• Born:
  • Died:
  • Birthplace: Virginia
  • Best known as:

    The slave who may have been Thomas Jefferson's mistress

Sally Hemings Biography

Sally Hemings is a controversial figure in the history of U.S. president Thomas Jefferson. Hemings was a slave on Jefferson's estate in Virginia, serving as a household servant and as an attendant to Jefferson's daughters Martha and Mary. In 1802 a political rival of Jefferson claimed in a Virginia newspaper that the president kept as a concubine a slave named Sally. Such personal attacks were not uncommon in politics at the time, but the rumor of a Jefferson-Hemings relationship persisted for nearly two centuries. In 1998, the British journal Nature published the results of DNA tests on descendants of Jefferson and Hemings; the Nature report showed that Jefferson or one of his close relatives was highly likely to be the father of Hemings's last son, Eston, and suggested that Jefferson was the "probable" father. However, DNA tests are unable to prove his paternity with 100% certainty, and scholars continue to disagree on whether Jefferson fathered Eston or any of Hemings' children.

Extra credit:

According to Monticello records, Sally Hemings had four children who survived to maturity: Beverly (b. 1798), Harriet (b. 1801), Madison (b. 1805), and Eston (b. 1808). Two other children, born in 1795 and 1799, died in infancy... After Jefferson's death, Hemings was freed by Jefferson's daughter Martha and lived with her sons until her death in 1835... Hemings was played by actress Thandie Newton in the 1995 film Jefferson in Paris and by Carmen Ejogo in the 2000 TV movie Sally Hemings: An American Scandal.

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