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Mary Jefferson Eppes

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Mary Jefferson Eppes
Mary Jefferson

(1778-08-01)August 1, 1778
DiedApril 17, 1804(1804-04-17) (aged 25)
Spouse(s)John Wayles Eppes
Children3, including Francis W. Eppes
Parent(s)Thomas Jefferson
Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson

Mary Jefferson Eppes (August 1, 1778 – April 17, 1804), known as Polly in childhood and Maria as an adult, was the younger of Thomas Jefferson's two daughters with his wife who survived infancy. She married a first cousin, John Wayles Eppes, and had three children with him. Only their son Francis W. Eppes survived childhood. Maria died months after the birth of her third child.

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  • ✪ Jefferson’s Daughters: Three Sisters, White and Black, in a Young America
  • ✪ Martha Jefferson: An Intimate Life with Thomas Jefferson
  • ✪ The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family


>> Good afternoon, welcome to the William G. McGowan Theater here at the National Archives. I'm David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States It's a pleasure to welcome you here, those of you here in the theater, those joining us on the YouTube station and a special welcome to our C‑SPAN audience. Before we get to today's discussion, I'd like to let you know about two other programs coming up soon. Friday, Feburary 16th at noon, Professors Chris Myers Ashe and George Derek Musgrove will be here to talk about their book, Chocolate City: A History of Race and Democracy in the Nation's Capital, the tumultuous four century of race and democracyin Washington, DC, a city that served as national battleground for contentious issues, including slavery, segregation, civil rights and a drug wars. After a two‑year absence from public view, Abraham Lincoln's original Emancipation Proclamation will be on display in the East Rotunda gallery during President's Day weekend. Don't miss this rare opportunity to see the original Emancipation Proclamation. The document will be made available for viewing February 17th, 18th and 19th between the hours of 10:00 and 5:30 each day. To learn more about these and our public programs and exhibits, consult our calendar of events online at There is a table outside where you can sign up to receive email updates. Another way to get involved in the National Archives is become a member of the National Archives Foundation. It supports all of our education and outreach activities and their applications for membership are in the lobby also. Today's program takes a close look at Thomas Jefferson's three daughters, Martha and Mariah Jefferson and Harriet Hemings while depicting the life of Thomas Jefferson through their eyes. Author Catherine Kerrison painstakingly researched their lives using primary sources including court cases and district courts of the United States and deed books of the District of Columbia here in the National Archives. In previous accounts about Hemings family authors such as Annette Gordon-Reed made the case that Jefferson fathered children with Sally Hemings. For the first time, in Jefferson's Three Daughters Mary Beth Norton of the New York Times book review writes, "Kerrison's beautifully written book takes the relationship's the existence as a given." Christian Science Monitor review, "'Jefferson’s Daughters' brings its period vividly to life, a credit to Kerrison’s exhaustive research, her passion for her subject, and her elegant writing. Catherine Kerrison is Associate Professor of history at Villanova where she teaches courses in colonial and revolutionary American and women's and gender history. She holds a Ph.D in American History from the College of William and Mary, an author of several scholarly articles and two books, and presented her work in conferences in the United States and abroad. In the course of her research, she's won grants and fellowships from organizations such as National Endowment for the Humanities, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, and Virginia Historical Society. Her first book, "Claiming the Pen Women and Intellectual Life in the Early American South," won the Outstanding Book Award from the History of Education Society 2007. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Catherine Kerrison. [ Applause ] >> Well, good afternoon, and thank you so much for being here. I can't tell you what a pleasure it is for me and how exciting it is for me to be back in Washington where I have done so much of my research to be back in this building where I have spent weeks working on this project, so, it's wonderful to be here, and thank you for coming. So, I thought what I would do today, is to present first a very brief overview of the book, and then what I'll do is kind of zero in on two of the stories that I think really bring out the themes of the book, and why I think these stories matter for today. So, Thomas Jefferson had three daughters, Martha and Mariah, by his wife, Martha Wells Jefferson and Harriet by his slave Sally Hemings. I recount the journeys of these three different women and how their struggles to define themselves reflect the possibilities and limitations of the American Revolution. Although all three women shared the same father, the commonalities end there. Martha and Mariah received a fine convent school education where they lived in Paris during their father's diplomatic posting there. At that time Paris was a hot house of intellectual ferment, the young Martha gentlemen met she socialized with. Once they returned home, however, the sisters found their options limited by the laws and customs in the newly independents republic that their father themselves have helped to establish. 