When did Thomas Jefferson marry Sally Hemmings? [closed]

+12 votes
Just when were Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings MARRIED? Where is the evidence that a marriage ceremony between Sally Hemmings and Thomas Jefferson ever took place? Who has a copy of the marriage certificate? Where is evidence that Jefferson referred to Hemmings in public as his wife? What marital rights did she enjoy?

If there aren't good, logical, legitimate and factual answers to these questions, I move that the marital status of Sally Hemmings be removed from Jefferson's profile and that she is mentioned in his biography as the slave concubine who may have borne his illegitimate children.
WikiTree profile: Thomas Jefferson
closed with the note: question answered
asked in Policy and Style by Michele Camera G2G6 Mach 1 (17.9k points)
closed by Michele Camera
Fascinating. The detachment shows up in her change log but not on Jefferson's.
I think most double-ended changes are only logged at one end.

This is most annoying when children have had their parents removed, because there's no way to find them from the parent end.
I started a separate g2g thread on this topic.


From this research it was determined that, other than Thomas Jefferson, twenty-five adult male descendants of his father Peter (1707-1757) and his uncle Field (1702-1765) lived in Virginia during the 1794-1807 period of Sally Hemings's pregnancies:

  • His brother Randolph Jefferson (1755-1815) and five of his sons
  • His first cousin John Robertson Jefferson (1743-1809) and six of his sons
  • Seven sons of Peter Field Jefferson (1735-1794), his first cousin
  • Five sons of George Jefferson (1739-1780), his first cousin

Of the nineteen descendants of Field Jefferson, all but two (George Jefferson, Jr., and John Garland Jefferson) lived over a hundred miles from Monticello in Southside Virginia and make no appearance in Thomas Jefferson's correspondence, accounts, or family recollections. These two men, plus Randolph Jefferson and his sons, were studied in more detail.

George Jefferson, Jr. (1766-1812) Commission merchant in Richmond (seventy miles from Monticello) from at least 1797 to 1812. Acted as Thomas Jefferson's commission agent. May have occasionally visited Monticello, although no reference to such visits has yet been found.

John Garland Jefferson (d. 1815) Pursued his studies in the Monticello neighborhood, with Thomas Jefferson's support, from June 1790 to some time in 1791, with occasional visits in 1792 and 1793. Married in 1800. Attorney in Amelia County (seventy miles from Monticello) from 1801.

Randolph Jefferson (1755-1815) Lived on his plantation, Snowden, about twenty miles south of Monticello in Buckingham County. First married in 1781; widowed some time between 1792 and 1807; remarried circa 1808.

A former Monticello slave, Isaac Jefferson, recalled in 1847 that Randolph Jefferson "used to come out among black people, play the fiddle and dance half the night." Since Isaac Jefferson left Monticello in 1797, his reference probably predates that year, and most likely refers to the 1780s, the period that is the subject of the majority of his recollections.

Only four recorded visits to Monticello (in September 1802, September 1805, May 1808, and sometime in 1814) are known, none related to Sally Hemings's conceptions. In August 1807, a probable conception time for Eston Hemings, Thomas Jefferson wrote his brother that "we shall be happy to see you also" at Monticello, where Randolph's twin sister, Anna Marks, was then visiting. A search of visitors' accounts, memorandum books, and Jefferson's published and unpublished correspondence provided no indication that Randolph did, in fact, come at this time. A similar search was made of the probable conception time for Madison Hemings, without finding reference to a Randolph Jefferson visit.

Randolph Jefferson's Sons

Isham Randolph Jefferson (1781-1852) An 1884 book on Todd County, Kentucky, says that he was "reared" at Monticello; no reference to him, however, has yet been found in Thomas Jefferson's papers.

Thomas Jefferson, Jr. (1783-1876) Resident at Monticello for extended periods of schooling in 1799 and 1800, and possibly 1801.

Field Jefferson (c1785?-1808+) No documentary references found, other than Randolph Jefferson's 1808 will.

Robert Lewis Jefferson (c1787?-1808+) Carried a letter to Monticello in July or August 1807; dated July 9, it was not received by Thomas Jefferson, who arrived at Monticello August 4, until August 8. No further information found.

James Lilburne Jefferson (c1789?-1816+) No references found until 1813, when Jefferson invited him to come study at Monticello.


Since there is no indication of their presence at Monticello in the 1794 to 1807 period, Field Jefferson's grandsons George Jefferson and John Garland Jefferson are unlikely candidates for fatherhood. Two of Randolph Jefferson's sons (Thomas Jefferson, Jr., and Robert Lewis Jefferson) may well have been at Monticello in the 1800 and 1807 conception periods, but they and their brothers are also unlikely fathers because of their youth and very intermittent presence. As mentioned elsewhere, no one familiar with Monticello suggested that Sally Hemings was promiscuous or that her children had multiple fathers.

