Home Up Contents Search

Madison Hemings' Story
Home Up Unnamed Son Hemings Sarah Elizabeth Hemings Jefferson, b.1835 Thomas Eston Hemings Jefferson, born 1838 Harriette Hemings Jefferson, b. 1839 Mary Ann Hemings Jefferson, born 1843 Catherine Jane Hemings Jefferson, born 1844 William Beverly Hemings Jefferson, born 1847 James Madison Hemings Jefferson, born 1849 Julia Ann Hemings Jefferson, born 1851 Ellen Wayles Hemings Jefferson, born 1856 Madison Hemings' Story

Mary Lee Brady, Ph.D.

Israel Jefferson
Statistical Gazetter
Ohio Roll of Honor
Telling Their Stories
Martin Van Buren
Paul Jennings









Madison Hemings Jefferson, born 1805

"I never knew of but one white man who bore the name of Hemings.  He was an Englishman and my great grandfather.  He was captain of an English whaling vessel which sailed between England and Williamsburg, Va., then quite a port.

My great grandmother was full-blooded African, and possibly a native of that country.  She was the property of John Wales, a Welch man.  Capt. Hemings happened to be in the port of Williamsburg at the time my grandmother was born, and acknowledging her fatherhood he tried to purchase her of Mr. Wales who would not part with the child, though he was offered an extraordinarily large price for her.

She was named Elizabeth Hemings. Being thwarted in the purchase, and determined to own his own flesh and blood he resolved to take the child by force or stealth, but the knowledge of his intention coming to John Wales' ears, through leaky fellow servants of the mother, she and the child were taken into the "great house" under their master's immediate care. 

(Special note: Chattel slavery could not have existed as it did without a culture of dynamic mass betrayals by and among slaves, ... often for spite, envy, hatred, rewards, and sometimes for little more than endearment or potentially being judged to be a accomplice, and punished by the slave owner.)

I have been informed that it was not the extra value of the child over other slave children that induced Mr. Wales to refuse to sell it, for slave masters then, as in later days, had no compunctions of conscience which restrained them from parting mother and child of however tender age; but he was restrained by the fact that just about that time amalgamation began, ... and the child was so great a curiosity that its owner desired to raise it himself that he might see its outcome.  Capt. Hemings soon afterwards sailed from Williamsburg, never to return.  Such is the story that comes down to me. 

Elizabeth Hemings grew to womanhood in the family of John Wales, whose wife dying, ... she (Elizabeth) was taken by the widower Wales as his concubine, by whom she had six children, three sons and three daughters, viz: Robert, James, Peter, Critty, Sally and Thena. These children went by the name of Hemings. 

Thomas Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of Independence, a principal leader in the American Revolution, and the third president of the United States. Jefferson is also regarded as a great political thinker and diplomat. The U.S. doubled its area in 1803 when he bought territory west of the Mississippi called the Louisiana Purchase. Recited by an actor.  Hulton Deutsch/(p) 1992 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved

Williamsburg was the capital of Virginia, and of course it was an aristocratic place, where the "bloods" of the Colony and the new State most did congregate. Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, was educated at William and Mary College, which had its seat at Williamsburg.  He afterwards studied law with Geo Wythe, and practice law at the bar of the general court of the Colony. 

George Wythe (1726-1806), American Revolution patriot and jurist, born near Yorktown, Virginia, and privately educated. A member (1754-1755, 1758-1768) of the Virginia House of Burgesses, he drafted (1764) the protest of that body against the proposed Stamp Act. Elected to the Continental Congress in 1775, he was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Wythe was a member of the federal convention of 1787, which framed the U.S. Constitution. From 1779 to 1790 he was the first professor of law at the College of William and Mary. Among those who studied and worked under him were the future Supreme Court justice John Marshall, presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe, and the statesman Henry Clay. Wythe was judge of the Virginia Court of Chancery from 1778 to 1786 and chancellor of the state of Virginia after 1786. One of the earliest American abolitionists, he freed his own slaves and provided for them in his will. His writings include Decisions in Virginia by the High Court of Chancery (1795).  Microsoft Encarta 2008. 1993-2007 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

