Eston decided to
move the family further north for security, and migrated to Madison,
Wisconsin. There they took the surname Jefferson, and they passed into
the European-American (white) community.
Eston Hemings Jefferson
died in 1856.
John Wayles Jefferson
Their eldest son
John Wayles Jefferson
John Wayles Jefferson served as a white officer in
United States Army
United States Army during the American Civil War,
achieving the rank of colonel. John W. Jefferson led the Wisconsin 8th
Infantry. He was wounded twice in battle. During the war, he published
letters home, and after the war, published articles about his
experiences. Before the war, John Jefferson ran the American House
hotel in Madison, which was taken over by his younger brother
Beverley. After the war and the end of slavery in the U.S., John
Jefferson moved to Memphis, Tennessee. He became a successful cotton
broker, supported his mother, and left a considerable estate at his
death in 1892. He never married or had known children.
Both Anna and Beverley Jefferson married white spouses, and their
descendants have identified as white. Anna married Albert T. Pearson,
a carpenter who was a captain during the Civil War. Their son Walter
Beverly Pearson became a wealthy industrialist in Chicago.
Beverley Jefferson was also a Civil War veteran of the Union Army.
Returning to Madison, he moved from the American House to run the
Capitol House hotels. He founded the first omnibus line in the
Wisconsin capital, and was a popular figure among politicians in the
city. He married Anna Smith from Pennsylvania. Their five sons gained
educations and three entered the professions: one became a doctor in
Chicago, another an attorney, another worked in railroad
Eston Hemings Jefferson family is buried in Forest Hill Cemetery,
In the 1970s, Jean Jefferson, unaware of her connection to the Hemings
family, read Fawn Brodie's biography, Jefferson: An Intimate Portrait.
Eston Hemings Jefferson's name in the book from family
stories and contacted Brodie. The historian helped Jefferson start
putting the pieces of the family history back together.
They discovered that in the 1940s, her father and his brothers had
decided against continued telling of the Hemings-Jefferson story to
their children, out of fear the younger people would be discriminated
against. The family's new knowledge of their history enabled DNA
researchers in 1998 to locate Jean's cousin, John Weeks Jefferson, a
male descendant of
Eston Hemings Jefferson, for testing. His
Y-chromosome matched the rare haplotype of the
Thomas Jefferson male
line. The Carr male line did not match, conclusively refuting the
oral history of
Thomas Jefferson Randolph that Peter Carr was the
father of Sally Hemings' children.
Main article: Jefferson–Hemings controversy
Historians had long disputed accounts that
Thomas Jefferson had a
relationship with his mixed-race slave
Sally Hemings and fathered
children by her. In the late 20th century, historians began
reanalyzing the body of evidence. In 1997, Annette Gordon-Reed
published a book that analyzed the historiography and noted how
historians since the 19th century had accepted accounts by Jefferson
descendants while rejecting accounts by Madison Hemings, a son of
Sally Hemings, and Israel Jefferson, another former slave at
Monticello. Both said that
Thomas Jefferson fathered Hemings'
children. She said historians failed to adequately assess which
version was supported by known facts.
DNA analysis in 1998 showed no match between the Carr male line,
proposed for more than 150 years as the father(s) of the Hemings
children, and the male Hemings descendant tested. It did show a match
between the Jefferson male line and the
Eston Hemings descendant.
Sally Hemings is believed to be the half-sister of Thomas Jefferson's
wife Martha; her mother was Elizabeth Hemings, a mixed-race slave, and
her father was John Wayles, also Martha's father.
Since 1998 and the
DNA study, many historians have accepted that the
widower Jefferson had a long intimate relationship with Hemings, and
fathered six children with her, four of whom survived to adulthood.
Thomas Jefferson Foundation (TJF), which runs Monticello, and the
National Genealogical Society conducted independent studies; their
scholars concluded Jefferson was probably the father of all Hemings's
Critics, such as the
Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society (TJHS) Scholars
Commission (2001), have argued against the TJF report. They have
concluded that there is insufficient evidence to determine that
Jefferson was the father of Hemings's children. The TJHS report
suggested that Jefferson's younger brother
Randolph Jefferson could
have been the father, and that Hemings may have had multiple
partners. No previous accounts had suggested that.
In 2012, the
Smithsonian Institution and the Thomas Jefferson
Foundation held a major exhibit at the National Museum of American
History: Slavery at Jefferson's Monticello: The Paradox of Liberty; it
says that "most historians now believe that… the evidence strongly
support[s] the conclusion that Jefferson was the father of Sally
Hemings' children." The exhibit toured in
Atlanta and Saint Louis
into 2014 after leaving Washington.
In 2010 Eston's descendant Julie Jefferson Westerinen (whose brother's
DNA matched the Jefferson line), and her cousin Shay Banks-Young, a
descendant of Madison Hemings, were honored together with their
half-cousin David Works, a descendant of Martha Wayles Skelton
Jefferson. The three identify as European American, African American
and European American, respectively. In the last several years, since
meeting, they have become active in talking about race and related
issues in public forums. In addition to organizing reunions between
the two sides of the Jefferson family, they have created a new
organization, the "
Monticello Community", to bring together the
descendants of all who lived and worked at Monticello.
The three received the international "Search for Common Ground" award
for "their work to bridge the divide within their family and heal the
legacy of slavery." They have been featured on
NPR and in other
interviews across the country. Ms. Westerinen has said, "Our family is
like a sample family that was deeply divided and then came together,"
she said. "So think of what an example we can set for America."
