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First Lady Biography: Martha Jefferson


1748, October 19
"The Forest " plantation, Charles City County, Virginia 

John Wayles, barrister and landowner, born 31 January, 1715 in Lancaster, England; died 23 May, 1773 in Charles City County, Virginia

Martha Eppes Wayles, born 10 April, 1712 in Bermuda Hundred, Chesterfield County, Virginia; married John Wayles on 3 May, 1746; died 5 November, 1748

When Martha Eppes married John Wayles, she brought with her, as part of her dowry, an African slave woman and the woman's half-black, half-white daughter. The woman, enslaved in Africa, sailed to Virginia on a slave ship commanded by an English sea captain with the last name Hemings. Captain Hemings impregnated the slave who gave birth to a daughter she named Betty. The slave and her daughter were sold to Francis and Frances Eppes, and they gave the young enslaved " Betty Hemings " to their daughter Martha Eppes family. When Captain Hemings learned that the newly married Wayles had inherited his concubine and their daughter Betty, he offered to buy the pair. Wayles refused to sell them. He would eventually have six children by her. 

Martha Wayles Jefferson never knew her mother Martha Eppes Wayles since she had died two weeks and three days after giving birth to her.

After the death of his first wife, Martha Eppes ( the mother of Mrs. Jefferson ), John Wayles married two more times; he married secondly to Mary Cocke by whom he had one [ name unknown ] daughter who died young; John Wayles married a third time, on 3, January 1760 to Elizabeth Lomax, with whom he had three daughters. After the death of Elizabeth Lomax ( 28 May 1763 ), Wayles took the half-black half-white slave Betty Hemings as his concubine and had six children by her. Betty Hemings was mentioned in the will of John Wayles, thus providing evidence that she really was his mistress and not merely his slave.

The first husband of Elizabeth Lomax was Reuben Skelton - he was the brother of Martha Jefferson's first husband, Bathurst Skelton; thus Martha Wayles Skelton's brother-in-law was her stepmother's first husband.

English; Martha Jefferson's father was an English immigrant. Her maternal great-great grandparents Francis Eppes and his wife Frances emigrated from England to Virginia sometime before 1659.

Birth Order and Siblings:
She was the eldest of seven half-sisters and three half-brothers. Her first half-sister [ name unknown ] died young and was the child of her father's second marriage; her next three other half-sisters were Elizabeth Wayles Eppes, Tabitha Wayles and Anne " Nance " Wayles Skipworth, daughters from Wayles' marriage to his third wife, Elizabeth Lomax. Her last three half-sisters were Thenia Hemings ( born 1767 ), Critta Hemings ( 1769-1827 ) and Sally Hemings ( 1773-1835 ) who like her three half-brothers, Robert Hemings ( born 1762-1819 ), Hemings ( born 1765 ) and Peter Hemings ( born 1770 ) were the children out of wedlock of John Wayles and his half-white half-black slave Betty Hemings.

Martha Jefferson's half-sister Elizabeth Wayles (daughter of John Wayles and his second wife Elizabeth Lomax) married Francis Eppes ( the nephew of Martha Eppes Wayles, the first wife of John Wayles and mother of Martha Jefferson ); thus Martha Jefferson's half-brother-in-law was also her first cousin.

Physical Appearance:
Above medium height, slight, auburn hair, hazel eyes

*No facial image of Martha Jefferson survives; there is one silhouette; some visitors left descriptions of her as being of medium to tall height, with auburn hair.

Religious Affiliation:
Church of England

There exists no record of formal education. Considering the domestic skills and intelligence many contemporary observers made of her, Martha Wayles Jefferson was likely educated at home by traveling tutors in literature, poetry, French, Bible study; with notable accomplishment on the pianoforte and harpsichord, she likely received considerable length of training in music. Certainly a young woman of her region, era and wealth would also be trained in sewing and medicinal preparations.

Occupation before Marriage:
No record of her early years exist but in light of her father's wealth and prominence, Martha Wayles Jefferson likely played a social role at their plantation; later skills at Monticello would also suggest she received basic training on running a plantation, making household staples; she also assisted her father with management of crop business accounting. 

First Husband
18 years old, to Bathurst Skelton ( June 1744 - 30 September 1768 ) planter, on 20, November 1766 likely at " The Forest " plantation; they lived at his Charles City County plantation for one year and ten months, the endurance of their marriage as Bathurst died in 1768. 

Second Husband
23 years old, to Thomas Jefferson (13, April 1743– 4, July 1826) lawyer and member of the House of Burgesses for Albemarle County ( 1769-1775 ), on 1, January, 1772 at " The Forest " plantation; they departed for a honeymoon in the cottage on the property of what would become later famously known as Monticello, though the mansion house was not yet built. 

by her first marriage, one son; John Skelton(1767–1771)

by her second marriage, five daughters, one son; Martha "Patsy" Jefferson Randolph (1772–1836), Jane Randolph Jefferson (1774–1775), an unnamed son (died in infancy, 1777), Maria “Polly” Jefferson Eppes (1778–1804), Lucy Elizabeth Jefferson [1] (1780-1781), Lucy Elizabeth Jefferson [2] ( 1782–1785 )

Polly Jefferson married John Wayles Eppes (1773-1823), her first cousin (her mother Martha Wayles Jefferson and his mother Elizabeth Wayles Eppes were half-sisters) and also her second cousin (her maternal grandmother Martha Eppes Wayles and his paternal grandfather Richard Eppes were siblings)

Occupation after Marriage:
Much as she had for her father during his periods of widowhood, Martha Jefferson ran the plantation life of Monticello. It was a considerable responsibility: reading recipes to slaves and overseeing food preparation in the kitchens; food preservation; clothing needs for the family and slaves; and managing the house slaves and their responsibilities.

Among the few remaining examples of her handwriting is 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.

Numerous contemporary accounts of visitors and guests to Monticello consistently suggest that Martha Jefferson was an active hostess when she felt well; her beauty, grace and especially her musical skills were frequently commented upon; she and Jefferson read literature and poetry to each other, and played musical duets together, he on the violin.

For the first three years of her marriage, while Jefferson was still a member of the House of Burgesses, Martha Jefferson would likely have accompanied him to the colonial capital of Williamsburg when the burgesses was in session, and taken part in the social life there, that she had known from her own early years. Martha Jefferson was separated from her husband during his tenure as a Virginia delegate to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia ( 1776 ), at which time he authored the Declaration of Independence. While Jefferson served as Governor of Virginia ( 1779-1781 ) during the American Revolution, however, Martha Jefferson briefly joined him in Richmond, to where he moved the capital city from Williamsburg, then more vulnerable to British attack by sea.

As the Governor of Virginia's wife during the Revolution, Martha Jefferson assumed one large public role, albeit more symbolic than active; in response to a request from Martha Washington, she agreed to lead the drive among women of Virginia to raise funds and donate necessary supplies for the state militia of the Continental Army; however, she had to write the wife of another political leader to assume the work, since her own weak health prevented doing so herself.

Martha Jefferson's health began to rapidly deteriorate, the result likely of having given birth to seven children in less than fourteen years. The British invasion of Virginia under Lord Cornwallis in 1781 forced her to flee Monticello for their more isolated Bedford County home " Poplar Forest ," and it weakened her16-month old daughter Lucy, who died weeks later. Jefferson shortly thereafter resigned his position as governor and promised his wife that he would refuse any more political posts. Thus Jefferson turned down an important diplomatic mission to Europe. Her final pregnancy proved more burdensome than her marital separations; she died four months after childbirth. 

Martha Jefferson, however, was also to leave an unwitting legacy to her husband on two accounts. With the death of her father in 1772, Martha Jefferson inherited substantial property, including approximately 11,000 acres of land ( retaining 5,000 ) and slaves, including her half-siblings. By law, his wife's property became his own upon marriage, and so Jefferson came into ownership of his slave half sisters-in-law Thenia, Critta and Sally and brothers-in-law Robert and James Hemings. 