12 year after their return from France, their half sister, Harriet Hemings was born and her life would follow a very different path. She would grow up in slavery but leave Monticello at age 21 with the assistance of Jefferson himself and begin a new life free from bondage. She boarded a coach bound for Philadelphia with $50 in her pocket, money Jefferson himself provided and for undecidedly uncertain prospects. Their lives provide, I think, a unique vantage point from which to examine the complicated legacy of the American Revolution itself. I wrote this book to show how their richly interwoven stories and their own individual struggle to shape their own destinies, shed new light on the challenges we still face in this nation today for the ongoing movement towards human rights, as well, as, of course the light it sheds on the personal and political legacy of one of our most controversial founding fathers. So, today, I thought I'll open up this stories of Martha, the eldest, and Harriet, the youngest. So, Martha, born in 1772, was 10 years old when her mother died. She was a witness to Jefferson's agonized grief and his companion when he traveled to France in 1784. So the young Martha learned her ‑‑ early her vocation in life: Complete devotion to her father. She was barely 12 years old when her father placed her in this elite convent school. This is one view from the Courtyard and just a partial view. This entire building is the length of two football fields so it gives you an idea of the size. So, this is again, from the inner Courtyard, and Martha, the day that her father dropped her off at this school, they would have entered through doors concealed behind this bush, but the mother superior's offices were up here and there's a gorgeous staircase that takes you from up here to the mother superior's office. This is from the street view, not quite as impressive, but this is the chapel, the Roman Catholic chapel, right, in which Martha would attend services as well. So, it was one of the most fashionable schools in Paris, and certainly by a mile the most expensive, there in an all female community, headed by an Aristocratic Abbess and devoted to the girl's intellectual life. Martha would have the experience of a lifetime. After a bit of a rocky start, she quickly learned French, dove into her studies, into gossip with with her friends, the chaperoned pleasures of life in Paris. In the height of the women's influence of the regime. They arrived in Paris in August of 1784. They leave in September of 1789. So, two months after the crowd besieges, and the storms of the gates of Bastille. So, she gossiped about politics, French ideas about love and marriage, and a wayward classmate who's, quote, story you told me today of her and the Eden boy, one of her confidants confessed, really shocked me. Deep thoughts and small pre occupied her. She desperately wished that slavery would cease, she implored her father for an advance on her allowance. Her lively intelligence, warmth and vivacity won her many friends. The portrait of the young girl that they painted with their vivid memory, bounding down the stair, four steps at a time in her coffee‑stained apron, shopping for Parisian fashions, reporting on the shifting alliances of the girl's creeks as students move in and out of the convent school. Receiving a salute from the Marquis de LaFayette as he entered Paris to quell revolutionary unrest. All of these are really a contrast. The stately portraits of the matron, this portrait was done in Philadelphia actually about a year and a half before she died. Years later, she would regale her children with story of these days and remark repeatedly that they were the happiest year of her life. It was an experience I'm convinced that shaped her vision of female education for her own daughters, a vision that deviated markedly from that which her father visited upon her. So, before her departure for France, Martha Jefferson had followed the traditional curriculum for elite girls in 18th century America. Music, dancing, a smattering of French, a bit of reading and writing. This, Jefferson once contended to a correspondent, would be sufficient preparation for protecting her family fortunes if she was so unhappy as, in his words, to marry a blockhead. [ Laughter ] >> Things were different at the French school. There, Martha was introduced to geography, history, arithmetic and modern languages, she read deeply in French literature. Attended the opera and theater, socialized at Palace Royale. This is the print of Palace Royale from 1784, named for one of the king's relatives who built this palace, finding he couldn't afford to live in it, then enclosed it around a gorgeous park, still one of the most gorgeous places in Paris Then, within all of these arcades were shops, and restaurants. This is the place to go in Paris to see and be seen, particularly on a Sunday. She made friends with the daughters of the French aristocrats and English diplomats. After a time in her own bearing and posture, she was indistinguishable from the nobility. When her sponsor, because of course you need a reference to get into to the school, not recognizing Martha on the playground one day, when informed who she was, she replied, oh, but truly, she has a very distinguished air. One of her English friends called her your ladyship. So clearly this young girl from Virginia, had come a long way after five year of French convent schooling. And that's probably why Jefferson whisked her home before she could be swept off her feet by a young French Aristocrat. Martha was 17 when they returned to Monticello in December 1789. Two months later she was married to a third cousin, Thomas Randolph. After her glory years in Paris, Martha tried to make the most of the isolation of life as a Virginia planter's wife. Over the course of 28 years, she