DNA evidence has proved that Jefferson (in a portrait above) fathered at least one child of his slaves Sally Hemings
Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13 1743 at the Shadwell plantation outside of Charlottesville in Virginia.
He was the third of 10 children to one of the most prominent families of Virginia’s planter elite.
Throughout Jefferson’s life he was an American statesman, diplomat, lawyer, architect and philosopher, and Founding Father who served as the third president between 1801 and 1809.
In his presidency he stabilised the country’s economy and defeated pirates from North Africa during the Barbary War.
He is also credited for doubling the size of the US by successfully brokering the Louisiana Purchase.
Jefferson was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, motivating American colonists to break from Great Britain and form a new nation.
Congress formally adopted the Declaration on July 4 1776, now celebrated as Independence Day.
The Declaration famously reads: ‘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.’
But despite this, Jefferson is known to have kept more than 600 slaves throughout his life.
He had said slavery was a ‘moral depravity’ and a ‘hideous blot’, yet Jefferson profited directly from it.
Jefferson even wrote in his text Notes on the State of Virginia that he suspected black people were inferior to white people.
He thought that white Americans and enslaved blacks constituted two ‘separate nations’ who could not live together peacefully in the same country.
Through his 1772 marriage to Martha Wayles, Jefferson inherited two plantations and by 1776 was one of the largest planters in Virginia.
Although Jefferson believed slavery was harmful to both slave and master, he expressed reservations over releasing them into freedom with no education or means to support themselves.
He instead advocated for a gradual voluntary training and drafted legislation allowing owners to free slaves.
By 1806 he officially called for anti-slavery legislation banning the import or export of slaves, a law that was passed in 1807.
One of Jefferson’s slaves was the mixed-race Sally Hemings, a half-sister of his wife Martha, who lived on his primary plantation in Monticello.
No known portraits of Sally Hemings exist, but the one above is based on descriptions of her appearance
Jefferson and Sally shared a relationship and DNA evidence proved he fathered at least one of her children, Eston Hemings, though rumours suggest he fathered six children in total.
The pair’s sexual relationship is believed to have started when Hemings was an underage teenager and Jefferson was in his 40s.
She would not have been in a position to give or withhold consent given that Jefferson owned her, with many historians describing his treatment of Sally as rape.
Very little is known of Sally, but one of the few accounts of her by an enslaved blacksmith named Isaac Granger Jefferson described her as ‘mighty near white…very handsome, long straight hair down her back.’
As a child, she was probably a nursemaid to Jefferson’s daughter Maria, as enslaved girls from the age of six or eight were childminders and assistants to head nurses on southern plantations.
Congress formally adopted the Declaration on July 4 1776, now celebrated as Independence Day
Sally served as an attendant to Maria Jefferson, as well as Martha Jefferson, accompanying them on various trips to Paris.
After her return to Virginia in 1789, Sally Hemings remained at Monticello and worked as a household servant.
Sally’s son Madison recalled that one of her duties was ‘to take care of [Jefferson’s] chamber and wardrobe, look after us children, and do light work such as sewing.’
Sally was enslaved in Jefferson’s house along with her surviving children, who Jefferson released as they each came of age.
Sally, however, was forced to remain in the house as a slave until Jefferson’s death on July 4, 1826 – the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.