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, June 13, 2012

Martha Jefferson

                Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson  had a very interesting and twisted family history.  She was born on October 19, 1748, on "The Forest" plantation, Charles City County, Virginia, the only child of the marriage between her mother and father.  She never knew her mother because her mother died two weeks and three days after Martha's birth.

Martha's father, John Wayles, was an English immigrant who became a barrister and landowner (January 31, 1715, Lancaster, England - May 23, 1773, Charles City County, Virginia).  Her maternal great-great-grandparents, Francis and Frances Eppes, emigrated from England to Virginia sometime before 1659.  Her mother, Martha Eppes Wayles, (April 10, 1712, Bermuda Hundred, Chesterfield County, Virginia - November 5, 1748) married John Wayles on May 3, 1746. 
                    At the time she married John Wayles, Martha Eppes had a dowry that included an African slave woman and the woman's half-black, half-white daughter.  The woman was taken from Africa and brought to Virginia on a slave ship.  The English sea captain, Captain Hemings, impregnated the slave; the child was a daughter named Betty Hemings.  The parents of Martha Eppes purchased the slave and her daughter and gave Betty Hemings to their daughter Martha Eppes.  Captain Hemings tried to purchased Betty and her mother, but John Wayles refused to sell them.

                    After the death of Martha Epps Wayles, John Wayles married Mary Cocke with whom he had one daughter (name unknown) who died young.  John Wayles married a third wife, Elizabeth Lomax, on January 3, 1760, with whom he had three daughters.  After Elizabeth Lomax died on May 28, 1763, John Wayles took the half-black, half-white Betty Hemings as a concubine with whom he had six children.  John Wayles left proof of this relationship by mentioning Betty Hemings in his will.

                    The history becomes even more entangled.  Reuben Skelton, the first husband of Elizabeth Lomax, was also the brother of Martha Jefferson's first husband, Bathurst Skelton; thus he was not only the brother-in-law of Martha Wayles Skelton but also her stepmother's first husband.

                    The entanglement continues.  Martha Wayles Skelton was the eldest of her father's eleven children and had seven half-sisters and three half-brothers.  Her first half-sister was the child of her father's second marriage and died young with her name unknown.  The next three half-sisters were Elizabeth Wayles Eppes, Tabitha Wayles, and Anne "Nance" Wayles Skipworth, daughters of the third marriage.  The last three half-sisters - Thenia Hemings (born 1767), Critta Hemings (1769-1827), and Sally Hemings (1773-1835) - and the three half-brothers - Robert Hemings (1762-1819), Hemings (born 1765), and Peter Hemings (born 1770) - were born out of wedlock to John Wayles and his half-white half-black slave Betty Hemings.

                    Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson was described as being above medium height with a slight build, auburn hair, and hazel eyes.  She was affiliated with the Church of England.  There is no record that she received any formal education.  She probably was taught by traveling tutors and educated in literature, poetry, French, Bible study.  She probably received lengthy training and was accomplished in playing the pianoforte and the harpsichord.  Being a young woman of wealth and privilege, she was most likely well trained in sewing and nursing.  She probably was socially accomplished as well and participated in entertaining guests on the plantation.  She was capable of running a plantation, making basic household supplies, and accounting for the crop business.

                    Martha was only eighteen years old when she married Bathurst Skelton (June 1744-September 30, 1768), a planter, on November 20, 1766; the marriage probably took place at "The Forest" plantation.  The couple lived at the groom's Charles City County plantation until his death in 1768 - only one year and ten months after the marriage.  One child was born to this couple, a son named John Skelton (1767-1771).

                    Martha was 23 years old when she married Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 - July 4, 1826) on January 1, 1772, at "The Forest" plantation.  Jefferson was a lawyer and a member of the House of Burgesses for Albemarle County (1769-1775).  The couple honeymooned in a cottage on the land that would later be known as "Monticello" and later built the mansion.  This couple were the parents of five daughters and one son:  Martha "Patsy" Jefferson Randolph (1772-1836), Jane Randolph Jefferson (1774-1775), an unnamed son who died as an infant in 1777, Maria "Polly" Jefferson Eppes (1778-1804), Lucy Elizabeth Jefferson (1780-1781, and Lucy Elizabeth Jefferson (1782-1785).  This meant that Martha bore seven children in a fourteen year period of time.