bore 11 surviving children. At Jefferson's retirement in 1809, she moved back to Monticello, to live with him, and devoting herself to his comfort, she identified with his intellectual life with the pursuits of the life of the mind and she devoted herself to educating her children and particularly her daughters to do the same. So, how might female education be re-envisioned in the early republic, particularly when one enjoyed advantages of the best all female academy in Paris. In all of France and when one is the daughter of one of the chief architects of the American republic. It was going to be a challenge as the very architecture of Monticello suggests. So, this photo, I'm sure many much you have been to Monticello, this is taken from Jefferson's library, looking through another room, and then into his cabinet, into his study, Jefferson became very enamored of the idea of apartments when he was in Europe. So, compare this three‑room apartment, devoted to the mind of the sage of Monticello, with this room, that's not quite 15 feet square, where Martha managed the household, gave directions to slaves, and taught her own 11 children. But it's the letter of Martha's daughters that give us the best sense of the complex ways that Martha and her daughters tried to answer that question about female education, and refused to be bound by the gendered limitations. In their letters, we can see both Martha's lofty dreams to give her daughters the finest education in America. That is to teach them that women, too, were rational beings. And who could strive for the life of the mind. But, against those lofty dreams, of course, were the earthly realities of their lives as women, and this is really key in their lament about the waste of time spent carrying the keys their words, that is when it was their turn to manage the monthly housekeeping chores so Martha's daughter, Virginia could finally find time to write to her sister, at length given up the Keys after one have the most troublesome months of housekeeping I ever had. Mary complained of all she couldn't do because she carried the Keys, Cornelia, the most artistic of Martha's daughters, bemoaned, quote, said books lying covered with unmolested dust, my drawing boxes locked and never opened while it was her turn to carry the keys. We see both dreams and reality in Virginia's search for a quiet place to read at Monticello, which of course during Jefferson's retirement became a magnet for all manner of visitors, invited and otherwise. So, Virginia is seeking out a place where visitors won't find her. So she climbs up to the dome room. When you open that door, there's a three foot drop into this attic space. So, she crows about converting this attic space that she shared with wasps, to a room of her own, furnished with a sofa, minus any cushions a couple of cast‑off chairs and two small tables. It was, for her, a fairy palace. This is her fairy palace, which Monticello has since furnished with some furnishings according to Virginia's description to try to imagine what she might have done with it. But it was her fairy palace that she didn't intend to yield to anything, except perhaps the formidable rats that she occasionally sited in other attic spaces in the house. Martha's influence over her daughter's curriculum is particularly apparent in this study of Latin. Although Jefferson once remarked that the greatest gift his father had given him was a classical education, he had never considered that for his own children. Martha had learned French, Spanish and Italian instead but she wouldn't deprive her girls of Latin, just because they were not male and again, it's through her daughter's letters that we can see this. When she was 23, Ellen recalled her visits to her grandfather's retreat of poplar forest. Here she ambled from room to room of the house savoring memories where she spent seven to eight uninterrupted hours on her Latin. Having mastered enough to read Virgil in the original. Ellen swore I will never again tolerate a translation. The difference between the original and John Dryden's translation she likened to that of between a of glass rich old high flavored wine and same wine thrown into a quart of duck water. Indeed, trips to Poplar Forest I have to contrast. Jefferson does the same thing at Poplar Forest as he does at Monticello. So this room is south‑facing and gets gorgeous sunlight. The girls shared a bedroom on the east‑facing side. There we go. So, here's Jefferson's sunny reading room. The trips to Poplar Forest were the closest that Martha's daughters would come to realizing what author Virginia Wolf would dream of in 1929, a room of one's own, a place into which the world particularly with its demands on women, could not intrude, a place devoted only to the intellectual life. So, certainly Martha had attempted to widen considerably the boundaries of female education with her gift of Latin, and Jefferson's perfect confidence in her ability to educate her girls in the privacy of his own home, was certainly justified by the admiration and praise of all of the visitors to Monticello. But, lacking any public expression of her many gifts, what mark could Martha Jefferson Randolph hope to leave on the world? Very little. Her daughter, Ellen, feared tearfully just three years after Martha had died in 1836. She has passed away, and the world has not known her, she lamented. She left no memorial but in the recollection of her friends and the hearts of her children. A few short years and perhaps all record, all remembrance of her name, her qualities, will be gone. For all that Martha Jefferson Randolph was, for all her learning, all that she cultivated within herself and her daughters, she was invisible to the world. Her brilliance confined to that fifteen‑foot square sitting room that her