He was afterwards elected a member of the provincial legislature from Albemarle County.  Thos. Jefferson was a visitor at the "great house' of John Wales, who had children about his own age.  He formed the acquaintance of his daughter Martha (I believe that her name, though I am not positively sure,) and an intimacy sprang up between them which ripened into love, and they were married. They afterwards went to live at his country seat Monticello, and in course of time had born to them a daughter whom they named Martha.  About the time she was born, my mother, the second daughter of John Wales and Elizabeth Hemings was born.  On the death of John Wales, my grandmother, his concubine, and her children by him fell to Martha, Thomas Jefferson's wife, and consequently became the property of Thomas Jefferson, who in the course of time became famous, and was appointed minister to France during our revolutionary troubles, or soon after independence was gained.

About the time of the appointment and before he was ready to leave the country his wife died, and as soon after her interment as he could attend to and arrange his domestic affairs in accordance with the changed circumstances of his family in consequence of this misfortune (I think not more than three weeks thereafter) he left for France, taking his eldest daughter with him.  He had had sons born to him, but they died in early infancy, so he had but two children, ... Martha and Maria.  The latter was left at home, but was afterwards ordered to follow him to France. She was three years or so younger than Martha.

My mother accompanied her as her as her body servant. When Mr. Jefferson went to France ... Martha was a young woman grown, my mother was about her age, and Maria was just budding into womanhood.  Their stay (my mother's and Maria's) was about eighteen months.  But during that time my mother became Mr. Jefferson's concubine, and when he was called back home she was enceinte by him.  He desired to bring my mother back to Virginia with him but she demurred.  She was just beginning to understand the French language well, and in France she was free, while if she returned to Virginia she would be re-enslaved. 

So she refused to return with him.  To induce her to do so he promised her extraordinary privileges, and made a solemn pledge that her children should be freed at the age of twenty-one years.  In consequence of his promises, on which she implicitly relied, she returned with him to Virginia.  Soon after their arrival, she gave birth to a child, of whom Thomas Jefferson was the father.  It lived but a short time.  She gave birth to four others, and Jefferson was the father of all of them. Their names were Beverly, Harriet, Madison (myself), and Eston, ... three sons and one daughter.  We all became free agreeably to the treaty entered into by our parents before we were born.  We all married and have raised families.

Beverly left Monticello and went to Washington as a white man.  He married a white woman in Maryland, and their only child, a daughter, was not known by the white folks to have any colored blood coursing in her veins.  Beverly's wife's family were people in good circumstances. Harriet married a white man in good standing in Washington City, whose name I could give, but will not, for prudential reasons.  She raised a family of children, and so far as I know they were never suspected of being tainted with African blood in the community where she lived or lives. 

I have not heard from her for ten years, and do not know whether she is dead or alive.  She thought it to her interest, on going to Washington, to assume the role of a white woman, and by her dress and conduct as such I am not aware that her identity as Harriet Hemings of Monticello has ever been discovered. Eston married a colored woman in Virginia, and moved from there to Ohio, and lived in Chillicothe several years.  In the fall of 1852 he removed to Wisconsin, where he died a year or two afterwards.  He left three children.

As to myself, I was named Madison by the wife of James Madison, who was afterwards President of the United States.  Mrs. Madison happened to be at Monticello at the time of my birth, and begged the privilege of naming me, promising my mother a fine present for the honor.  She consented, and Mrs. Madison (Dolly) dubbed me by the name I now acknowledge, but like many promises of white folks to the slaves she never gave my mother anything.

Mrs. Dolly Madison, Wife of James Madison, Fourth President of the United States

I was born at my father's set of Monticello, in Albermarle county, Va. near Charlottesville, on the 19th day of January, 1805.  My very earliest recollections are of my grandmother Elizabeth Hemings. That was when I was about three years old.  She was sick and upon her death bed.  I was eating a piece of bread and asked her if she would have some.  She replied: No; granny don't want bread any more." She shortly afterwards breathed her last.  I have only a faint recollection of her.

Of my father, Thomas Jefferson, I knew more of his domestic than his public life during his life time.  It is only since his death that I have learned much of the latter, except that he was considered as a foremost man in the land, and held many important trusts, including that of President.  I learned to read by inducing the white children to teach me the letters and something more; what else I know of books I have picked up here and there till now I can read and write.  I was almost 21 years of age when my father died on the 4th of July, 1826.

About his own home he was the quietest of men.  he was hardly ever known to get angry, though sometimes he was irritated when matters went wrong, but even then he hardly ever allowed himself to be made unhappy to any great length of time. Unlike Washington he had little taste or care for agricultural pursuits. He left matters pertaining to his plantations mostly with his stewards and overseers.                

He always had mechanics at work for him, such as carpenters, blacksmiths, shoemakers, coopers, & etc.  It was his mechanics he seemed mostly to direct, and in their operations he took great interest. Almost every day of his later years he might have been seen among them.  He occupied much of the time in his office engaged in correspondence and reading and writing.  His general temperament was smooth and even; he was very undemonstrative.  He was uniformly kind to all about him.  He was not in the habit of showing partiality or fatherly affection to us children.  We were the only children of his by a slave woman.  He was affectionate toward his white grand-children, of whom he had fourteen, twelve of whom lived to manhood and womanhood.  His daughter married Thomas Mann Randolph by whom she had thirteen children. 

George W. RandolphTwo died in infancy.  The names of the living were Ann, Thomas Jefferson, Ellen, Cornelia, Virginia, Mary, James, Benjamin Franklin, Lewis Madison, Septemia and George Wythe.  Thomas Mann Randolph was Chairman of the Democratic National Convention in Baltimore last spring which nominated Horace Greeley for the Presidency, and George Wythe Randolph was Jefferson Davis' first Secretary of War in the late "unpleasantness." 

                                            George Wythe Randolph

Maria married John Eppes, and raised one son, ... Francis. My father generally enjoyed excellent health.  I never knew him to have but one spell of sickness, and that was caused by a visit to the Warm Springs in 1818.  Till within three weeks of his death he was hale and hearty, and at the age of 83 years he walked erect and with stately tread.  I am now 68, and I well remember that he was a much smarter man physically, even at that age, than I am. 

When I was fourteen years old I was put to the carpenter trade under the charge of John Hemings, the youngest son of my grandmother.  His father's name was Nelson, who was an Englishman.  She had seven children by white men and seven by colored men,... fourteen in all.  My brothers, sister Harriet and myself, were used alike.  They were put to some mechanical trade at the age of fourteen.  Till then we were permitted to stay about the "great house," and only required to do such light work as going on errands.  Harriet learned to spin and to weave in a little factory on the home plantation.

We were free from the dread of having to be slaves all our lives long, and were measurably happy.  We were always permitted to be with our mother, who was well used.  It was her duty, all her life which I can remember, up to the time of our father's death, to take care of his chamber and wardrobe, look after us children and so such light work as sewing, & etc.  Provision was made in the will of our father that we should be free when we arrived at the age of 21 years.  We had all passed that period when he died but Eston, and he was given the remainder of his time shortly afterward.  He and I rented a house and took mother to live with us, till her death, which event occurred in 1835.

Mary Hughes McCoy, born abt 1810

In 1834, I married Mary McCoy.  Her grandmother was a slave, and lived with her master Stephen Hughes, near Charlottesville, as his wife.  She was manumitted by him, which made their children free born.  Mary McCoy's mother was his daughter. 