Another interest twist in the family history was in the marriage of Polly Jefferson and John Wayles Eppes (1773-1823).  They were first cousins because their mothers - Martha Wayles Jefferson and Elizabeth Wayles Eppes - were half-sisters; they were also second cousins because her maternal grandmother Martha Eppes Wayles and his paternal grandfather Richard Eppes were siblings.

                    Martha Jefferson ran the plantation life at Monticello, which consisted of reading recipes to slaves, overseeing food preparation and preservation, clothing needs for both family and slaves, and managing the house slaves and their duties.  She left a "precise ledger of the plantation's main cash crop, tobacco, suggesting she worked with Jefferson more as a full partner in this one aspect of life at Monticello than would be otherwise usual."  There are "contemporary accounts of visitors and guests at Monticello" that suggested that Martha, with her beauty, grace and musical skills, was an active hostess when healthy.  Martha and Thomas read literature and poetry to each other and played musical duets with Thomas playing the violin.

                    Mrs. Jefferson probably accompanied her husband to Williamsburg when the House of Burgesses was in session, but she was not with him in Philadelphia when he was the Virginia delegate to the Second Continental Congress in 1776 and wrote the Declaration of Independence.  While Thomas was Governor of Virginia and with a request from Martha Washington, Martha headed "a list of prominent Virginia women donating necessities and financial support and making other voluntary efforts on behalf of the Continental Army."   Martha's health began to decline while Thomas was Governor of Virginia during the American Revolution (1779-1781).

                    When Lord Cornwallis and the British forces invaded Virginia in 1781, Martha and her family were forced to flee Monticello and go to a more isolated property in Bedford County called "Poplar Forest."  Sixteen-month-old Lucy became ill and died weeks later.  Jefferson resigned his position as Governor and promised Martha that he would not take any more political positions.  The first position he refused was a diplomatic mission to Europe.  Martha died four months after giving birth to her youngest child.

                    Martha was instrumental in what became a problem in Jefferson's life and legacy.  When her father passed away in 1772, Martha inherited a lot of property - 11,000 acres of land (kept 5,000) and slaves, including her half-siblings.  When Martha married Jefferson, this property became his by law - including the half-siblings-in-law, Thenia, Critta, Sally, Robert, and James Hemings.  He also inherited the debts of his father-in-law - which added to his own financial problems after he left the White House.

                    The half-siblings were one-quarter African-American and three-quarters white as well as being related to Martha Jefferson.  As such, they occupied a "unique role" in the Jefferson family.  They were called "servants" instead of "slaves" and worked as personal and private servants.  Robert purchased his freedom in 1790.  James had a close relationship with Jefferson and went to Paris where he studied the culinary French arts; when he returned to Virginia "he trained his younger brother Peter to oversee the detailed French cooking that Jefferson now insisted on serving".  Jefferson gave James his freedom.  Thenia was sold to a family friend, the future President James Monroe.  Critta helped raise her half-nieces.

                    Rumors floated and became a scandal during the Jefferson Administration that he and his half-sister-in-law Sally Hemings had an illegitimate relationship after the death of Martha Jefferson.  DNA tests "believed" to be "accurate by officials at Monticello" indicate that someone in the Jefferson male line fathered at least one of Sally Hemings' children.  The tests could not prove that Jefferson was the father.

                    Martha Jefferson died 18 years previous to the time that Thomas was elected as President in 1800 and became the first of five women who died prior to their husbands becoming President.  She died at age 33 on September 6, 1782, at Monticello, Virginia.  She was buried at Monticello, Virginia.  Only one of Martha's children, Patsy, survived Thomas Jefferson.


No comments:

Post a Comment