father had designed. With Jefferson's death, Martha was left destitute. Her education, brilliant mind and manner, and her famous connections, all insufficient defenses against the vagaries of life. Her story serves as a cautionary tale today, I think, of the benefits and perils, for women, of relying on men, even wealthy, well intentioned men of reputation, for their life's meaning and livelihood. Ultimately, Martha could not and did not reject her father or the role into which she was born. Harriet Hemings who was born in 1801, did. She reinvented herself on the best terms that she could, as a free‑born white woman and her story opened up an entirely different avenue of investigation and narrative. And I just want to show you this ‑‑ much simplified family tree. Is John Wells at the top. Wife number one is Martha Eppes. They have a daughter. Martha, Martha dies, as an adult Martha marries Thomas Jefferson and has Martha and Mary later called Mariah. After John Wales third wife dies he begins a relationship with his slave, Elizabeth Hemings. Who in fact who had been brought to his household by by his wife number one, Martha Eppes. They have six children together, the youngest was Sally Hemings. Born in 1773, the year John Wales died. Two things worth noticing here, first of all, that Jefferson's wife, and Sally Hemings, had the same father, John Wales. The other thing to note, Jefferson's daughter, Martha, and Sally Hemings, born within a year of each other, they will be going through their child bearing years together at Monticello. Okay, so, we don't know exactly when Harriet Hemings left Monticello, certainly by the end of May, 1822, when she turned 21 years old. But we do know it caused quite a stir in the little town of Charlottesville. There was a great deal of talk about it, Jefferson's overseer later remembered. People said he freed her because she was his own daughter. From courthouse square where Harriet boarded stage for Washington, you can easily see Jefferson's home atop his little mountain. There, on the square, over whiskeys or peach brandy, the towns people had freely discussed among themselves and with snooping strangers, Jefferson's relations with Sally Hemings and the children that look so much like him. Now, jawa agape they animatedly sought to explain why Jefferson would free Harriet Hemings. Everyone knew, as Jefferson himself had once said, that, quote, a slave woman who brings a child every two years is more profitable than the best man on the farm. That would certainly explain why Jefferson had never done such a thing before, or why he never did again. Harriet's story might well have ended there had it not been for her younger brother, Madison, who told his family's story to an Ohio newspaper in 1873, so just over 50 year after Harriet left Monticello. Somewhere along that road north to Washington, Harriet discarded her enslaved identity for that of a free‑born white woman. She was, and if you sort of do the rough math. I'm a historian, I don't do math. But she was 7/8ths white. It was a declaration of independence from her origins of breathtaking scope to rival that of her father's and like his, her, too, was successful. This was her likely arrival point. Jesse Brown's famous hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue boasted the largest assembly room in the city, a fine restaurant and a bustling depot stop. Madison reported that Harriet, quote, married a white man in good standing in Washington City and raised a family of children. She likely lived until at least 1863, for in 1873 when Madison was telling the family's story he said he had not heard from her in about ten years, but during all of those years he said, he was not aware that her identity as Harriet Hemings of Monticello has ever been discovered. Nor, to my knowledge, had anyone really gone looking. So, I decided to take the plunge. It became clear to me immediately that she dropped the Hemings name, but knowing that, as Annette Gordon Reed once said the Hemings had a positive mania naming children after family members. I decided first to look at birth records to see if I can find a mother of sons who bore the names Beverly, Madison, or Eston which is the distinctive names of Harriet's brothers. They would stand out in the masses of William and John and Thomas. So, turns out, and many of you might know this the District of Columbia didn't keep both records until 1874, nor, of course, again, as I'm sure many of you know, the Federal Census doesn't begin to list name of every person in the household until 1850. But, the District did keep marriage records beginning in 1811, because there were no Hemings in the marriage register, I went through them and listed all of the Harriets who married between late 1821 and 1830. By that point, Harriet would have been 29 and I think married. That gave me a list of 59 Harriets and better still 59 husbands, because of course men leave much more of a historical imprint in the records than women do. Having a discreet list of 118 name, I thought, okay, I got something to work with. Still in search, of course, of the children's name, no District birth records, I'm thinking will I go to church records then I have to identify which churches were around in D.C. in the 1820s and '30s and construct a genealogy of those churches because many merged with other congregations, moved, changed locations or faded away all together. So, any of you who have done your own family history, I'm sure have encountered these kind of challenges. I read the 1850 and 1860 Censuses looking for those distinctive names. I looked through city directories. Here's a sample page from the first city directory published in 1822, the year Harriet would have arrived. Notice here James Monroe President of the United States residing at the president's