Madison Hemings was not the first or last Hemings descendent to pursue and master carpentry, farming, music, surveying and related attributes so prominently associated with Thomas Jefferson. Their lives were very much Jeffersonian in the facts about what they did to live a useful life. We do not know whether or not Sally Hemings learned to play a musical instrument but there is clear record of her descendents who did so generation after generation until the present one. Both Madison and Eston Hemings learned and played the violin professionally in both the Charolttesville, Virginia vicinity and the Chillicothe, Ohio area. And their offspring for the next three generations also played the violin, mostly for their own enjoyment.
I make mention of these facts because like many Hemings descendents, my parents informed me as to various particulars in my heritage; and, music lessons was one of the values given and nurtured for me, my siblings and cousins. The issue here is that we did not need the literary works of Professor Fawn Brody or writers Barbara Chase Riboud, Tina Andrews and others to alert us as to our Hemings heritage though such did serve to help document our existence.
My view is that regardless of what one chooses to believe about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings in the late 18th and early 19th century, .... we do exist as human beings free to believe as we please and with the faith that our existence is for a purpose best known to our creator.
Like a great symphony of music, there are hundreds of descendents that have been added since the generation of Madison Hemings in 1804. His decision to marry a free woman of color in Virginia suffices to note his choice to live and die as a man of African heritage even though his brothers Beverley and Eston and sister Harriett exercised their freedom of choice to be classified White.
I do believe that Madison Hemings demonstrated both courage and faith in his marriage to a colored woman, but much more significant is that all descendents pursued monogamous lifestyles not unlike that of their mother, Sally Hemings. Scholars who would judge otherwise are without validity in suggestions that Sally Hemings ever engaged any man other than the father of her children.
In fact, there is no evidence of polygamy among Hemings offspring beyond the life of Elizabeth (Betty) Hemings who died in year 1807 having generated fourteen children (seven by Black men and seven by White men), ... including John Wayles her owner and defacto husband and father of Sally Hemings and Martha Wayles who became the wife of Thomas Jefferson. Madison Hemings was well aware and observer of the fact that his mother (Sally Hemings) was of similar age and image of Martha Wayles Jefferson's daughter Maria, ... and thus would not have found it unusual to remember her as being called "the Black Mariah."
We suspect it is possible (Madison's Uncle Robert Hemings also likely had sons or grandsons living as Whites in Virginia) that third and youngest son, James, left Ohio and traveled through Union lines to enlist in the Confederate Militia of Virginia in a failed attempt to rescue his brother Thomas from the Confederate prison in Richmond. His efforts failed to materialize before all the prisoners were relocated in 1863 to the Andersonville, Georgia den of hell. We have no proof such was the case, but it is a possible source of material for novelists who want to portray heroic deeds by men in the great struggle for human emancipation; rather than traditional etchings of African-American men as "born again" cowards.
Thus said and done after the Civil War was fought and won by a Union Army and cause for which Madison had sacrificed his sons and daughters happiness, ... Madison Hemings was categorized and classified as living among the lowly not because of his color which was White, ... but because he chose to be known as an African-American. Indeed, his mother Sally Hemings had three-fourths White ancestry via her father John Wayles and Captain Hemings who fathered her grand-mother Elizabeth Hemings.
All African-Americans regardless of color, location or wealth categories, ... were classified as lower class by Whites of authority such as newspaper publishers. It is doubtful that publisher of Madison Hemings' reminicenses would have printed more information about Madison Hemings because news-print space was both limited and expensive. We think Madison may have been questioned about an nearly obvious relationship to Jefferson and other distant White cousins residing in Ross and Pike Counties. He certainly would have divulged that he had been the father-in-law of both Jacob and James Butler killed in the war as sons of a prominent White politician in the region.
It also seems reasonable that Madison would have disclosed more in the respective interviews about his sons who had served in the war of great interest and pride in Ohio. Perhaps he would have noted that his daughter Catherine lived in the Butler household of her deceased husband's mother and father to comfort them in their loss of two sons; and, that his other daughter Harriette remained at home to comfort him in his loss and mourning.
It is almost impossible to imagine the depth of mourning that must have existed in families that lost loved ones in the war. Whether, Black, Mulatto or White, no families lost more young men killed and severely wounded than did those of Ohio and Virginia; and, in the case of Hemings descendents the pain crossed the borders that divided them from cousins by the dozens in all racial categories. It is ignorant to imagine that parents of affected young men did not know their heritage, ... or discuss such with their offspring both before and after the war. Ironically, southern Whites such as the Randolph descendents in Virginia felt that offspring of families like the Hemings betrayed them in siding with the Union; but on the other hand the men like Madison Hemings viewed their White cousins in ante-bellum Virginia as people who did not hesitate to sell and separate their friends and relatives.
Our view is that it is up to us the living descendents to help tell the story he would likely have wanted known, ... that he tried to live a useful life and from him came forth that which is goodness. But, we cannot honor and remember him without telling the stories of his ancestors including Thomas Jefferson, his father and the many generations before him, both of African and European heritage.
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