The Life of a Slave in Thomas Jefferson's Home
The Life of a Slave in Thomas Jefferson’s Home

The Life of a Slave in Thomas Jefferson’s Home

Khalid Elhassan - June 28, 2021

The Life of a Slave in Thomas Jefferson’s Home
Sally Hemings. Aventuras na Historia

2. Thomas Jefferson’s Most Famous Slave

No article that touches upon Thomas Jefferson, Monticello, and slavery, is complete without mention of his relationship with his slave Sally Hemings (1773 – 1835). It was a creepy relationship – so creepy that to even describe it as a “relationship” is problematic. Today, what went on between Jefferson and Hemings would be considered straightforward sexual assault. Hemings was a slave kept in bondage by a brutal system in which violence was used to coerce its victims and secure their compliance. Within that context, Hemings had as much choice in submitting to Jefferson’s demands as does a modern kidnapped victim, who finds herself chained for years in some psychopath’s basement.

Even if she had not been a slave, there would still have been something creepy about the age disparity between Hemings and the famous Founding Father. Thomas Jefferson was 44-years-old when he used Hemings to satisfy his carnal desires. She was thirteen or fourteen. By the time she was sixteen, she was pregnant with the first of at least six children she bore him. Even if Hemings had welcomed his advances, what Jefferson did would be considered statutory rape today: children that young lack the maturity to consent to sex.

The Life of a Slave in Thomas Jefferson’s Home
Thomas Jefferson. Time for Kids

1. The President and His Dead Wife’s Slave Sister

Another layer of creepiness about Thomas Jefferson and his child concubine is that Sally Hemings was his dead wife’s sister and lookalike. Hemings was the daughter of a slave woman and John Wayles, Thomas Jefferson’s father-in-law. That made her the biological half-sister of Jefferson’s wife, Martha Wayles Jefferson (1748 – 1782). Hemings, who was nine-years-old when her half-sister died, bore a striking resemblance to the deceased Martha, and the resemblance only increased as she grew. Jefferson missed his dead wife, so when her lookalike sister was thirteen or fourteen, he slept with her.

In short, what Thomas Jefferson did with Sally Hemings would be an epic scandal if it had happened today – one that hits just about every icky button there is. Pedophilia? Check. Incest? Check. Violence, coercion, and rape? Check, check, and check. Yet another unsavory layer atop the rest is that Jefferson fathered six children upon Sally, and kept them as slaves. He eventually freed his children, but he never freed his concubine/ Sally Hemings still lived in slavery and was Thomas Jefferson chattel property when he died in 1826.

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Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

All That is Interesting – Meet Darya Saltykova, the Russian Blood Countess Who Slaughtered 138 of Her Serfs for Fun

Avrich, Paul – Russian Rebels: 1600-1800 (1976)

Bear, James A. Jr. – Jefferson at Monticello (1967)

Brodie, Fawn McKay – Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History (1974)

Encyclopedia Britannica – Haitian Revolution

Encyclopedia Britannica – Helot

Encyclopedia Britannica – Stenka Razin

Gonick, Larry – The Cartoon History of the Universe I (1990)

Gonick, Larry – The Cartoon History of the Universe III (2002)

Heinl, Robert – Written in Blood: The Story of the Haitian People, 1492 – 1995 (1996)

History Collection – Throwing Slaves Overboard to Drown and Other Dark Moments From History

Knight, Franklin W., American Historical Review, Vol. 105, No. 1, February, 2000 ­- The Haitian Revolution

New York Times, June 16th, 2018 – Monticello is Done Avoiding Jefferson’s Relationship With Sally Hemings

Plutarch – Parallel Lives: Lycurgus

Popkin, Jeremy D. – Facing Racial Revolution: Eyewitness Accounts of the Haitian Insurrection (2008)

Popovic, Alexandre – The Revolt of African Slaves in Iraq, in the 3rd/ 9th Century (1999)

Russiapedia – Prominent Russians: Darya Saltykova

Slate, August 6th, 2015 – The Bittersweet Victory at Saint Domingue

Talbert, Richard J. A., Historia Journal, Bd. 31, H. 1 (1st Quarter, 1989) – The Role of the Helots in the Class Struggle at Sparta

Vox – Thomas Jefferson Spent Years Raping His Slave Sally Hemings

Washington Post, July 7th, 2017 – Sally Hemings Wasn’t Thomas Jefferson’s Mistress, She Was His Property

Wikipedia – Monticello

Wikipedia – Serfdom in Russia

Wikipedia – Zanj Rebellion

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