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Madison Hemings
Madison Hemings

(1805-01-19)January 19, 1805
DiedNovember 28, 1877(1877-11-28) (aged 72)
OccupationFine woodworker; farmer
Known forSon of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings
Mary Hughes McCoy
(m. 1831; died 1876)
Parent(s)Sally Hemings
Thomas Jefferson

Madison Hemings (January 19, 1805 – November 28, 1877) was the son of the mixed-race enslaved woman Sally Hemings and her owner, President Thomas Jefferson. He was the third of her four children to survive to adulthood. Madison Hemings grew up on Jefferson's Monticello plantation.[1] Born into slavery by his mother's status, he was freed by the will of Jefferson in 1826. Based on historical and DNA evidence, historians widely agree that Jefferson was probably the father of all Hemings' children.[2][3][clarification needed] At the age of 68, Madison Hemings claimed the connection in an 1873 Ohio newspaper interview, titled, "Life Among the Lowly," which attracted national and international attention. 1998 DNA tests demonstrate a match between the Y-chromosome of a descendant of his brother, Eston Hemings, and that of the male Jefferson line.

After Madison and his younger brother Eston were freed, they each worked and married free women of color; they lived with their families and mother Sally in Charlottesville until her death in 1835. Both brothers moved with their young families to Chillicothe, Ohio to live in a free state. Madison and his wife Mary lived there the remainder of their lives; he worked as a farmer and highly skilled carpenter. Among their ten children were two sons who served the Union Army in the Civil War: one in the United States Colored Troops and one who enlisted as a white man in the regular army.

Among Madison and Mary Hemings' grandchildren was Frederick Madison Roberts, the first African American elected to office on the West Coast. He served in the California legislature for nearly two decades. In 2010 their descendant Shay Banks-Young, who identifies as African American, together with one Wayles and one Hemings descendants, who each identify as European American, received the international "Search for Common Ground" award for work among the Jefferson descendants and the public to bridge gaps and heal "the legacy of slavery." They founded "The Monticello Community" for descendants of all the people who lived and worked there in Jefferson's lifetime.


Madison was born into slavery at Monticello, where his mother Sally Hemings was a mixed-race enslaved woman inherited by Martha Wayles Skelton, the wife of Thomas Jefferson. (Sally and Martha were reported half sisters, both fathered by the planter John Wayles. Wayles was said to have a "shadow family": six children with Betty Hemings, whom he enslaved after his third wife died.) As the historians Philip D. Morgan and Joshua D. Rothman have written, there were numerous interracial relationships in the Wayles-Hemings-Jefferson families, Albemarle County and Virginia, often with multiple generations repeating the pattern.[4][5] According to his memoir, Sally Hemings told Madison that his father was Thomas Jefferson, and that their relationship had started in Paris in the late 1780s, where he was serving as a diplomat.[6] Pregnant, she agreed to return with Jefferson to the United States based on his promise to free her children when they came of age.[6]

Madison grew up at Monticello. His surviving mixed-race siblings were an older brother Beverley and sister Harriet, and a younger brother Eston. According to his 1873 memoir, Madison was named for Jefferson's close friend and future president James Madison at the request of Madison's wife Dolley.[6] Madison lived as a child with his siblings and mother, who were all spared from hard labor. He described Jefferson as kind but showing little or no paternal interest in the Hemings children.

Like his older brother Beverley, at 14 years of age, Madison was apprenticed to his uncle, Sally's brother John Hemings, the most skilled artisan at Monticello, to learn carpentry and fine woodworking; his younger brother Eston joined him two years later. This gave each of them a valuable trade. All three of the Hemings brothers also studied and learned to play the violin, the instrument associated with Jefferson. Beverley, the oldest, was good enough to be invited to play at dances held by the Jeffersons at Monticello. As an adult, Eston Hemings made a living as a musician and entertainer in Ohio.

