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Elizabeth "Betty" Hemings (circa 1735, unknown location – Monticellomarker, Albemarle County, Virginiamarker, 1807) was an American slave owned by Thomas Jefferson. She was the concubine of Jefferson's father-in-law John Wayles, from whom Jefferson inherited her and her family. Over seventy-five of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren were enslaved at Jefferson's estate, Monticellomarker.

Biography

According the oral history of her descendants, Betty was the daughter of a slave-ship captain named Hemings and an enslaved African woman. The place of her birth is uncertain, but by the 1740s she was the property of Frances Eppes IV of the Bermuda Hundred plantation, whose daughter, Martha Eppes, was to become John Wayles' first wife.

Betty's grandson, Madison Hemings, related the story that Betty was already the property of "John Wales" at the time of her birth, and her father, Captain Hemings, attempted to purchase her from Wayles, but Wayles refused because he was curious about how a mulatto child would develop. Captain Hemings then plotted to kidnap his daughter, which Wayles got word of and took measures against. This account appears to contradict the documentary evidence pertaining to Betty's birth and early life, although it is possible that Wayles could have sold Betty to Frances Eppes and later regained ownership of her via the dowry of Eppes's daughter, or that Madison's chronology is incorrect and the incident, if it occurred, happened later.

After the marriage of John Wayles and Martha Eppes in 1746, Elizabeth became the property of Wayles and was moved to one of his plantations, where she became a household servant. In the 1750s, she gave birth to the first four of her twelve children: Mary, Martin, Bett, and Nance, whose paternity is unknown.

John Wayles had three wives, all of whom pre-deceased him. Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson was the daughter of his first wife. In 1761, after the death of his third wife, Wayles took Betty Hemings as his concubine. According to her descendants, she had six children with Wayles: Robert, James, Thenia, Critta, Peter, and Sally Hemings. Wayles died in 1773, and all eleven members of the Hemings family became the property of Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson gave the Hemingses privileged positions as artisans and household servants. No member of the Hemings family ever worked the field. While resident at Monticello, Betty gave birth to another son, John, whose father was an Irish workman.

Betty had her own home at Monticello, where she spent roughly the last decade of her life, from 1795 to 1807. Hemings sold cabbages, strawberries, and chickens to Jefferson while she lived there. Her former cabin is now an archeological site, which is expected yield new information about the daily lives of the enslaved.

Relationship with John Wayles

Historians have tended to accept the account that Betty Hemings and John Wayles had children together, although, as in the case of many relationships between slave-owners and slaves, documentary evidence is slight. Betty was mentioned in John Wayles' will, which some take as an indication of a relationship. Some of Betty's children, according to contemporary accounts, were nearly white. Other support is found in gossip from the first decade of the 19th century, which manifested itself in a few private letters that eventually became public. The accounts of former slaves Isaac Jefferson and Madison Hemings are the most well-known sources for the relationship.

Descendants

Betty Hemings has numerous descendants. Some of note are:

From the family line of daughter Sally Hemings


Madison Hemings, Eston Hemings, Frederick Madison Roberts, John Wayles Jefferson


From the family line of daughter Mary Hemings


William Monroe Trotter


From the family line of great-granddaughter Anna Hemings Jefferson


Walter Beverly Pearson


Footnotes and citations

  1. John Wayles Paternity
  2. Betty Hemings - Monticello Explorer
  3. memoirs of Madison Hemings
  4. Bear, James A, The Hemings Family of Monticello, Ivy Press, Virginia, 1980 p. 3- 6
  5. Saraceni, Jessica E. The Matriarch of Mulberry Row, Archeology Magazine, 1997
  6. Footnotes section, John Wayles article at the Monticello Wiki
  7. Gordon-Reed, Annette. Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy. University of Virginia Press (April 1997). p.128 -130. ISBN 0813916984.


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