Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson

                    Martha Wayles Skelton was a young and beautiful widow when she married Thomas Jefferson on January 1, 1772.
Bathurst Skelton, her first husband, had died four years previously, and her only child had died in infancy. 

                    Martha was born October 30, 1748, and was the daughter of John Wayles of "The Forest" in Charles City County, Virginia.  She was living with her father at "The Forest" when she married Jefferson.  Thomas and Martha were distant cousins.  Martha was twenty-three years old when she married Jefferson who was twenty-six years old at the time.  After Jefferson graduated from William and Mary College, he studied law with George Wythe and started a successful law practice. 

                    Randall, the author of Life of Jefferson wrote the following about Martha at the time of her second marriage.  "Mrs. Skelton was remarkable for her beauty, her accomplishments, and her solid merit.  In person she was a little above medium height, slightly but exquisitely formed.  Her complexion was brilliant - her large expressive eyes of the richest tinge of auburn.  She walked, rode, and danced with admirable grace and spirits; sang and played the harpsichord and spinet with uncommon skill.  The more solid parts of her education had not been overlooked."

                    Randall continued in his praise of Mrs. Skelton:  "She was well read and intelligent, conversed agreeably, possessed excellent sense, and a lively play of fancy, and had a frank, warm-hearted, and somewhat impulsive disposition."

                    The wedding festivities took place at "The Forest," and then the newlyweds left for his home, Monticello.  According to a manuscript written by their oldest daughter Martha Jefferson Randolph, Thomas and Martha left "The Forest" after a light snowfall.  The snow increased in depth as they traveled and finally became so deep that they had to leave the carriage and ride horseback.  About eight miles from Monticello, they stopped for a short time at a place called "Blenheim" and then continued in snow that was from eighteen inches to two feet deep.  They arrived late at night after the fires had been put out and the servants had gone to their own homes.  They found a partial bottle of wine behind some books, and it served them "for both fire and supper."

                    Thomas and Martha lived together in "domestic happiness" for nine years at Monticello - in spite of the anxiety of the times.  During those nine years, five children were born to them.  Thomas served both his country and Virginia as he served in the Virginia House of Burgesses and the Continental Congress, and wrote and signed the Declaration of Independence.

                    Martha's health was in a state of decline when Thomas was offered an important mission to Europe.  He declined the offer in order to be home with Martha, but he was almost immediately elected as Governor of Virginia.  The British army attempted several times to capture Jefferson.  Martha gave birth to her fifth child in November 1779 (another source gave the year of birth as 1780), and she fled with the infant in her arms two months later when the traitor Benedict Arnold and his army approached Richmond.  Jefferson sent his family away in a carriage and stayed to secure his most important papers.  He saw the army coming and escaped, but Monticello was captured and searched by the enemy.  Many of their Blacks were taken and only five were returned.  All the valuable horses were taken as well as many thousands of dollars worth of tobacco and grain.
                    The baby died about April 1781.  The baby's death plus the constant anxiety about the safety of her husband took much of Martha's remaining strength.  She gave birth to her last child in May, 1782.  She never regained her health and died September 6, 1782.  Martha gave birth to six children:  Martha (born September 27, 1772; named in honor of Martha Washington; also known as Patsy; married her cousin Thomas Mann Randolph who had been a ward of Jefferson and who was Governor of Virginia from 1819-1822; died October 10, 1836); Jane Randolph (born 1774; died 1775); unnamed son born in 1777; Mary Wayles (born in 1778; also known as Polly; married John Wayles Eppes; died in 1804; Lucy Elizabeth (born 1780; died 1781); Elizabeth (born in 1782; died in 1785).  Only Martha, Mary, and Elizabeth survived their mother. 

                    Many years after her mother's death, Martha recorded her memories of the sad event:  "He [her father] nursed my poor mother in turn with Aunt Carr and her own sister, sitting up with her and administering medicines and drink to the last.  For four months that she lingered, he was never out of calling; when not at her bedside, he was writing in a small room which opened immediately at the head of her bed.  A moment before the closing scene, he was led from the room almost in a state of insensibility by his sister, Mrs. Carr, who with great difficulty got him into his library, where he fainted and remained so long insensible that we thought he would never revive.  The scene that followed I did not witness, but the violence of his emotion, when almost by stealth I entered his room at night, to this day I dare not trust myself to describe.  He kept his room three weeks and I was never a moment from his side.  He walked almost incessantly, night and day, only lying down occasionally, when nature was completely exhausted, on a pallet that had been brought in during his long fainting fits.  My aunts remained almost constantly with him for some weeks.  I do not know how many.  When at last he left his room, he rode out and from that time he was incessantly on horseback rambling about the mountain in the least frequented roads and just as often through the woods.  In those melancholy rambles, I was his companion, a solitary witness to many a violent outburst of grief, the remembrance of which has consecrated particular stones of that lost home beyond the power of time to obliterate."

                    Facts and quotes are from Wives of the Signers:  The women behind the Declaration of Independence, pp. 240-247.

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