Sally Hemings’ Siblings: The Untold Story of This Remarkable Family

Sally Hemings’ Siblings

An image of Sally Heming Siblings and family
An image of Sally Heming’s Siblings and family/PHOTO: Illinois Times

Sally Hemings is one of the most famous African American women in US history.

She was an enslaved woman who had a long-term relationship with Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States and bore him six children.

But did you know that Sally Hemings had 16 siblings, some of whom were born free and some of whom were enslaved?

In this article, we will explore the fascinating lives of Sally Hemings’ siblings, who were part of a remarkable family that shaped American history.

Who were Sally Hemings’ parents?

Sally Hemings was born in 1773 in Virginia, to Betty Hemings and John Wayles.

Betty Hemings was an enslaved woman of mixed African and European ancestry, who was owned by John Wayles, a wealthy planter and lawyer.

How many siblings did Sally Hemings have?

Sally Hemings had a total of 16 siblings, from different mothers.

Her father, John Wayles, had three legal wives, who died in succession, and six children with them.

He also had 10 children with Betty Hemings, his enslaved concubine.

Sally Hemings was the youngest of Betty Hemings’ children and the only one who was not sired by an African man.

An image of Sally Hemings
An image of Sally Hemings/PHOTO: Files

Which of Sally Hemings’ siblings were free and which were enslaved?

Sally Hemings’ siblings had different legal statuses, depending on their mothers.

Her half-siblings from John Wayles’ legal wives were born free and white and inherited their father’s property and wealth.

They were:

  • Martha Jefferson (1748-1782), who married Thomas Jefferson and became the First Lady of Virginia.
  • Sarah Wayles (1750-1761), who died young.
  • Elizabeth Wayles Eppes (1752-1810), married Francis Eppes VI and lived in the Eppington plantation.
  • Tabitha Wayles (1753-1851), who married Robert Skipwith and had one child.
  • Anne Wayles Skipwith (1756-1823), who married Henry Skipwith and had 11 children.
  • Francis Wayles Eppes VII (1760-1828), who married Elizabeth Skipwith and had 12 children2

Sally Hemings’ siblings from Betty Hemings

They were born enslaved and black and were considered the property of John Wayles and later Thomas Jefferson.

They were:

  • Robert Hemings (1759-1819), was freed by Thomas Jefferson in 1794 and became a successful businessman in Richmond.
  • James Hemings (1765-1801), was trained as a chef by Thomas Jefferson and accompanied him to Paris, where he learned French cuisine.
  • Thenia Hemings (1767-1796), who died young and left no descendants.
  • Critta Hemings Bowles (1769-1850), married Zachariah Bowles, a free black man, and had four children. She was freed by Thomas Jefferson in 1826, along with her children.
  • Peter Hemings (1770-1834), was trained as a chef, a brewer, and a tailor by Thomas Jefferson. He was freed by
  • Jefferson in 1822, and continued to work at Monticello as a hired servant.
    Mary Hemings Bell (1773-1834), was the eldest of Betty Hemings’ children, and the leader of the Hemings family.
  • She was sold by Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Bell, a white merchant, who became her common-law husband and father of her four children.
  • Sally Hemings (1773-1835), had a long-term relationship with Thomas Jefferson and bore him six children, four of whom survived to adulthood and were freed by Jefferson.
  • John Hemings (1776-1833), was a skilled carpenter and joiner, and the master of the woodworking shop at Monticello. He was freed by Thomas Jefferson in 1826 and inherited his tools and some land.

Conclusion

Sally Hemings’ siblings were a remarkable family, who had diverse and influential lives in American history.

They were the children of John Wayles, a wealthy white planter, and Betty Hemings, an enslaved woman of mixed ancestry.

They were also the half-siblings of Martha Jefferson, the wife of Thomas Jefferson, and the parents of some of his children.

Some of them were born free and white, while others were born enslaved and black.

Some of them passed as white, while others identified as black or mixed-race.

They were involved in various professions, such as business, farming, carpentry, cooking, music, and journalism.

They were also active in various causes, such as abolition, religion, education, and community.

The family defied the norms and expectations of their time and left a lasting legacy for their descendants and the nation.

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