Since they were one-quarter African-American and three-quarters white and also related by blood to Martha Jefferson, the five Wayles-Hemings children occupied a unique role within the Jefferson family. None were called " slaves, " but always referred to as " servants. " They worked in the most personal and private servantile roles at Monticello. In 1790, Robert Hemings bought his freedom and joined his wife and daughter in Richmond, where they worked for a doctor. James Hemings was particularly close to Jefferson, working as his personal aide or " body servant, " traveling with him to Philadelphia during the Second Continental Congress and later to Europe. While in Paris, James Hemings studied the culinary French arts; upon returning to Virginia, he trained his younger brother Peter to oversee the detailed French cooking that Jefferson now insisted on serving. Jefferson gave James Hemings his freedom. Critta Hemings helped to raise her half-nieces Patsy and Polly. Thenia Hemings was the only one of Martha Jefferson's half-siblings who was sold as a slave - to family friend and future President James Monroe.

As a DNA study believed accurate by officials at Monticello indicate, Jefferson and his half sister-in-law Sally Hemings parented at least one, possibly several illegitimate children after the death of Martha Jefferson. Public knowledge of even the rumors that the President parented several slave children became a scandal during his Administration. While the land inheritance from John Wayles doubled the acreage of Jefferson's own patrimony of land, he also inherited Wayles' substantial debts that lingered and would contribute to Jefferson's own financial troubles in retirement from the presidency.

33 years old
September 6, 1782
Monticello, Virginia

Monticello, Virginia

*Martha Jefferson died 18 years before Thomas Jefferson was elected President in 1800; she is the first of five women who were married to men who would become President after their deaths.

Administration Hostesses for Thomas Jefferson :
March 4, 1801-March 4, 1809

Thomas Jefferson took charge of the entertaining details at the White House during his presidency, particularly the food and the form of protocol and ceremony; whenever he had women dinner guests, he invited Dolley Madison ( 1768-1849 ), the wife of his highest-ranking Cabinet member, Secretary of State James Madison, as his escort, his vice president Aaron Burr also being a widower. At large open functions in the White House, Dolley Madison also assumed a public role as hostess, assisting the President in welcoming the general citizenry.

Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph

Born 27 September 1772, Albemarle County, Virginia
Married, 23 February 1790, to Thomas Mann Randolph
Died, 10 October 1836, Albemarle County, Virginia
Buried, Monticello, Albemarle County, Virginia
Children: Seven daughters and six sons: Anne Cary Randolph (1791–1826), Thomas Jefferson Randolph (1792–1875), Ellen Wayles Randolph (1794–1795), Ellen Wayles Randolph [ named after her deceased sister ] (1796–1876); Cornelia Jefferson Randolph (1799–1871); Virginia Jefferson Randolph (1801–1882); Mary Jefferson Randolph (1803–1876); James Madison Randolph (1806–1834); Benjamin Franklin Randolph (1808–1871); Meriwether Lewis Randolph (1810–1837); Septimia Anne Randolph (1814–1887); George Wythe Randolph (1818–1867)

Martha Jefferson Randolph, eldest daughter of Thomas and Martha Jefferson, has often been incorrectly identified as the White House hostess during the eight-year Jefferson presidency. Her father called her “ Patsy, ” and that was the name she was known by within her family.

She was not present at either of his Inaugurations, in 1801 and 1805 and made only two lengthy stays with her father in Washington, during which time she served as his White House hostess - the winter of 1802 and the winter of 1806. During her second visit, she gave birth on January 17, 1806 to her eight child, James Madison Randolph; thus he became the first child born in the White House.

During Patsy Randolph's 1802 sojourn there, she was accompanied by her younger sister, Maria “Polly” Jefferson Eppes, Jefferson's only other child who survived into adulthood.

Both Thomas Mann Randolph and John " Jack " Eppes, the husbands of Jefferson's daughters, lived in the White House with their father-in-law the President during their terms as U.S. Congressmen from Virginia. Polly Eppes died at her Virginia plantation, " Eppington," during the Jefferson presidency on April 17, 1804 just eight weeks after giving birth to her third child, a daughter, on February 15, thus dying shortly after childbirth as had her mother and maternal grandmother.