house, not to be confused with James Monroe who was a engineer at the steam mill. But the city directory helped me place these men on the landscape. Where in the city they lived and worked, identifying their trade, giving some kind of an idea of their economic standing. Remember, Madison said his sister married a man of good standing in Washington City. In doing that, I eliminated with confidence perhaps a third of the Harriets on my list and there were a few who had me going for a while. For a time I was chasing after Harriet Walker who married a man named John Newton in 1825. Her last name would be perfect, considering that she had walked from Monticello, according to Ellen. And she also said, I've been keeping an eye out for Beverly, who's first name was William and did exactly what Harriet did which is to say, leave Monticello, go to Washington as a free‑born white person, he married a white woman from Maryland and they had a daughter and both Harriet and Beverly have disappeared from that historical record, but in ‑‑ with the case of Harriet Walker I managed, through church records, to establish that Harriet Walker and William B. Walker were brother and sister, so I really thought I was on to something until the Census record revealed that John Newton was a free man of color and Madison was emphatic she married a white man. I wondered if she was Harriet Free, but I found her baptismal records inthe Rock Creek church records. She wasn't the Harriet whose husband posted a notice in the local papers that he would not be responsible for any debts incurred by his run‑away wife. The one who had me going the longest and I'm still going to keep up this search, was the Harriet who married a Scottish immigrant carpenter who had ten children of whom she buried four and her husband was so successful when he died she could afford to hire 30 carriages for his funeral procession, clearly a man of good standing. If I cannot say definitively that I found her, I certainly learned a good deal about her times, her city, and the variety of people who lived there, that helped me understand better the woman she must have been, and her choice to pass. I've seen slaves chained together and paraded down Pennsylvania Avenue. The race riot that destroyed prosperous black businesses in 1835. The long wait for the abolition of slavery in the nation's capital that does not come until April of 1862. And the long hard slog of free blacks throughout the 19th century to prove themselves as fully deserving of the rights of citizenship as whites. In other words, seeing the city through Harriet's eyes, I watched with her the fate she escaped by passing. This shows the capitol building as it would have appeared in 1822, before the first dome, when Harriet arrived, and you can see these poplars lining Pennsylvania Avenue were planted by her father and here is post-1824 view of the Capitol. So, I also met the people who built this city, staffed a growing bureaucracy and served an expanding population of government officials, clerks, and many transients. I saw the daily labor of women to sustain their families with their gardening, marketing, cooking and sewing, women who died in child birth and women who rose from child birth only to bury children who died before they really had a chance to live and in spite of everything, with her intelligence and grit and determination, Harriet Hemings blended right in. But of course, this isn't a story of unadulterated triumph. We need to think long and hard about what it means to live one's life this way. Unlike the family of her half sister, Martha, whose voluminous letters map out lives devoted to one another and Jefferson's legacy, Harriet lived out herlife in the oblivion of exlie. Geographically severed from her mother and two younger brothers, silenced by the weight of institutionalized slavery, vanished into white society, Harriet suffered the appalling rapture of her birth family. We don't know when her correspondence with Madison began, we don't know what she knew of her family's life after Jefferson died. We don't know how or when she learned of her mother's death nine years after her father had died. Slaves did not possess lineage, as historians have pointed out. The rope of captivity tethered you to an owner rather than father and made you an offspring rather than heir. Jefferson may have thought of Harriet as offspring but as the daughter of Sally Hemings and the grand daughter of the family matriarch Elizabeth Hemings, Harriet was heir of the proud Hemings line. The passing forced her to bury that lineage. It was the price she had to pay to claim the right only accorded to whites in America. Legal scholars have shown the story of her grandmother who passed as white to obtain a job at a Chicago department store during the great depression of the 1930s. Harris watched the pain split across her grandmother's face when she told the story of those days, remembering the monumental effort of self effacement that they required. Quote, she was transgressing boundaries crossing borders, Harris now understands. No longer immediately identifiable, because her grandmother had moved from Mississippi. Her grandmother, quote, could thus enter the white world albeit on a false passport, not merely passing but trespassing, unquote. Surely echoing the lesson that Harriet Hemings had learned a century earlier as she hid her family's story behind the impassive facade of her white face. Harriet's grandmother Harris' grandmother knew, that, quote, accepting the risk of self annihilation, that is of her black identity, was the only way to survive, unquote. Passing is still about survival. Despite their numerical minority, black American, both male and female are incarcerated in epic proportions compared to whites. Black parents have to teach their