I was about 28 and she was 22 years of age when we married.  We lived  and labored together in Virginia till 1836, when we voluntarily left and came to Ohio.  We settled in Pebble township, Pike county.  We lived there four or five years and during my stay in that county I worked at my trade on and off for about four years.  Joseph Sewell was my first employer.  I built for him what is now known as Rizzleport No. 2 in Waverly.  (historic Emmitt House designated by State of Ohio as evidence that Madison Hemings was a man of extraordinary skills and knowledge that included abilities to read architectural drawings/blueprints)  

I afterwards worked for George Wolf Senior and I did the carpenter work of the brick building now owned by John J. Kellison in which the Pike County Republican is printed.  I worked for and with Micajab [?] Hinson.  I found him to be a very clever man.  I also reconstructed the building on the corner of Market and Water streets from a store to a hotel for the late Judge Jacob Row.

  Emmit House, Waverly, Ohio

When we came from Virginia we brought one daughter (Harriet) with us, leaving the dust of a son in the soil near Monticello.  We have born to us in this State nine children.  Two are dead.  The names of the living besides Sarah, are Harriet, Mary Ann, Catherine, Jane, William Beverly, James Madison and Ellen Wales. Thomas Eston died in Andersonville prison pen, & Julia died at home.   [Madison Hemings]

Andersonville Concentration Camp for Captured Union Soldiers and Sailors: contained two sons (Thomas and William) of Madison Hemings (grandsons of Thomas Jefferson.

William, James and Ellen are unmarried and live at home, in Huntington township, Ross county.  All the others are married and raising families.  My post-office address is Pee Pee, Pike county  Ohio." 

"Life Among the Lowly, No. 1,[Madison Hemings, printed March 13, 1873, Pike County (Ohio) Republican newspaper, entitled: Life Among the Lowly, No. 1"   


"Hemings was not the captain of a whaling ship. The memoir of Madison Hemings actually says "trading ship." Brodie incorrectly transcribed this as "whaling ship" and Gordon-Reed calls it a "tracking ship." But the original newspaper says "English trading ship."  Madison Hemings said that the ship was at Williamsburg, but Williamsburg itself was never a port."  [Henry Wiencek, Charlottesville, Virginia]

In the great war waged against mindsets like Nathan Bedford Forrest and Judah P. Benjamin no less determined than the evil that later persecuted and slaughtered European Jewry in the name of righteousness, ... Madison Hemings sacrificed not only sons but also nephews and a lot of White cousins for and against the cause of emancipating four million human beings from the yoke of chattel slavery. Those who would deny that slavery was evil, like plunder, rape, torture and murder, ... are likely still "whistling Dixie" as did Margaret Mitchell imagining her ancestors were good and just for "the lowly people who served them."



I stand in the light on steps that sons and daughters of men and women like Madison and Mary Hemings labored in Christ to build steps for my birth with the inalienable right of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

Standing firm on wood cut, shaped and hammered into something of lasting value and beauty is not simply a matter of pride about my obviously talented carpenter ancestor, ... but also that Christ in the flesh was a carpenter whose body and spirit built a church for us to remember in generating better and more fruitful lives.  Our great fear is that so many believers lack knowledge of the history and process by which goodness comes into being, ... and thus little knowledge of functional generations in the historical faith they proclaim to have. 

Indeed, with Pentecostal fervor, millions of African-Americans apparently expect to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven on earth without climbing lengthy stairs?  Dancing and singing for a heavenly elevator to drop down and lift them into the arms of Christ, (even the gluttonous selfish ones who have utterly failed to raise up a better generation), ... is not the Christianity men like Madison Hemings believed in or pursued. 

Their "callings" preached by men like Frederick Douglass were heard loud and clear, ... for them to send and sacrifice their sons for the cause of human dignity and liberty of future generations in the body and spirit of Christ.  We resent any writer who would deny such evidence.

And in Canada, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, and all the other lands where Black and Mulatto men lived free, ... the trumpet blew and blew until there was no rest among them, excepting the deft and dumb who still know not, ... that they know not "callings" to help "the least of us" help themselves. But, thousands of Jesse Jackson type traditional believers obviously heard the call and urged God speed to their sons, nephews, cousins and even younger brothers as sacrifices for goodness. 

