Woodson was the eldest son of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings.
Hemings was also the half-sister of Thomas Jefferson's
wife, Martha Wayles.
the liaison began after Martha Wayles Jefferson’s
death, the racial taboo would have meant social
ostracism should Jefferson ever have owned paternity.
The situation was an open secret which was either
ignored or regarded as a common occurrence so long as
the prevalent social structure was not subject to
enforced secrecy, the guilty pleasures, the implicit
denial of paternity of mulatto children were common in
The evidence of the Jefferson-Hemings liaison
became public knowledge in the September 1, 1802,
edition of the Richmond Recorder.
Later, Jefferson’s Farm Book, account books,
and correspondence would confirm the story.
Despite the threat of political annihilation, he
educated his mulatto children privately, if casually;
two became musicians, two were allowed to “run away”
during his lifetime, aiding them with money, and he
freed the two youngest sons in his will.
Those who 'went white' were protected by the
same mantle of silence so essential to his welfare as
well as theirs."
Jefferson-Hemings liaison lasted thirty-eight years and
resulted in seven children, two of whom died as infants.
It began in Paris in 1787, where Sally at fifteen
had been sent as maid to her niece, Mary “Polly”
was the slave daughter of Jefferson’s father-in-law,
John Wayles. Her
mother, Betty Hemings, and an African slave woman who
became Wayles’ concubine after the death of his third
bore him six children and after Wayles death, they
became a part of Martha Wayles Jefferson’s inheritance
Hemings, Sally’s brother, accompanied Jefferson to
Paris in 1785, and when Sally arrived with Polly in
1787, he was studying to be a chef.
Both James and Sally were tutored in French and
were paid wages. About
1789, Jefferson’s account books show that he was
spending almost as much money on clothes for Sally as
for his eldest daughter, Martha.
According to a memoir written by Sally’s third
son, Madison, she became pregnant by Jefferson in 1789
while still in Paris.
Sally wished to remain in Paris where she was
free, but Jefferson persuaded her to return with him,
promising that all her children would be freed at age
son, Tom, born in December 1789 after the return to
Monticello, was described in the Virginia press of 1802
as being ten or twelve years old and having “features
bearing a striking though sable resemblance to the
other six children include: Harriet and Edy, born in
1795 and 1796 when Jefferson was in temporary political
retirement after his resignation, as Washington’s
Secretary of State.
Edy died in 1796 and Harriet in 1797.
A second son, Beverly, was born in 1798 and
another daughter, also named Harriet, in 1801.
The two younger sons, Madison and Eston, were
born in 1805 and 1808 after the story broke in the press
and the resulting political furor of 1802.
Woodson source book compiled by Minnie Shumate Woodson
maintains that one tradition claims the eldest son,
Tom, quarreled with Jefferson as a youth and left
Monticello; another holds that Jefferson gave him money
and he moved to Ohio where he purchased land on which
coal was discovered.
oral traditions are accurate when checked with the
census records. Thomas
is listed as “free colored” and head of a family on
the 1820 census listing for Greenbrier County, West
Virginia. There were no white men named Woodson in the Greenbrier
County census listing, but there were in Albemarie
County ---Tarleton and John Woodson.
Both names appear in Jefferson’s account books:
December 19, 1804 shows a purchase of $416 worth of corn
from Tarleton Woodson.
married Jemima Woodson, a mulatto woman six years older
than himself, and removed from Greenbrier County to Ross
County, Ohio, where he is found at about 1821 listed as
a member of the Quinn Chapel African Methodist Episcopal
had a church, day and Sabbath school of their own.
The people cut their harvests, rolled their own
logs, and raised their own houses, just as well as
though they had been assisted by white friends.
They found just as ready and as high a market for
their grain and cattle as their white neighbors. “
of Jackson County, Ohio Volume 1
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