children lessons about how to survive beyond their front door particularly with police but that white parents do not. The long devaluation of black lives since the 17th century has created what one commentator called a white way of seeing. This persists even in spite of video evidence to the contrary. Quote, the fleeing figure is coming this way, the nearly strangled person is about to unleash force. The man on the ground will suddenly spring to life and threaten the life of the one that therefore takes his life. Unquote. The lesson we can take away from all of this, is Americans are not color‑blind. Quite the contrary. The meaning of color remains so deeply significant that whites insist on the right to know who carries the drop of African blood that renders a person black and they protest when it's not visible, as thoughh blacks have trespassed on to the grounds of white privilege from which, blacks are supposed to understand, they're bad. This is exactly the problem with Harriet Hemings. In her birth into slavery, and its long history of oppression, she was black. Anyone who looked at her they would have judged her white. She was neither legally free until 1865 because Jefferson never gave her formal freedom papers. She was not enslaved because she lived as a free person. She doesn't fit neatly in any of these categories that seem to have had such clarity of meaning to demarcate people's lives in the American experience and as far as her Randolph cousins were concerned, Harriet Hemings was a trespasser, too, probably barred from the privilege of their common descent from Thomas Jefferson which, of course, the Randolphs were so very proud. Trespass remains a sore point between recognized Jefferson descendants who claimed the right of burial in the Monticello graveyard and any Hemings descendants who seek accest to that graveyard. In 2002 the Monticello Association roundly voted down a proposal to admit Hemings descendants to the graveyard. A dozen years later, when Jefferson descendant, Tess Taylor, a white woman arranged to meet slave descendant Gayle Jessup White at Monticello, they walked to the graveyard together. "I unlocked the gate," Taylor recounted simply, " apparently unconscious of the fullness of that moment, sitting atop two centuries of family history, the white person in possession of the key, while the other remains locked out." But what we need to see and that I hope my book shows, is that the legal and social barriers that has seperated us by race and gender are as much the work of human hands as the fence that surrounds that Monticello graveyard, that I didn't find Harriet Hemings, spoiler alert, only proves the point that we are all connected. We need to acknowledge the artificiality of the systems that separate us so we can begin the collective effort to dismantle them and embrace our common humanity. And as we confront a revived movement to redefine citizenship as white and Christian only, this from Charlottesville last year, and as black Americans today, still strive to convince white Americans that Black Lives Matter, I think this is as opportune a time as any to think about Harriet Hemings' story. Thank you for your attention. [ Applause ] >> Thank you. So, I understand many of you are veterans of this wonderful lunch series, so you know question, there are microphones on the stairs, and happy to take questions, comments. Yes? >> Thank you for your talk. I have two question. First, I know you didn't find Harriet Hemings >> Right. >> But can you speculate as to whether her husband would have known of her slavery origins and of her parentage, and also can you talk a little about Martha's years as first lady? >> Okay. All right. So, with respect to ‑‑ would Harriet's immediate family have known? And you're right, to use the word speculation, because that's what I would have to do. And that was constantly a question I was asking myself as I'm trying to conjure up myself various scenarios which will then give me ideas of ways to look for her. No one has claimed decent from either Beverly or Harriet. And that leads me to believe that at the very least, if her husband knew, and if her children knew, that that information stopped with them. The reason that the Scottish immigrant, interested me so much, was, because, A, as a Scottish immigrant he had no investment in slavery. Census record showed he never owned slaves. He was a carpenter. Beverly and his brother were trained as carpenters. The Scottish immigrant was a carpenter, so I thought oh, that's how they met. So, I really have no way of knowing. What is interesting is that, a Hemings descendant, not from Sally, but a descendant as late as World War II here in Washington, said the family of the daughter of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings still live in Washington and are doing very well. So, clearly, in free black Washington, there was knowledge of who she married. Madison made a point in telling his story, that ‑‑ to say, I could name her husband, but I will not. 1873, as we all know, the Civil War didn't change ideas about race. So, he was ‑‑ he wasn't going to reveal her secret. But thinking ‑‑ that's a really important question, because, again, it gets to this point of the pain of passing. And did she keep this secret to herself. Did she confide to her husband, if he was a Scottish immigrant, didn't care. So ‑‑ so, I really don't know. But the ‑‑ utter silence that accompanies this, suggests that the secret was held early on, rather than later, on the white side of the family. With respect to Martha Jefferson Randolph, as first lady, I know ‑‑ I'm not particularly comfortable with that designation, because Martha visited her father twice when he was president, and was certainly a very congenial, intelligent conversationalist, and certainly an