Freed in Jefferson's will

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In his will, Jefferson[7] gave immediate freedom to three slaves: John Hemings, a brother of Sally, to whom he also bequeathed "the service of his two apprentices Madison and Eston Hemings", with instruction that the brothers each be freed at his respective 21st birthday. Jefferson freed two of Sally's nephews: Joseph Fossett and Burwell Colbert. (John Hemings was a widower and evidently childless by 1826, but Fossett and Colbert were married and the fathers of large families. As Jefferson did not free their wives and children, all were sold along with Monticello's nearly 130 other slaves at auctions in 1827 to settle the heavy debts against his estate. The men and their friends worked to buy the freedom of their families.) Although the three older men had served Jefferson for decades, Madison and Eston were distinguished by being freed as they "came of age" at 21. Madison was nearly 21 at the time of Jefferson's death; Eston was "given his time" and freed before age 21.

Knowing that his estate was in debt and that freed slaves could not legally remain in Virginia for more than one year, Jefferson by his will requested the legislature of Virginia to guarantee the manumission of the five slaves, and to grant the men special "permission to remain in this State, where their families and connections are." Both requests were evidently granted.


Twenty-one-year-old Madison Hemings was emancipated almost immediately after Jefferson died; Eston soon after. The brothers rented a house in nearby Charlottesville, where their mother Sally joined them for the rest of her life. (She was not formally freed but was "given her time" by Jefferson's surviving daughter Martha Jefferson Randolph, who was also Hemings' niece.) In the 1830 Albemarle County census, Madison, Eston and Sally Hemings were all classified as free whites.[8]

According to Madison's 1873 memoir, his older brother Beverley and his older sister Harriet moved to Washington D.C. in 1822 when they "ran away" from Monticello. Jefferson ensured that Harriet was given money for her journey. Because of their light skin and appearance (they were 7/8 European or octoroon), both identified with the white community after their moves and probably changed their names. Hemings said they had married white spouses of good circumstances, and moved into white society. They apparently kept their paternity a secret, as it would have revealed their origins as slaves, and disappeared into history.[6]

In September 1831, in his mid-twenties, Madison Hemings was described in a special census of the State of Virginia as being: 5"7 3/8 Inches high light complexion no scars or marks perceivable". Forty-two years later at the time of his interview, a journalist described him as "five feet ten inches in height, sparely made, with sandy complexion and a mild gray eye."[9]

On November 21, 1831, Madison wed Mary Hughes McCoy, a free woman of mixed-race ancestry (her grandfather Samuel Hughes, a white planter, freed her grandmother Chana from slavery and had children with her).[10] They had one child born in Virginia.

1845 article in The Liberator about the Hemings family in Ohio
1845 article in The Liberator about the Hemings family in Ohio

In 1836 Madison, Mary and their infant daughter Sarah left Charlottesville for Pike County, Ohio, probably to join his brother Eston, who had already moved there with his own family. They lived in Chillicothe, which had a thriving free black community, abolitionists among both races, and a station of the Underground Railroad. Surviving records in Pike County state that Hemings purchased 25 acres (100,000 m2) for $150 on July 22, 1856, sold the same area for $250 on December 30, 1859, and purchased 66 acres (270,000 m2) for $10 per acre on September 25, 1865.[11] The Hemings had more children born in Ohio.

In 1852, Madison's brother, Eston, moved with his family away from Ohio (and his brother) to Madison, Wisconsin, to get further from possible danger from slave catchers following passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 of 1850. Slave catchers were known to kidnap free black people and sell them into slavery, as demand and prices were high in the Deep South.[12] In Wisconsin, Eston and his family all took the surname Jefferson and entered the white community. They lived according to their appearance and mostly white ancestry. Their oldest son John Wayles Jefferson served as a regular Union officer in the American Civil War, and was promoted to colonel. Their son Beverly also served in the Union Army and married a white woman. Their daughter Anna married a white man. All of Eston's descendants identified as white.[13]

