There are many rumors that are so persistent; it seems impossible to disregard them no matter how hard everyone tries. One of these rumors is that Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson was a founding father in more than one way. Slave owners in Virginia had the right of droit du seigneur over their female slaves, meaning they were legally allowed to have sex with themi. There were men who certainly did exercise their right; nobody disputes this. The only dispute concerns whether Thomas Jefferson, a vocal opponent of slavery, was one of those men.
Contrary evidence proves the answer to that scandalous question. Thomas Jefferson had a concubine, named Sally Hemings, and together they produced children. Sally Hemings’ grandmother, a full-blooded African American, was property of Mr. John Wayles. Mr. Wayles later became the father-in-law of Jefferson. An Englishman named Captain, impregnated her, and produced a girl, Elizabeth who became known as Betty. When she matured, she produced six children fathered by John Wayles. Sally Hemings was one of those children. That made Sally 75% white, in spite of being a slave.
Sally herself produced six children. Wayle’s also had legitimate children, the eldest being Martha. Martha became the wife of Thomas Jefferson, thus making Sally Hemings the half-sister of Martha. Upon the death of Wayles, Thomas Jefferson inherited 11,000 acres of land and 135 slaves, including a baby Sally Hemings. Thomas Jefferson was the son of Peter and Jane Rudolph Jefferson. His father died when he was 14, and Thomas inherited 2,750 acres and 50 slaves. As a wealthy man, he was able to marry the wealthy Martha Wayles. They were married ten years, until her death in 1782.
Together they had six children. Jefferson loved her dearly, and never remarried. Historians claim he was celibate for the remainder of his life, and that is why he can not be the father of Hemings’ children. Jefferson was indeed celibate, meaning unmarried, however he was not chaste. This controversial piece of history was brought to the public’s eye on September 1st, 1802. A Scottish-born journalist, James Thomson Callender, published the first public report on the Jefferson-Hemings relationship in the Richmond Recorder newspaperii. Callender printed the story to get back at Jefferson.
Not so long after Callender arrived in America, he was arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase to nine months in prison for writing defamatory material. Callender was freed from jail on a pardon issued by Jefferson himself. Yet, Callender wanted more from Jefferson. Callender wanted to be appointed the postmaster of Richmond. Jefferson refused to appoint a man who had just gotten out of jail for sending false material through the mail. Callender demanded blackmail money from Jefferson, saying he would reveal a secret about him if he didn’t give him money.
Jefferson declared that he had nothing to hide and refused. The outcome was the story that Thomas Jefferson fathered children by his slave, Sally Hemings. After the story was published, many songs, rhymes and newspaper stories were circulated regarding Jefferson and Hemings. Since then, the story has been “re-discovered” plenty of times, and historians continue to try their hardest to get down the whole truth. The relationship between Hemings and Jefferson began in France. Jefferson was appointed the U. S. Ambassador to France in 1786.
In July 1787, he had his nine-year old daughter join him in Paris, to prevent her from getting an epidemic of whooping cough that was going around in America. The epidemic had just killed his other daughter, Lucy. His nine-year-old daughter’s name was Maria, but went by Polly. A 14-year-old slave named Sally Hemings accompanied Polly on the trip. There is no particular reason why Sally was picked. The most likely reason is that Sally was the closest friend of Polly. Or perhaps she was selected because she was nearly white and would adjust better in France. For whatever reason, Sally was the one selected.