Mary Hemings


Thomas Jefferson married Martha Wayles Skelton on January 11, 1772. Thomas was twenty-nine and Martha Wayles was twenty-three years of age and a widow. Two years later Martha's father, John Wayles died and Martha inherited several slaves from the Wayles estate. In fact, the inheritance included an entire family of slaves by the name of Hemings. These people, according to Virginia law , became the property of Thomas Jefferson. Some of the family members were related to Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson because they were the children of her father John Wayles and his slave, Elizabeth Hemings.

Elizabeth (Betty) Hemings, a mulatto (half white and half black) was the daughter of Captain John Hemings, a sea captain, and an African slave woman of unmixed blood. This unknown slave was the property of John Wayles. Betty Hemings came to Monticello, Jefferson's home, along with her children: Mary, Martin, Bett , Nance, Robert, James, Thenia, Critta, Peter, Sally and John. While seven of those named were fathered by John Wayles several were not. Mary Hemings, it seems, was one of the children that was fathered by some other person.

Much has been written about Betty's child Sally, however, Mary Hemings' story is either passed over or dismissed as having no validity. Historians refuse to believe that Thomas Jefferson could have fathered a child with a slave while his wife lived. Nevertheless, the oral history of the descending families insist that is just what happened and it is that story that will be told in the following pages.

Twenty-seven year old Mary Hemings gave birth to a mulatto son fathered by Thomas Jefferson in 1780. She named the boy Joseph, but he was called simply Joe in Jefferson's farm book. The farm book was a journal used by Virginia farmers to keep track of their holdings. The book contained such useful information as the names and birth dates of their slaves, food distributed to them , clothing rationed, and work assignments. Deaths , runaways, sale of slaves, and crop information were also written in the farm book. It was in this book that Jefferson recorded the birth of Joe.

It was decided by someone, probably Jefferson's overseer, that Joe's father was most likely a white carpenter by the name of Fossett that worked at Monticello before Joe was born. The white, world including Jefferson's family, has chosen to leave the matter at that. The Fossett descendants don't agree.

Because Jefferson was elected Governor of Virginia in 1780, he moved his family as well as a number of slaves to Williamsburg, Virginia which was the seat of government. The Hemings family including Mary , Betty, Sally, Robert and Martin were a part of the slave group that accompanied Jefferson, his wife and daughters.

One year later the entire group moved to Richmond because that city had become the capital. Jefferson moved his family , servants and all. The slaves, of course, set up the new residence for the governor in the new capital.

The British attacked the capital in 1781 (during the Revolutionary War), of course, all persons there at the time were in danger. Governor Jefferson left the city with his family and therefore escaped the attack and the British. According to Isaac Jefferson , the slaves were not as fortunate. The attack was swift and Mary Hemings was forced to grab her daughter, Molly, who was sitting in the yard, out of the line of British fire. Mary , her family and the other slaves were left to "hold the fort" while the British plundered the city. When the British left they took some of the Negro slaves with them, including Mary, her children Molly, Daniel and Joseph, and Mary's sisters and brothers.

Although they were treated well by the British, Mary and family were happy when they were rescued by General George Washington and his men when they came to retake Richmond from the British. During these battles Jefferson, his wife and family had been safely in their Bedford County home, Poplar Forest.

After returning home, Betty and daughter Mary Hemings, who was a pastry cook as well as a seamstress, were kept busy preparing meals for the many visitors to Monticello. There were never less than eight guests for a meal and often as many as thirty-two guests were at the table.(Memoirs of Isaac Jefferson)

Martha Jefferson died in 1782 and it was shortly after her death that Jefferson gladly left his mountaintop plantation to serve as ambassador to France. The operation of the farm was left in the hands of overseers and his slaves. It was sometime during Jefferson's tour of duty that Mary Hemings was leased to another plantation to work. The practice of leasing slaves was a practical one and was not uncommon. Leasing provided the slaveowner a system of keeping all of the slaves working during the slack season and added a little income as well. Mary was leased by Col. Thomas Bell.

More than a master/slave relationship developed between Mary Hemings and Col. Bell. However , Mary was sent back to Monticello before 1789. Mary Hemings made known her wish to be sold to Col. Bell.

Thomas Jefferson was Secretary of state when Mary made the request to be sold in 1792. Jefferson instructed his friend and neighbor, Nicholas Lewis to see to the sale of Mary Hemings to Bell. How much money changed hands has not been recorded. Twelve year old Joe , her daughter Molly and her son Daniel were left at Monticello when Mary was sold. They continued to be property of Thomas Jefferson.

