To make things creepier yet, Thomas Jefferson’s child concubine was also his dead wife’s sister and lookalike. Sally Hemings was the daughter of a slave woman and John Wayles, Jefferson’s father in law. That made her the biological half-sister of Jefferson’s wife, Martha Wayles Jefferson (1748 – 1782). Sally, who was nine-years-old when her half-sister died, looked a lot like the deceased Martha, and the resemblance only increased as she grew up. Jefferson missed his dead wife, so when her lookalike sister was thirteen or fourteen, he began to sleep with her.
Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings would make for an epic scandal if it had happened today, as it hits just about every icky button there is. Pedophilia? Check. Incest? Check. Violence, coercion, and assault? Check, check, and check. To add yet another dark layer to it all, Jefferson fathered six children upon Sally, and kept them as his slaves. He eventually got around to freeing his children, but he never freed his concubine: Hemings was still Jefferson’s slave when he died in 1826.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading