Betty Hemings

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Elizabeth Hemings
  • Captain Hemings
RelativesMartha Wayles Skelton-Jefferson; Hemings family

Elizabeth "Betty" Hemings (1735-1807) was a woman from Virginia. She was the mother of Sally Hemings and eleven other people. For part of her life, she was enslaved to Thomas Jefferson. Hers was the largest family to live at Monticello.[1][2]

Family history and early life[change | change source]

According to Elizabeth Hemings' grandson, Madison Hemings, her mother was a fully African woman and might have been born in Africa. She was enslaved to the Eppes family in Virginia. Historians do not know for sure what her name was. Papers with the names of enslaved women in the Eppes family include "Dinah," "Judy," "Abbie," "Sarah," "Parthenia," and others. Historian Annette Gordon-Reed said that there were many girls named "Thenia" in the Hemings family, and they might have been named after Parthenia, also spelled Parthena. But she also says that "Sally" is a nickname for "Sarah," and there were many girls named "Sarah" and "Sally" in the Hemings family too. So Elizabeth Hamings' mother's white name was probably Parthenia or Sarah.[1]

Madison Hemings told the story: Elizabeth Hemings' mother was an African woman and her father was an English sea captain named Hemings. The sea captain tried to buy Elizabeth Hemings from her owner when she was born. Even though he offered the owner a lot of money, the owner still said no. He said he wanted to see what a half-white, half-African child would look like. Then Captain Hemings tried to take the child away from the owner without paying, but someone told the owner about his plan. Captain Hemings left Virginia and did not come back.[1][2]

Captain Hemings tried to take his daughter from one of the men in the Eppes family, but historians do not know which one because they do not know when Elizabeth Hemings was born. One paper says "about 1735."[2]

Elizabeth Hemings lived at the Eppes family's house, which was called Bermuda Hundred until 1746. That year, Martha Eppes married John Wayles. Elizabeth and other enslaved people went with Martha to Wayle's house as part of her marriage settlement. A marriage settlement was any property that a married woman could control and her husband couldn't. Technically, the Eppes family owned Elizabeth Hemings.[1]

Elizabeth Hemings lived as a house servant. That means she did not grow tobacco or cotton in the fields like other enslaved people in Virginia did. Historians think that Elizabeth Hemings' job with the Wayles family was to help raise Martha Wayles, later Martha Wayles Skelton-Jefferson. After Johyn Wayles' wife died, he made Elizabeth Hemings his concubine, which means they had a sexual relationship but he did not free her or marry her. Historians do not know how Elizabeth Hemings felt about this.[2]

When Martha Wayles Skelton married Thomas Jefferson, Hemings and many people in her family went with Martha Skelton to Jefferson's house at Monticello. Historians think Elizabeth Hemings took care of Martha Wayles Skelton-Jefferson when she became sick and that she was there when she died.[1][3]

Later life[change | change source]

In the last years of her life, Elizabeth Hemings moved to a small house partway down the mountain, away from the main house of Monticello and from her children and grandchildren. She lived next to free working families. She raised vegetables and chickens. Later, archaeologists would find that she owned many pieces of good porcelain China.[1]

Elizabeth Hemings died at the age of 72. According to Madison Hemings, he was three years old, and he tried to give her some bread to eat. Elizabeth Hemings' last words to him were, "Granny don't want bread no more."[2]

Children[change | change source]

John Wayles was the father of six of Elizabeth Hemings' children. After moving to Monticello, Elizabeth Hemings also had at least one child with Joseph Neilson, a white carpenter who worked for Thomas Jefferson.[4]

Children with an unknown partner, probably a black man:

Children with John Wayles:

Children with Joseph Neilson, known:

Children with Joseph Neilson, possible:

References[change | change source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Annette Gordon-Reed (2008). The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family. New York: Norton.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 "Elizabeth Hemings". Monticello. Retrieved September 20, 2021.
  3. Lucia Cinder Stanton. "Jefferson's "Family"". PBS. Retrieved September 18, 2021.
  4. "The Life of Sally Hemings - Family Tree". Monticello. Retrieved September 18, 2021.