Mary and Colonel Thomas Bell had several children together in the years that followed her sale . One of those children , Sarah (Sally) Bell married a man that became very important in Joe Fossett's life. Unlike Jefferson, Col. Bell acknowledged his mulatto children and furthermore, provided for them and for Mary in his will. Mary finished her days in Charlottesville, Virginia within sight of the mountain on which she lived and worked for so many years. She lived with her daughter and died sometime after 1834, unfortunately her final resting place has as yet not been determined.

Meanwhile at Monticello, Joe (Fossett) was taught the ironworking and blacksmithing trade and used these skills in the nailery. Joe soon became capable of more complicated ironwork jobs. He is mentioned by several sources as doing the ironwork on carriages and the like. Jefferson, as previously mentioned, was away from the hill as Secretary of State during this time, therefore the mountaintop home was run by overseers and slaves.

When Jefferson went to Washington as President in 1801, he took seventeen year old slave Edy ( Edith) Bowles/Hirn with him to learn French cookery from Honore’ Julien the French cook at the President's house. While Jefferson and Edy were at the capital, a worried Joe ran away from Monticello to Washington city to be near Edith and their infant who was ill with the whooping cough. The President was not at all happy about this runaway slave. When the news reached him, Jefferson immediately had a search made for Joe and when he was found , Jefferson had him jailed and returned to Monticello. The child sadly was too sick to recover and died, but Jefferson bore the cost of the child's burial.

Eventually, Joe and Edy were reunited at Monticello when Jefferson returned home. They were married probably by slave ceremony , and became the parents of several children. Their children were James, Maria, Patsy, Anne Elizabeth (Betsy), Peter, Isabella, William, Daniel and Jesse Scott.

Thomas Jefferson died in 1826 and one of the slaves freed in his will was Joe. For the first time , Jefferson referred to him as Joseph Fossett. Joe's actual freedom didn't come until a year after Jefferson's death in 1827. For the next several years, he worked in the Charlottesville vicinity trying to earn enough money to buy the freedom of his wife, Edy and their six children, who were still enslaved. They were sold to various masters when Jefferson's estate was settled in 1827-1829. Joe worked for TJ's favorite grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, repairing tools and other smithing jobs at Monticello. He then spent some time working at road repair, still trying to accumulate enough money to set his family free.(Ablemarele County Court Records)

Joe's daughter Patsy was sold to Charles Bonnycastle, who was a professor at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, while wife, Edy , sons William and Daniel and daughter Isabella were bought by a Charlottesville mulatto by the name of Jesse Scott . Jesse Scott was the husband of Sarah (Sally) Bell, who was Joe Fossett's half sister, the child of Mary Hemings and Col. Bell. Jesse Scott obviously purchased them to help Joe secure their freedom. A total of $505.00 was paid for them.

James Fossett did not leave Charlottesville and married a woman of color, named Mary Minor. He died in 1879. How he was freed is not known.

Peter Farley Fossett remained a slave until about 1850, much longer than most of his family. He was bought by John Jones during the settling of the Jefferson estate. Peter longed to be free as the rest of his family and , taking matters in his own hands, he ran away from his new master. He ran away twice but was captured both times, of course, he was punished and returned to slavery. Finally , in 1849 Peter's brother-in-law, Tucker Isaacs and others joined together to purchase Peter's freedom. Tucker was the husband of Peter's sister Anne Elizabeth (Betsy). Tucker Isaacs was responsible for sending Peter to Cincinnati, Ohio where Joe and Edy Fossett settled some years before. Peter married a Mrs. Sarah Walker in 1854 also in Cincinnati. After adjusting to freedom and working with his brothers for a time, Peter became an influential Baptist Minister well known in the black communities throughout Ohio. He visited Chillicothe, Ohio and was known to his relatives who settled there.

Jesse Scott Fossett, the youngest child of Joe and Edy Fossett, lived for a time in Cincinnati and worked with his parents. He became a minister before his brother Peter was freed He and his brother Peter were witnesses for his grandmother Nancy West 's will in the early 1850's. However, when the will was probated in 1857 in Chillicothe, Jesse was nowhere to be found.

