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Thomas Woodson

Thomas Woodson was the eldest son of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. Hemings was also the half-sister of Thomas Jefferson's wife, Martha Wayles.

“Admittedly, 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 change.  The enforced secrecy, the guilty pleasures, the implicit denial of paternity of mulatto children were common in Jefferson’s day.  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."

The 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” Jefferson.  Sally 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 wife.  She bore him six children and after Wayles death, they became a part of Martha Wayles Jefferson’s inheritance at Monticello.

James 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 twenty-one.  The 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 president”.

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.

The 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.

These 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.

Thomas 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 Church.

They 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. “

Annals of Jackson County, Ohio Volume 1
Frances Hixon and Mary J. Hixon  


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