Sally Hemings dissed again

Sally Hemings was buried again last night. The former property and paramour of the third president, who is likely interred by the site of a wide city road, was shoveled under in favor of a Charlottesville celebrity of more recent vintage.

At City Council last night, the five-member body voted unanimously to give the 9th/10th Street Connector a new name in honor of Hall of Fame football player Roosevelt "Rosie" Brown who grew up in Charlottesville. The street opened in the late 1990s.

During their lifetimes, rumors of Jefferson's relationship with the woman whom detractors called "Dusky Sally" dogged the President. While some of Jefferson's descendants steadfastly maintained that the Sage of Monticello lived a monkish existence after the untimely death of his wife, Jefferson's own writings suggested otherwise.

In France, he appeared to carry on an affair with the wife of a prominent artist. Around the same time, the word "mulatto" suddenly crept into his vocabulary– even when discussing such things as the color of the soil in southern France. When light-colored children– including one with an amazing propensity for the violin– began growing up in Sally Hemings' household, the rumors intensified. One child named Madison Hemings later gave a lengthy newspaper interview proclaiming that he was a child of TJ. And in 1998, DNA testing, combined with historical testimony, confirmed that TJ and Hemings had children together.

But it was the year-later sleuthing by Charlottesville-based USA Today reporter Dennis Cauchon (the same man who matched the babies switched at UVA Hospital with their respective families) that determined that Sally Hemings was likely buried on the site of today's Hampton Inn & Suites on West Main Street.

Utilizing data supplied by Monticello historians as well as old land records in the Albemarle County Courthouse, Cauchon determined that Hemings lived, after she and her kids won their freedom from Monticello, on West Main at what today is the intersection of the 9th/10th Connector and West Main Street.

Cauchon also learned that Charlottesvillians of the day– in an era preceding cemeteries– were typically buried in their own yard. Thus, Hemings' remains likely lie under the hotel. The hotel that'll soon look out on a road with a name that honors a great football player.
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6 comments

"1998, DNA testing, combined with historical testimony, confirmed that TJ and Hemings had children children together"

umm, not exactly. You might want to actually read the documents you are referencing.

and before I get flamed.... Yes, I do think the body of evidence points to his having had a relationship with Hemings, and that yes, some of her children were his (can't remember which ones).

My post is based on an idea that when reporting on such a hot cville issue, a writer has an obligation to be precise.

The Jefferson-Hemings affair testifies to the fact of Charlottesville's current racism.

Of course TJ had relations with Sally Hemmings that produced children - so what - it was the way things were back then - it is not a question about if it was right OR wrong - it just was - what is was. None of knows whether they were in love or if it was a slave+master thing - it does not matter because we cannot change the past. The union produced beautiful souls - the line goes on - and should be respected as such. It would be great if Sally Hemmings could be honoured and respected for simply being.

Racism is not the term I would use - there IS only one race - the HUMAN RACE. There are different etnicities and cultures. Celebrating differences would be a good thing. We all come from the same source - Mitakwe Oasin [ We are all related].

I think it is interesting that people make more of the fact that Sally Hemmings was Jefferson's mulatto slave rather than the fact that she was his deceased wife's half-sister (they shared the same father). What does that say about us?

I believe it says we are missing the real lessons it teaches us.