adornment to her father's dinner table when he had ‑‑ when he had visitors. But neither she nor Mariah, who accompanied her on one of those trips were really interested in sort of the hostessing duties. They were there, because Jefferson wanted them there. I mean, it was a pretty grueling three‑day trip, and Martha was pregnant for one of those, her own son, James Madison, was born at the White House. So, I would say, it's less the hostessing duties of the first lady and more the love of a daughter who wanted to please her father. Thank you. Yes, hello. >> Hello, Catherine, how are you? >> Wonderful. Thank you. >> Wonderful presentation, I really appreciate it. I don't have so much a question as a comment. You mentioned Tess Taylor and woman with Tess Taylor. Gail Jessup White. I was with Tess Taylor. I work at Monticello now. I wasn't longing to get into that grave site as I was longing to find my family's history. >> Right. >> And I would like to say, on behalf of myself and on behalf of Monticello, that we are fully committed to telling the complete story of all of the people who lived there. Not just Martha's children, who was my ancestor as well, four times great grandmother, not just Thomas Jefferson but of the 607 men women and children people that Thomas Jefferson owned throughout his life. We would love to find Harriet. But please don't give up your search. She wasn't the only one. It's important we all acknowledge that and recognize that. Every individual at Monticello matter, everyone. >> So, please always remember that. And thank you for mentioning me. [ Applause ] >> Thank you very often. As a genealogy researcher myself ‑‑ >> I'm sorry >> Thank you, I'm here. As a researcher myself, I think your presentation was absolutely upstanding. Your book is interesting. However, I have two coments. Pardon my voice. One is, I prefer, personally, the use of the word enslaved, as opposed to slaves, because slaves aren't born >> Right. >> The second comment I'd like to make, is the mixture of race and passing, is also an insult, because passing means that you did something because you wanted to show your self as something else. I think the idea, coming from a family of a lot of mixture, I think the idea of survival, as well as freedom >> Uh‑huh. >> So, people who want to ‑‑ who wants to be an enslaved person when we were treated so very poorly. So, I think the choice was, the guilt was that you had to do it. The choice was that you did it for survival. >> Right. >> So ‑‑ but I think your book is bringing out a lot of very, very interesting facts about the Jeffersons and that's all I have to say >> Well, thank you. So, I agree entirely. I ‑‑ with your point about ‑‑ talking about enslaved persons. And using "enslaved" as an adjective. And on ‑‑ passing as you know, is a very fraught topic, and I would absolutely recommend a terrific book by Alison Hobbs who also did a presentation here called "The Chosen Exile" she historisized passing. During the history of slavery, for people who passed, that was ‑‑ that there was ‑‑ it was not pain‑free, as I was trying to get us to think about. But, it was a way of dealing with an atrocious, oppressive system that, and I guess what I was ‑‑ what I was trying to do, in my book, and even a little bit in my talk today, was just to kind of problematize the very words we're using. White and black. They have no biological meaning. There is no basis for race in science, right? But they carry enormous political, social, economic, legal weight, right? So, there's a way in my book, and I'm glad you brought this out, in which I'm trying to let people see me stumble over these terms because none of them, really work, right? And to see the artificiality of the meanings that they do, continue to are bear. So, that's what I'm trying to do. And even if ‑‑ if it gets people to think about this, and if they wind up as befuddled ‑‑ well, that, to me, that is progress, right? If people start questioning these categories, and then, okay, well, maybe then maybe if these terms don't have any basis in biology, or truth, or reality, then maybe we need to start undoing these different ways in which we've institutionalized them. So, thank you. Yes? Do we have time for one more? Okay. Good. Thank you >> Hi. I'm not going to ask a question. I'm just going to make a comment. As a South African‑born American. Hearing about passing, and hearing about your book and the experience that it appears that Harriet went through as well as the other slaves in this country ‑‑ >> Right. >> ‑‑ if brought to mind what I experienced growing up in Johannesburg. And I actually hadn't thought about passing for a very long time, because a dear friend of mine, who has since passed away, passed. And so, I know a little bit about what it meant to pass as white in such ‑‑ in such a kind of difficult experience. >> Right. And I think, in the ‑‑ in the American experience, in the 20th century, was when passing becomes more problematic than it was during the periods of slavery, which is to say, the ways in which ‑‑ and you had mentioned guilt, right? So the ways in which it might have been perceived as part of a betrayal of working for the cause of equality for people of color in the United States, but, as ‑‑ the last comment I mentioned, I think what we need, especially white people, really need to be conscious of the ways in which these oppression, these things that we don't even think about, are institutionalized, right? And so, whether that was in South Africa or here. I'm from Australia originally. We have, as you well know, problem was the ways in which English settlers treated, and continue ‑‑ their descendants continue to treat the indigenous population. So, thank you very much for that. Thank you. Thank you for being here today. [ Applause ] >> Thank you.