In 1873, Madison used an Ohio newspaper interview about his life, titled, "Life Among the Lowly," to address the Jefferson/Hemings controversy, stating that Jefferson was his father.[14] In this interview, Madison also said, "I was named Madison by the wife of James Madison, who was afterwards President of the United States. Dolley happened to be at Monticello at the time of my birth, and begged privilege of naming me, promising my mother a fine present for the honor. She consented, and Mrs. Madison dubbed me by the name I now acknowledge, but like many promises of white folks to the slaves she never gave my mother anything."[15]


Madison and Mary Hemings were the parents of 9 children: Sarah, Thomas Eston, Harriet, Mary Ann, Catherine Jane, William Beverly, James Madison, Julia Ann and Ellen Wayles Hemings. According to his memoir, their daughter Sarah (named for his mother) was born in Virginia; eight more children were born in Ohio. He had a quiet life as a modestly successful free black farmer and carpenter.[15]

Jefferson–Hemings controversy

Main article: Jefferson–Hemings controversy

External video
video icon Booknotes interview with Gordon-Reed on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, February 21, 1999, C-SPAN[16]

The Jefferson–Hemings controversy has concerned the question of whether, after Jefferson became a widower, he had a sexual relationship with Sally Hemings, a young mixed-race woman whom he enslaved and who was a half sister of his late wife, and fathered her children. The controversy dates from the 1790s: newspaper articles appeared during Jefferson's lifetime accusing him of fathering children with an enslaved woman named Sally. Jefferson's descendants denied it, saying that a relative, Peter Carr, was the father. Major American historians and biographers of Jefferson adopted this theory, and generally avoided the issue of Jefferson's potential relationship, relying on his writings to rule out such a relationship with an enslaved woman.

Since the late twentieth century, historians have conducted new research and begun to reanalyze the body of evidence. Fawn McKay Brodie's 1973 psychobiography, Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History, explored more fully the possibility of his relationship with Hemings for the first time, and she interviewed several Hemings descendants. They repeated their family history of descent. Mainline male historians criticized her psychological approach and rejected her conclusions related to Hemings.

In 1997, law professor Annette Gordon-Reed published Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, analyzing the historiography of the controversy. She demonstrated how historians since the nineteenth century had accepted early assumptions and failed to note all the facts. In this book, Gordon-Reed discusses many important facts that other writers of the Jefferson–Hemings controversy were too biased to acknowledge. The most convincing evidence is that all of Sally Hemings's children were freed after coming of age, two being allowed to "walk away" and two granted freedom in Jefferson's will, as they were minors at his death. In addition, Jefferson appealed to the state legislature to allow these two Hemings males to stay in Virginia, rather than being forced out as were other free black people. In his 1873 memoir, Madison Hemings wrote that Jefferson had not displayed fatherly warmth to the Hemings children, but he gave them lighter work responsibilities compared to other people whom he enslaved, and apprenticed them to learn artisan skills when they were old enough.

Sally Hemings had at least six children whose births were recorded. Some sources, including Madison Hemings's memoir, says that Sally Hemings conceived her first child while in Paris with Jefferson, but that the baby died shortly after birth. Another daughter named Harriet, whose birth was recorded at the time, also died shortly after birth, but four other children lived to adulthood, three boys and one girl: Beverly, Harriet (the second daughter given this name), Madison, and Eston. Beverly and Harriet left Monticello to go North when they were both around twenty-one years of age, but Madison and Eston were freed by Jefferson's will after he died. Although Jefferson did not legally manumit Beverly and Harriet, he secretly arranged and paid for Harriet's transportation to Philadelphia, using his overseer Edmund Bacon as an intermediary. Although he marked in his Farm Book that both had "run away," Jefferson never made any attempt to re-enslave them.[17] Gordon-Reed noted that this Hemings family was the only one in which all the children were freed, and Harriet the only enslaved woman he freed. She suggests this special treatment was significant and related to their status as his "natural" children.[18]