Anne Elizabeth Fossett, fourth child of Joe and Edy, was rescued from slavery by Tucker Isaacs, who apparently purchased her freedom. Tucker has already been mentioned in his roll of emancipator, when he was instrumental in the freeing of Anne Elizabeth' s brother Peter. Betsy, as she was called, was still enslaved when Joe, Edy, and the others were bought free by Jesse Scott. Some say that Tucker purchased her, but because of his station in life was not willing to free her through the conventional method of filing the papers at the courthouse, consequently, he forged her free papers. Tucker a mulatto, black and jewish, had a good education and was from a family of substance in Charlottesville.

Joe, Edy, William and Daniel moved to Cincinnati, Ohio c. 1848, state to Fortunately, Joe's training as a blacksmith proved useful after the family moved to Cincinnati, because he used that skill to earn a living, while Edy , William, Jesse and eventually Peter became the leading caterers of the town. After Joe's death and her son's followed other callings, Edy Fossett ran the business alone.

Though Tucker and Anne Elizabeth Isaacs came to Chillicothe, Ohio to live in 1838, they too travelled back and forth from Ross County, Ohio to Albemarle County, Virginia. Tucker's mother lived in Charlottesville on Market Street and he and his family visited her in 1850 . They are listed with her on the census, but were in Ohio in 1843 when Virginia was born. Two of their children were born in Virginia between 1845 and 1848, but they were living in Chillicothe when their last son, Frederick was born in 1851.

As was the custom in those days, Anne Elizabeth and Tucker and family lived with Tucker's sister and her husband , during their long visits to the Scioto Valley. Tucker's sister, Julia Ann (Isaacs) married Eston Hemings, who was the son of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson, which also makes Eston a cousin or an uncle to Anne Elizabeth. (Perhaps you can figure out the exact relationship!) Well, whatever the relationship the two families shared homes in the 1840's in Ohio.

Finally in 1856, Tucker purchased 158 acres of land in Springfield, Township, Ross County , Ohio, about six miles north of the town of Chillicothe. On the land he built a sizable two story frame house on a hilltop overlooking the Scioto Valley. The view from the hill was breathtaking! In addition to the house, he built a large barn and other out building. The site chosen for the home not only offered a beautiful view, but in addition, provided a strategic spot for a stop on the Underground Railroad, which was used by runaway slaves on their way to Canada.

Nancy West (Isaacs) , Tucker' s mother purchased parcel of land owned by Eston and Julia in Chillicothe, in 1852 though she continued to live in Charlottesville, Virginia. She bought the land from her daughter Julia Ann and her son-in-law, Eston Hemings as they were preparing to move from Chillicothe to a place where they felt they might receive better treatment , the Wisconsin wilderness!

Tucker advertised his services to the public in the Scioto Gazette. He was a painter and glazier , a needed trade in Ross County in the 1850's, therefore he was able to support his family in fine fashion. The children of Anne Elizabeth and Tucker are: Thomas (1836), Elizabeth (Maria 1838), Virginia (1843), Tucker Jr. (1845), David (1847), and Frederick (1851).

Nancy West, Tucker's mother eventually moved from her home in Charlottesville and finished her days with her son , daughter-in-law and grandchildren. She died in 1856 and was buried on the Isaacs' farm a little way down the hill from the garden, thus establishing the family cemetery. In 1874, her son Tucker was buried there also as was his wife Anne Elizabeth Fossett Isaacs in 1902. The granddaughter of the third President of the United States was buried in an unmarked unadorned grave on the hill. The last burial there was the eldest son, Thomas Isaacs, in 1911. As was often done in the early part of this century, Thomas was laid out at home and brought out to the L shape porch where the mourners gathered. After the prayers were said and hymns sung by those who stood in the yard, he was taken and laid to rest with the rest of his family.

A few years before his death, Tucker Isaacs had occasion to be in Waverly, Ohio, a small hamlet sixteen miles south of Chillicothe. Now this little town had a reputation for its ill-treatment of people of color. Tucker's business concluded too late for him to return to his home northeast of Chillicothe, so he decided to stay the night at the Emmitt house in the town. Tucker was denied lodging by Mr. Emmitt, so Tucker sued the man for $100.00, therefore testing the new Civil Rights Laws newly on the Ohio books. Tucker's case was unfortunately denied by the courts on the basis that Tucker had been denied lodging in a "gentlemanly" fashion and that he had found lodging elsewhere. Tucker was finally awarded the grand sum of $5.00 by the courts, however the award was a victory of principle.