Early life and education

Mary Jefferson was born to politician and future president Thomas Jefferson and Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson (née Wayles). Known as "Polly the Parrot" and "gopher" in her childhood, she later chose the nickname "Maria." She was known as such until her death at age 25.

She had a sickly disposition as her mother did, who died in 1782 when Polly was four. Polly also inherited her mother's beauty, which was frequently complimented, to her chagrin. She preferred to be known for her character or mind. When her widowed father was first serving as Minister to France, Polly and her younger sister Lucy were cared for by relatives, her mother's cousin Francis Wayles Eppes and his wife Elizabeth, her mother's half-sister, at their plantation Eppington.[1][2] After Lucy died of whooping cough, Jefferson requested that Polly be sent to him in France.

In the care of her enslaved aunt Sally Hemings, at age nine Polly sailed to Europe to join her father and older sister Martha in Paris. They first landed in England, where Abigail Adams, wife of the U.S. Minister John Adams, looked after the girls before they joined her father in Paris: Abigail developed a deep and lasting affection for Polly.[3] In France, Polly attended the Pentemont Abbey convent school with her older sister Martha (Patsy).[4] After some time, her father had the girls tutored at home.

Accompanied by their slaves Sally Hemings and her older brother James, who had served Jefferson as chef in Paris, the family returned to Virginia in 1789. At that time, Polly adopted the pronunciation and name "Maria" (with a long "i" in the Virginia fashion), which she used the rest of her life.[1] After living for a time in the temporary national capital of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, while Jefferson was Secretary of State, the family returned to Monticello. Maria spent most of the rest of her short life in Virginia.

Marriage and family

Maria married her childhood friend and cousin John Wayles Eppes on October 13, 1797, at Monticello. The couple resided at his plantation, Mont Blanco, on the James River in Chesterfield. They also spent much time at his family's plantation home Eppington, on the Appomattox River where she and her younger sister Lucy had lived as a child in their care while her father was Minister to France.[2] His father Francis was a cousin and his mother Elizabeth the half-sister to Maria's late mother Martha.

Maria and John had three children:[5]

  • An unnamed boy, born December 31, 1799, who lived only weeks[1]
  • Francis W. Eppes (September 20, 1801 – May 10, 1881)[1]
  • Maria Jefferson Eppes (February 15, 1804 – February 1806)[1]

Maria never recovered physically from her third childbirth, and subsequently died on April 17, 1804 at Monticello, where she is buried beside her mother.[6] Her death prompted Abigail Adams to send written condolences to President Jefferson; it was the first break in a long silence between the two families following the acrimonious presidential campaign of 1800. Abigail wrote movingly of the immediate affection she had felt for Maria when meeting her in London as a girl, an affection which had never altered.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Maria Jefferson Eppes", Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia, Monticello website
  2. ^ a b Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission Staff (July 1969). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination: Eppington" (PDF). Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
  3. ^ McCullough, David. John Adams, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001 p.373
  4. ^ "Sally Hemings and Her Children", Plantation and Slavery, Monticello
  5. ^ "Mary Jefferson Eppes, Jefferson's daughter", Learning Resources, Monticello Classroom. Quote: "She gave birth to three children."
  6. ^ "Mary "Maria" Jefferson Eppes". Retrieved January 10, 2019.
  7. ^ McCullough John Adams p.581
This page was last edited on 6 April 2019, at 22:37
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