Largely as a result of revived interest in this case following Gordon-Reed's book, a Y-DNA analysis of Carr, Jefferson and Hemings descendants was conducted in 1998. Y-DNA is passed on virtually unchanged through the direct male line. It showed no match between the Carr male line, proposed for more than 150 years as the father(s), and the one Hemings descendant tested.[2] It did show a match between the Y-DNA haplotype of the Jefferson male line and the Hemings descendant, which is a rare type.[2][19]

Since 1998 and the DNA study, which affirmed the historical evidence, many historians have accepted that the widower Jefferson had a long, sexual relationship with Hemings, and fathered six children with her, four of whom survived to adulthood. The Thomas Jefferson Foundation (TJF), which runs Monticello, conducted an independent historic review in 2000, as did the National Genealogical Society in 2001; the scholars of both reviews concluded Jefferson was probably the father of all Hemings's children.[20][21]

Critics, such as the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society (TJHS) Scholars Commission (2001), have argued against these conclusions. They have concluded that there is insufficient evidence to determine that Jefferson was the father of Hemings's children. The TJHS report, which was not peer-reviewed, suggested that Jefferson's younger brother Randolph Jefferson could have been the father. This alternative was at one time recounted by twentieth-century descendants of Eston Hemings who were classified as white. Their fathers were trying to shield them from racism.[22] The TJHS report also suggested that Hemings may have had multiple partners.[23]

There are no living male-line descendants of Madison Hemings. Beverley Hemings' descendants have been lost to history, as he apparently changed his name after moving to Washington, DC and passing into white society. Descendants of Madison Hemings declined to have the remains of his son William Hemings disturbed to extract DNA for testing (he was buried in a VA cemetery), just as Wayles-Jefferson descendants declined to have Thomas Jefferson's remains disturbed.[24]

In 2012, the Smithsonian Institution and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation held a major exhibit at the National Museum of American History: Slavery at Jefferson's Monticello: The Paradox of Liberty. It said that "evidence strongly support[s] the conclusion that Jefferson was the father of Sally Hemings' children."[25] The exhibit explores the lives of six major enslaved families, including the Hemings, starting with the matriarch Elizabeth Hemings, who had 75 descendants at Monticello.

In June 2018, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation mounted a new exhibit at Monticello, The Life of Sally Hemings. It also announced that it was affirming that Jefferson was the likely father of her children and removing any qualifications to that statement, as no new evidence had been documented to contradict the existing weight of evidence in favor of that conclusion.


Madison Hemings' youngest daughter Ellen Wayles Hemings married Andrew Jackson Roberts, a graduate of Oberlin College. They moved from Ohio to Los Angeles, California in 1885 with their first son Frederick, age six. The senior Roberts founded the first black-owned mortuary there and became a civic leader in the developing community.[26] Their son, Frederick Madison Roberts, named for his maternal grandfather, was college-educated and became a businessman in partnership with his father. He also became a community leader. In 1918 Roberts was first elected to the California legislature. He was re-elected numerous times, serving for a total of 16 years, and becoming known as "dean of the assembly". He is believed to have been the first person of African-American ancestry elected to political office west of the Mississippi River. Both he and his brother William Giles Roberts graduated from college. The Roberts descendants for generations have had a strong tradition of college education and public service.[26]

The experiences of descendants of both Madison and Eston Hemings illustrate the benefits and costs of passing for white. None of Madison Hemings's sons married. William Beverly Hemings served in a white regiment--the 73rd Ohio--in the Civil War and died alone in a Kansas veterans hospital in 1910. His brother James Madison Hemings seems to have slipped back and forth across the color line, and may be the source of stories among his sisters' descendants of a mysterious and silent visitor who looked like a white man, with white beard and blue eyes. Several of Madison Hemings's grandsons also passed for white, divorcing themselves from their sisters who stayed on the other side of the line. Passing was not always permanent. Intermittent passing became a strategy for securing anything from a job to a haircut. Their racial identities calibrated by the day or hour, light-skinned members of the Hemings family were white in the workplace and black at home, or they borrowed a white surname to make a hairdressing appointment in a neighboring town.[27]