^ a b "
Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: A Brief Account".
Monticello Foundation. Retrieved 2008-07-27.
^ Jordan, Daniel P. "Statement on the TJF Research Committee Report on
Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings".
Monticello Foundation. Archived
from the original on 2008-06-08. Retrieved 2008-07-27.
^ a b Stanton, Lucia. "Appendix H:
Sally Hemings and Her Children:
Information from Documentary Sources".
Monticello Foundation. Archived
from the original on 2008-07-15. Retrieved 2008-07-27.
^ a b c "Col. Jefferson Dies in Chicago", Obituary and photo, 1902,
Wisconsin Historical Society Digital Collection
^ Helen F. M. Leary, "Sally Hemings's Children: A Genealogical
Analysis of the Evidence",
National Genealogical Society Quarterly,
Vol. 89, No. 3, September 2001, pp. 172–173
Philip D. Morgan (1999). "Interracial Sex In the Chesapeake and the
British Atlantic World c.1700-1820". In Jan Lewis, Peter S. Onuf.
Sally Hemings & Thomas Jefferson: history, memory, and civic
culture. University of Virginia Press.
ISBN 978-0-8139-1919-5. CS1 maint: Uses editors parameter
^ Joshua D. Rothman, Notorious in the Neighborhood: Sex and
Interracial Relationships Across the Color Line in Virginia,
1787-1861, University of North Carolina Press, 2003
^ a b c "Memoirs of Madison Hemings". Public Broadcasting Service.
^ Gordon-Reed, Annette.
Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An
American Controversy. University of Virginia Press (April 1997). pp.
39–43. ISBN 0-8139-1698-4.
^ "Jeffersons Will".
Thomas Jefferson Foundation. Retrieved
^ Annette Gordon-Reed,
Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American
Controversy, Charlottesville, University of Virginia Press, 1997, p.
^ a b Joshua D. Rothman, Notorious in the Neighborhood: Sex and
Families Across the Color Line in Virginia, 1787-1861, University of
North Carolina Press, 2003, pp. 56–65
^ a b c d Justus, Judith, Down from the Mountain: The Oral History of
the Hemings Family, Perrysburg, OH: Lesher Printers, Inc., 1990, pp.
^ Judge Sibley, "Beautiful Octoroon: Miss Anna Heming", originally in
Scioto Gazette, 7 Aug 1902; reprinted at Jefferson's Blood, 1998, PBS
^ "A Sprig of Jefferson Was Eston Hemings". Public Broadcasting
Service: Jefferson's Blood. Scioto Gazette. 1 August 1902. Retrieved
^ Carol Wilson, Freedom at Risk: The Kidnapping of Free Blacks in
America, 1780-1865, University of Kentucky Press, 1994. The historian
Carol Wilson documented 300 such cases in her book, and noted there
were probably thousands more.
^ "Late President of Standard Screw Leaves $2,000,000", Chicago
Tribune, May 27, 1917
^ "Jefferson's Black Descendants in Wisconsin". Wisconsin Historical
Society. Retrieved 2008-07-27.
^ a b c d Gray, Madison J. (2003-03-01). "A Founding Father and his
Family Ties". The New York Times. Archived from the original on July
7, 2010. Retrieved 2008-04-27.
^ Annette Gordon-Reed,
Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American
Controversy, University of Virginia Press, 1998 (reprint, with new
foreword, first published 1997)
Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: A Brief Account", Monticello
Website, accessed 22 June 2011, Quote: "Ten years later [referring to
its 2000 report], TJF [
Thomas Jefferson Foundation] and most
historians now believe that, years after his wife’s death, Thomas
Jefferson was the father of the six children of Sally Hemings
mentioned in Jefferson's records, including Beverly, Harriet, Madison
and Eston Hemings."
^ Helen F. M. Leary,
National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 89,
No. 3, September 2001, pp. 207, 214 - 218 Quote: Leary concluded that
"the chain of evidence securely fastens Sally Hemings' children to
their father, Thomas Jefferson."
^ "The Scholars Commission on the Jefferson-Hemings Issue" Archived
2015-09-15 at the Wayback Machine., 2001,
Thomas Jefferson Heritage
^ Slavery at Jefferson's Monticello: The Paradox of Liberty, 27
January 2012-14 October 2012, Smithsonian Institution, accessed 23
March 2012. Quote: "The [DNA] test results show a genetic link between
the Jefferson and Hemings descendants: A man with the Jefferson Y
Eston Hemings (born 1808). While there were other
adult males with the Jefferson Y chromosome living in Virginia at that
time, most historians now believe that the documentary and genetic
evidence, considered together, strongly support the conclusion that
Jefferson was the father of Sally Hemings’s children."
^ a b Michel Martin, "
Thomas Jefferson Descendants Work To Heal
Family's Past", NPR, 11 November 2010, accessed 2 March 2011
Monticello Community", Official Website
Annette Gordon-Reed, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family,
New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2008
Stanton, Lucia. Free Some Day: The African-American Families of
Thomas Jefferson Foundation, 2000.
Sally Hemings Children: Eston Hemings", Photos of Eston Hemings'
Getting Word: Oral History Project, Monticello
Passing: Renouncing the Past,
Thomas Jefferson (descendants in Wisconsin)", Wisconsin Historical
François Furstenberg, "Jefferson's Other Family: His concubine was
also his wife's half-sister", review of Annette Gordon-Reed, The
Hemingses of Monticello, Slate, 23 September 2008
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