Those who could pass for White did so and joined White regiments; while others had to wait until July 1862 when President Abraham Lincoln authorized military planning for approximately 150 Colored Regiments enlisting over 170,000 young men.  The greatest emancipator in human history next issued Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 to facilitate men for saving the Union, ... with evidence demonstrated by 6 months of enlistments that freed men of African heritage were willing to fight and die to free others.  A few were even Black preachers. 

Were men like Madison Hemings, his siblings and cousins used as part of some divine plan for humanity beyond our ability to predict, ... but have the faith to still believe?  I do not know and neither does anyone else but there are many millions who believe God heard the prayers and tears of ancestors far more numerous than those souls of golden biblical oldies "down into Egypt land" ... and sent courageous men (including Moses, Aaron, Lincoln, Douglass, Williams, Garnett) already free to help rescue them?  Who inspired them? Who believes?  The inferiority of matriarchal versus patriarchal cultural dynamics and memories is self-evident.  Mothers cannot generate what they do not care to learn.

While modern day Jews have never forgotten to remember, ... too many African-Americans never knew or believed divine intervention had anything to do with them being delivered up from hell on earth, where some big strong Black men in the fertile Mississippi Delta were even hitched to plows in lieu of unavailable mules. We can never know how bad their hell was. What we do know is that for the emancipation proclamation to be worth the paper it was written on, ... a lot of coordinated planning was necessary including getting Congress and the Governors to agree with funding, recruiting, feeding, garrisoning, stationing, arming, training, supplying and leading Black troops to help save the Union. 

It was a great political risk on the part of Abraham Lincoln. The constitution did not allow him to free the slaves where the Union was intact, but as Commander-In-Chief, he had the power to declare enlistment of Blacks to be a military necessity, ... and in order to enlist them he had to emancipate them and population in which they existed. 

Confederate President Jefferson Davis of the rebel confederacy promptly announced that any Black soldiers captured by rebel forces would be treated as traitors to their native states, ... not as prisoners of war.  Indeed, the confederate forces routinely executed U.S. Colored Troops they captured regardless of native states.   

President Lincoln had nothing more to lean on than his faith that Frederick Douglass would prove him right, ... Black men would enlist to fight despite all the stereo-types published and digested about them being incompetent, shiftless, useless and cowardly, and popular opinion long before "Gone With the Wind" and the follow-up "Color Purple."  Yes, Clarence Thomas would likely have been robed as an affirmative action special ordained priest to cite Saint Paul's acceptance of slavery and warning Roman slaves like "Mammy" to be loyal to their masters, and betray plantation radicals like "Frederick Douglass" urging them to escape their earthly lords?

Such was the ideology of "Gone With the Families" that dominated Georgia and fondly remembered by writer Margaret Mitchell in memory of her beloved grand parents.  But, we also remember our ancestors. And, not only did sons of Madison Hemings enlist in the great cause, ... they encouraged others, especially their cousins, in far away Mississippi and even New York to join to be and do all they could to help "the least of us"  who were too young, afraid, old, ignorant or feeble to help themselves.  If not for them and their kind, ... Clarence Thomas and his kind might still be sitting on a "Negroes only bench" licking cotton-candy or sipping coca-cola in the hot Georgia sun quoting Confederate States of America constitutional law, ... and, "lovin it."   

Hemings Generations

Sarah (Sally) Hemings Wayles, born 1773

Madison Hemings Jefferson, born 1805

Home ] Up ] Israel Jefferson ] Statistical Gazetter ] Ohio Roll of Honor ] Telling Their Stories ] Martin Van Buren ] Paul Jennings ]

Email:                          Editors, More Mary Matters                                bradyenterpriseassociation@gmail.com
with questions or comments about this web site.
Copyright 2010 Brady Enterprise Association, Inc.
Last modified: 12/29/16