Many of the Hemings' descendants who remained in Ohio were interviewed in the late twentieth century by two Monticello researchers as part of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation's "Getting Word" project. They were collecting oral histories from the descendants of enslaved families at Monticello; material has been added to the Monticello website and was included in the national Slavery at Jefferson's Monticello 2012 exhibit. The researchers found that Hemings' descendants had married within the mixed-race community for generations, choosing light-skinned spouses of an educated class and identifying as people of color within the black community.[28]

In 2010 Shay Banks-Young and Julia Jefferson Westerinen, descendants of Sally Hemings who identify as black and white, respectively, were honored together with David Works, a descendant of Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson, with the Search for Common Ground award for "their work to bridge the divide within their family and heal the legacy of slavery."[29] They have spoken about race and their historically divided and united family, and have been featured on NPR and in other interviews across the country.[29]

In June 2016, Shay Banks-Young died.[30] Mention of her death was announced on the Monticello website.[31]


  1. ^ White, Deborah (2013). Freedom on my mind. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin. p. 192.
  2. ^ a b c Jefferson's Blood, 2000, PBS Frontline, accessed 10 March 2012. Quote: "Now, the new scientific evidence has been correlated with the existing documentary record, and a consensus of historians and other experts who have examined the issue agree that the question has largely been answered: Thomas Jefferson fathered at least one of Sally Hemings' children, and quite probably all six. The language of "proof" does not translate perfectly from science and the law to the historian's craft, however. And the DNA findings in this case are only one piece of a complicated puzzle that many in previous generations worked hard to make sure we might never solve.
    In this section, FRONTLINE has gathered some of the key scientific and documentary evidence which has led historians to believe in Jefferson's paternity, as well as the "dissenting views" of those who continue to maintain that the evidence is not conclusive."
  3. ^ "Monticello Affirms Thomas Jefferson Fathered Children with Sally Hemings". Monticello. 2018. Retrieved 12 August 2019. While there are some who disagree, the Foundation’s scholarly advisors and the larger community of academic historians who specialize in early American history have concurred for many years that the evidence is sufficiently strong to state that Thomas Jefferson fathered at least six children with Sally Hemings.
  4. ^ Philip D. Morgan (1999). "Interracial Sex In the Chesapeake and the British Atlantic World c.1700-1820". In Jan Lewis; Peter S. Onuf (eds.). Sally Hemings & Thomas Jefferson: history, memory, and civic culture. University of Virginia Press. ISBN 978-0-8139-1919-5.
  5. ^ Joshua D. Rothman, Notorious in the Neighborhood: Sex and Interracial Relationships Across the Color Line in Virginia, 1787-1861, University of North Carolina Press, 2003
  6. ^ a b c d The Memoirs of Madison Hemings, Thomas Jefferson: Frontline, PBS-WGBH
  7. ^ Jefferson's will appears full-text at the bottom of this page of other full-text Jeffersonian primary documents. All quotes regarding Jefferson's dispositions are taken from his will.
  8. ^ Annette Gordon-Reed, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, Charlottesville, University of Virginia Press, 1997, p. 209
  9. ^ Stanton, Lucia. "Madison Hemings", Dec 1998, Monticello, accessed 28 May 2007
  10. ^ Lucia Stanton and Dianne Swann-Wright, "Bonds of Memory: Identity and the Hemings Family", Sally Hemings & Thomas Jefferson: History, Memory, and Civic Culture, Ed. by Jan Lewis, Peter S. Onuf, University of Virginia, 1999, p. 163, accessed 7 March 2011
  11. ^ Legal documents related to Madison Hemings, as well as a transcript of his memoir and that of Israel Jefferson, another former Monticello slave, can be found in the appendices of Fawn M. Brodie's biography Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History, excerpts from which can be accessed online at Google Books.