Martha Randolph spent almost his entire time in the White House at either Monticello or the Virginia plantation, "Edgehill" of her husband. She bore four of her twelve children during the eight-year Administration. During her father’s long stays away from Washington, when he returned to Monticello, she received his guests, both public and private, as his official hostess and helped to manage the family tableaux which she and her children provided for the President as a form of political appeal. Among those they frequently entertained were Secretary of State James Madison and his wife Dolley, whom Martha Randolph had befriended during her initial sojourn in Washington.

As a younger girl, it had been his beloved "Patsy", who proved to be the only family member who could offer Jefferson emotional comfort following the death of her mother, his wife. They became constant companions. When Jefferson undertook his first diplomatic mission to France, he brought Patsy with him, while leaving his two younger surviving children, Maria and Lucy, to be raised at Eppington by his late wife’s half-sister.

In France, however, Jefferson placed Patsy in Abbaye Royale de Panthemont, a Catholic convent to be taught by French nuns. She adapted well to the restricted but religious regiment, following the orders of her father who instructed her on how to behave and what subjects to study. By that time, her younger sister Maria and half-aunt Sally Hemings had arrived from Virginia; Maria was sent to the convent school to join her sister. As Martha matured into a teenager, she became enamored with the Roman Catholic faith, but when she suggested to her father that she might convert to that religion and became a nun herself, he withdrew her from the convent school and made her the hostess of his home in Paris.

When she returned to the United States, Patsy married Thomas Mann Randolph but also soon assumed the role of hostess at her father’s plantation Monticello. She also began to direct the domestic staff of enslaved people who worked there. Assuming a direct role in the food preparations, Mrs. Randolph began to also collect numerous recipes which she obtained from her father or others in official life whom she had come to meet and know through him.

Largely through their correspondence, but also during his lengthy visits home, Patsy Randolph became her father’s comfort and close advisor, perhaps the single most important personal factor that stabilized him during his presidency. When the newspaper story that Jefferson and his half-sister-in-law and Monticello slave Sally Hemings had children out of wedlock was first widely reprinted in the first weeks of 1802, Patsy Randolph may have served a political purpose: she immediately joined her troubled father in Washington, along with her two children, Ellen and Jeff, and her sister Polly, as a sign of family unity. The usually non-church going Jefferson also suddenly began publicly appearing at the Sunday religious services then held in the hall of Congress - always politically shielded by the presence of his two daughters and two grandchildren.

When she was at Monticello, Patsy Randolph was put in the difficult situation of supervising her half-aunt, Sally Hemings as a privileged house slave - without ever openly acknowledging that they shared the same blood. She believed intensely that slavery was an evil institution and especially horrific because it broke up families; however, when financial difficulties began to affect her own family, she felt she often had no choice but to view as property those humans held as slaves.

After the Jefferson presidency, Patsy Randolph continued to live at her home Edgehill; eventually the heavy debts incurred by the late president at Monticello would force her to sell the plantation. She was estranged from her husband, due to his heavy drinking and mental illness. He died two years after her father.

Patsy Randolph initially lived in Boston with her daughter Ellen and her husband, Joseph Coolidge. Although estranged from her husband in the last years of their marriage, Patsy Randolph returned to Virginia to care for him in his final days; he died in 1829. She often visited her daughter Septimia Meikleham ( 1814-1887 ) in Washington, D.C. and later lived there; she was a guest of President Andrew Jackson in the White House on several occasions.

At one point, some Democratic Congressmen, loyal to Jeffersonian principals, considered proposing a federal pension for the impoverished and widowed Mrs. Randolph as a sign of respect for her late father, but none was made. South Carolina and Louisiana, however, awarded her cash gifts totaling $2,000, which she accepted; she died on October 10, 1836 during a visit to Virginia, and is buried with her parents at Monticello.

In 1834, Martha Randolph had dictated an informal addendum to her will, instructing her children that she wished that her half-aunt Sally Hemings would be given her " time, " or freedom, but that would also mean the now-elderly mistress of Jefferson would be forced to leave Virginia by law. It became moot since Sally Hemings died a year before Patsy Randolph.