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Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson, born Martha Wayles ( – September 6, 1782) was the wife of Thomas Jefferson, who was the third President of the United States. She never became First Lady of the United States because she died long before her husband was elected to the presidency.

Life

Martha was born to John Wayles (1715 - 1773) and his first wife Martha Eppes (1712 - 1748), wealthy plantation owners in Charles City County, Virginiamarker. [67704]

Her father was born in Lancaster, Englandmarker and emigrated alone to Virginia in 1734, at the age of nineteen, leaving family in England. He was a lawyer. Martha's mother was a daughter of Francis Eppes of Bermuda Hundred and was a widow when Wayles married her. As part of her dowry, Martha's mother brought with her a personal slave, Susanna, who had an eleven-year-old daughter by the name of Elizabeth Hemings (Betty). Their marriage contract stipulated that mother and child were to remain the property of Martha Eppes and her heirs forever or be returned to the Eppes family should there be no heirs. This is how the Hemingses came into the custody of Martha Wayles. Patsy Eppes Wayles died when Martha was three weeks old.

Martha's father remarried Mary Cocke of Malvern Hillmarker and had her half-sister Elizabeth, who married Martha's cousin and became the mother of John Wayles Eppes. After the death of his third wife, John Wayles took up with the slave Betty and had several children, the famed Sally Hemings as well.

Martha Wayles, aged 18, first married Bathurst Skelton (1744-1768) and had one son, John Wayles Skelton (1767-1771). Bathurst Skelton died in September of 1768 in Williamsburg, Virginiamarker after an accident. Upon her husband's death, Martha moved back to her father's house with her infant son, who died suddenly of a fever on June 10, 1771.

She probably met Jefferson in Williamsburg about 1770. Following their January 1, 1772 wedding, the Jeffersons honeymooned about two-weeks at The Forest (her father's plantation) before setting out in a two-horse carriage for Monticello (Jefferson's plantation). They made the 100-mile trip in one of the worst snowstorms ever to hit Virginia. Some miles from their destination, their carriage bogged down in 2-3 feet of snow; they had to complete the journey on horseback. Arriving at Monticello late at night after the slaves had banked the fires and retired for the night, the couple settled in the freezing one-room brick building that was to be their home until completion of the famous main house at Monticello.

They had six children:

Martha was in frail health for much of her marriage. She is believed to have suffered from diabetes, the cause of her childbearing problems. In the famous summer of 1776 she had suffered a miscarriage and was very ill, thus Jefferson's desperation to get out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvaniamarker as soon as possible.

Throughout their 10-year marriage, they appeared to have been wholly devoted to each other. According to slaves who attended her in her final days, Jefferson promised his wife that he would never remarry. Jefferson was inconsolable in his loss. It was said that he collapsed just before she died. After the funeral, he refused to leave his room for three weeks. Then he spent endless hours riding horseback alone around Monticello. Not until mid-October did he begin to resume a normal life.

Martha Jefferson was, according to her daughter and to eyewitness accounts (the French delegation), musical and highly educated, a constant reader, with the greatest fund of good nature, and a vivacious temper that might sometimes border on tartness, but was completely subdued with her husband by her affection for him. She was a little over five feet tall, with a lithe figure, luxuriant auburn hair, and hazel eyes. She played the keyboard and the guitar, and she was an accomplished needlewoman. Her music book and several examples of her embroidery survive. It was she who instituted the brewing of beer at Monticellomarker, which continued until her husband's death. She was much beloved by her neighbours, and she was a great patriot, raising funds for the cause before and after her tenure as First Lady of Virginia.

When she died following the birth of her sixth child on September 6, 1782, Jefferson was distraught and for years suffered from deep depression. No miniature of her survives, although there is a silhouette {See White House biography link below} and sketches of her daughter Maria Eppes, who resembled her mother. Other portraits, reputed to be of her, are of her daughter, Martha Jefferson Randolph.

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