  12. ^ Carol Wilson, Freedom at Risk: The Kidnapping of Free Blacks in America, 1780-1865, University of Kentucky Press, 1994. The historian Carol Wilson documented 300 such cases in her book, and noted there were probably thousands more.
  13. ^ Justus, Judith, Down from the Mountain: The Oral History of the Hemings Family, Perrysburg, OH: Lesher Printers, Inc., 1990, pp. 89–96
  14. ^ White, Deborah Gray, Mia Bay, and Waldo E. Martin Jr. Freedom on My Mind: A History of African Americans. New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2013.
  15. ^ a b "Life among the Lowly, No. 1". Pike County (Ohio) Republican. March 13, 1873. Retrieved 12 August 2019.
  16. ^ "Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings". C-SPAN. February 21, 1999. Retrieved March 14, 2017.
  17. ^ Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and his Slaves by Henry Wiencek, 2012. pp. 213-214.
  18. ^ Annette Gordon-Reed, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, University of Virginia Press, 1998 (reprint, with new foreword, first published 1997)
  19. ^ Foster EA, Jobling MA, Taylor PG, Donnelly P, de Knijff P, Mieremet R, Zerjal T, Tyler-Smith C (1998). "Jefferson fathered slave's last child" (PDF). Nature. 396 (6706): 27–28. Bibcode:1998Natur.396...27F. doi:10.1038/23835. PMID 9817200. S2CID 4424562. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-05-08. Retrieved 2012-03-17.
  20. ^ "Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: A Brief Account", Monticello Website, accessed 22 June 2011, Quote: "Ten years later [referring to its 2000 report], TJF [Thomas Jefferson Foundation] and most historians now believe that, years after his wife's death, Thomas Jefferson was the father of the six children of Sally Hemings mentioned in Jefferson's records, including Beverly, Harriet, Madison and Eston Hemings."
  21. ^ Helen F. M. Leary, National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 89, No. 3, September 2001, pp. 207, 214 - 218 Quote: Leary concluded that "the chain of evidence securely fastens Sally Hemings's children to their father, Thomas Jefferson."
  22. ^ Turner, Also see Robert F. (2011) [2001]. The Jefferson-Hemings Controversy: Report of the Scholars Commission. Durham: Carolina Academic Press. p. 162. ISBN 978-0-89089-085-1.
  23. ^ "The Scholars Commission on the Jefferson-Hemings Issue" Archived 2015-09-15 at the Wayback Machine, 2001, Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society
  24. ^ "Historian wants access to Kansas grave in probing link between Jefferson, slave" Archived 2012-05-27 at the Wayback Machine, AP, 4 January 2000, in Topeka Capital Journal (CJ Online), accessed 2 December 2008
  25. ^ Slavery at Jefferson's Monticello: The Paradox of Liberty, 27 January 2012-14 October 2012, Smithsonian Institution, accessed 23 March 2012. Quote: "The [DNA] test results show a genetic link between the Jefferson and Hemings descendants: A man with the Jefferson Y chromosome fathered Eston Hemings (born 1808). While there were other adult males with the Jefferson Y chromosome living in Virginia at that time, most historians now believe that the documentary and genetic evidence, considered together, strongly support the conclusion that Jefferson was the father of Sally Hemings's children."
  26. ^ a b Fawn M. Brodie, "Thomas Jefferson's Unknown Grandchildren: A Study in Historical Silences", American Heritage Magazine, Jun 1976, Vol. 27:Issue 6, accessed 25 Nov 2008
  27. ^ --Adapted from Lucia Stanton and Dianne Swann-Wright, "Bonds of Memory: Identity and the Hemings Family," in Jan Ellen Lewis and Peter S. Onuf, eds., Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson: History, Memory, and Civic Culture (Charlottesville, 1999), 161-83
  28. ^ Stanton and Swann-Dwight, "Bonds of Memory", pp. 161–170
  29. ^ a b Michel Martin, "Thomas Jefferson Descendants Work To Heal Family's Past", NPR, November 11, 2010, accessed March 2, 2011
  30. ^ "Shay Banks-Young Obituary". The Columbus Dispatch. July 6, 2016. Retrieved October 10, 2019.
  31. ^ "Shay Banks-Young". Monticello. Retrieved October 30, 2019.

Further reading