Thomas Isaacs was the only child of Anne Elizabeth and Tucker that never married and finished his days at the homeplace. His sister Elizabeth (Maria) Isaacs married William Dupre a Civil War hero and the couple moved to Boston, Massachusetts. Before they were married, William Dupre , a musician organized an excellent brass band while he lived in Chillicothe. This band, which became very well known in southern Ohio, was called the Union-Valley brass Band. He played the B flat baritone horn in the band. In 1863, he travelled to Massachusetts as did many other men of color, to join the 55th Massachusetts USCT, where he became a drillmaster and was made a first sergeant in Company H. He organized a regimental band and after showing leadership qualities became a commissioned officer, which was an unusual feat for a man of color during the Civil War. William returned to Chillicothe after the war and married Elizabeth. After moving to Boston, he took a position with the U S Postal service as superintendent of station A. His brother-in-law worked there already.

Virginia Isaacs married James Monroe Trotter, a teacher, musician , author and Civil War veteran. James Trotter and William Dupre went to Massachusetts together to "join up" and both served in the 55th USCT. James made the rank of lieutenant. After the war, Trotter returned to Chillicothe and married Virginia Isaacs (in 1868). Trotter and his new bride moved to Boston and took up residence in an exclusive section of the city, where they were soon joined by the Dupres. James worked in the post office, in fact he was the first black to be hired by the post office. The Trotters preceded the Duprees in moving to Boston by two years.(Source Marrriage Rcords, Ross County, Ohio. ( The Scioto Register, August 8, 1868. Interviews Flossie Isaacs, Boston Massachusetts)

The brothers-in-law formed a close relationship, after all they met in Chillicothe, served in the same regiment in the Civil War, married sisters, and found a job at the same place. Trouble, unfortunately, came to the families when a difference of opinion divided the men for many years. The rift occurred in 1882, when James Trotter was passed over for promotion by a white man. Suspecting discrimination, he decided to take direct action and rather than work at a place where he was being unfairly treated, he resigned. He tried in vain to convince his brother-in-law to do the same in protest. William Dupre refused and the refusal made James Trotter angry. The two families did not speak until just about a year before Trotter's death win 1912.

The Trotters were parents of three children , William Monroe, Maude (1874) and Elizabeth(1883)

William published a black newspaper called The Guardian in Boston Massachusettes and wasconsidered a political leader in the Black elite community. William, a graduate of Harvard, and a group of other young black intellectuals met in New York State to try and map a plan for dealing with the growing problem of discrimination. As this group grew in number, a need for a larger place to hold the meetings arose. They found it impossible to find accommodations in the state of New York because of discrimination they were fighting! They crossed the border into Canada and continued to hold these strategy meetings. The meetings soon became known as the Niagara Movement and eventually lead to the organization of the NAACP in 1910. (Source: Birth Records Ross County, Ohio; Quarles, Benjamin, The Guardian 1979)

Maude Trotter married Charles Stewart and lived in Boston until her death.

Elizabeth Trotter, who was known as Bessie, married Henry Craft, a descendant of the fugitive slaves Willam and Ellen Craft. (See UGRR page). They lived in New York and had two children, Margaret and Mary Ellen.

Anne Elizabeth Fossett Isaacs' last son, Frederick Douglas Isaacs married Anne Elizabeth Chancellor Fiddler , a former teacher of African American children in the town of Chillicothe, Ohio. Her father and grandfather, Richard Chancellor and Richard Chancellor Jr. were expert carpenter and capstone workmen, as well as being conductors on the Underground Railroad. She brought a daughter, Clara, to her second marriage to Fred Isaacs. The children of Frederick Isaacs and Anne Elizabeth Chancellor Isaacs are: William Haffinger (1880), Frederick II (Fritz 1882), Tucker B. (1889) Anne Elizabeth (1893), Virginia (1895).

Sources: Marriages Ross County Ohio,

I am indebted to Mary Ellen Butler a descendant of Elizabeth (Bessie) Trotter Craft for supplying the genealogy of the Trotter family.

Birth Records Ross County, Ohio;

Quarles, Benjamin,The Guardian 1979.

Marriages Ross County Ohio, )

interviews: Maria, Cunningham, Pearl Brown, William Cunningham, Flossie, Brian Isaacs,

U. S. Census Records for Virginia and Ohio 1820-1910

U. S. Archives Civil War pension Records.

News articles from the The Scioto Gazette

(Written for the descendants of Joseph Fosset who live in central and southern Ohio, 1994, By: Beverly J. Gray)

©copyright 1994 All Rights Reserved


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