A stronger case can be made for Randolph Jefferson, who may have had a more sustained presence at Monticello. He was probably encouraged to visit Monticello when Thomas Jefferson was in residence on his vacations from public life. The Isaac Jefferson reference indicates social interaction with the Monticello slaves. The dates of Randolph's widowhood also may coincide with Sally Hemings's childbearing years (the date of the death of his first wife is not certainly known).

On the other hand, no documented Randolph Jefferson visits at the time of the conception of Sally Hemings's six known children have been found. Also, it is known that, at least once in the relevant period, Randolph Jefferson visited the Monticello neighborhood in his brother's absence; none of Sally Hemings's known children were conceived in Thomas Jefferson's absence. As stated above, Isaac Jefferson's observation most likely relates to the period of Randolph Jefferson's youth.

Furthermore, there are no known references (prior to the 1998 DNA results) to Randolph Jefferson as a possible father of Sally Hemings's children. If he was a frequent visitor to Monticello, as well as a known figure in the slave quarters, it would have been more logical for Thomas Jefferson Randolph to attribute to Randolph Jefferson the striking resemblance of Sally Hemings's children to his brother Thomas. Instead, he cited Jefferson's nephews Peter and Samuel Carr, whose connection to Eston Hemings has been ruled out by genetic testing.

For these reasons, as well as the substantial evidence linking Thomas Jefferson to Sally Hemings cited elsewhere in this report, it is very unlikely that Randolph Jefferson or any Jefferson other than Thomas Jefferson was the father of her children.




Thanks, Jenny. Good link and post.

Also, the wikipedia entry referenced elsewhere in this thread, describes research that compared Sally's conception periods to when Thomas Jefferson was residing at Monticello. This analysis used records kept at the time. In all cases, TJ was present at Monticello during the time that Sally would have conceived each of her children.

The heritage article that Yvonne linked to is highly emotional (in my opinion) and inconsistent in its source citations, whereas the wikipedia article is far more objective and consistently cites the documentary evidence.  The heritage article is trying to prove a point; the wikipedia article presents the data.


Well, this adds some damning circumstantial evidence to the mix.

I am still troubled that in the year 2016, with all the felons who were convicted on, and all convicted murders and rapists who were exonerated on DNA evidnce, that this paternity question can be answered only in terms of a preponderance of evidence instead of a forensic report.  If we are able to rely on the labs for these much more serious questions, why is this paternity case so mysterious to the experts?  That we don't have a much more definitive answer coming out of the lab raises my suspicions about how closely the question has been examined and whether or not anyone in these families really wants an answer.  Or perhaps I have been wrong for quite some time and my previous support of the Innocence Project should be re-evaluated within terms of this lowered expectation of definitive answers.
Apples and oranges. Proving that a living person does not match a DNA sample taken at a crime scene is simple and straightforward. Proving which of 2 brothers or several other close male relatives 250 years ago fathered a child is very different and much more difficult.
I'm I correct in thinking that paternity tests use autosomal dna and we can only get mtdna and y dna from deceased people?
I need to ask this question. I believe the answer is no. But, has Sally Hemmings DNA been tested. I ask this for a specific reason. I will explain when I get a reply. Thank you.

4 Answers

+4 votes
Based on this article I would agree:

answered by Doug Lockwood G2G Astronaut (2.3m points)
+3 votes
Everyone knew that Sally was the half sister of President Jefferson's wife.  She was also quite accomplished.

Slavery was such a thoroughly bad system (as Jefferson fully understood) that their common law marriage could not be on any basis of equality, but I think it may well have been loving on both sides, although shameful because of the shameful system surrounding it.
answered by
I've been trying to find a document with the "smoking gun" but obviously am not looking in the correct place.  It seems very, very strange that decade in the 21st century and quite content to use DNA evidence to either convict or exonerate accused felons of the most heinous crimes and hinge potential executions on definitive conclusions of DNA evidence yet 18 years after comensing DNA research into to paternity of Sally Hem wings' children, there is still no single answer as to whether or not Thomas Jefferson is the baby-daddy for any or all of them. Where is Maury Povich when you need him? LOL.  

But seriously, is anyone aware of a website address at which we may read the conclusions of the scientific team that conducted the DNA analysis? As interesting as the other information cited in the various "preponderance of evidence" arguments, I believe that in a court of law we would look to the forensic team for a definitive answer even if it required exhumation of Jefferson's remains.  Why hasn't that same standard been applied to the allegations of paternity? If they have, why isn't a much more definitive answer well published and accepted into common knowledge?

 I'm glad that I didn't ask the paternity question. If I had, the lack of definitive answer would have brought on a migraine of heroic proportion.  Thankfully, I asked if there was any evidence to support a claim that Jefferson married more that once. There isn't. He didn't. My question is closed.

Perhaps another thread could be opened to discuss paternity.

I have put this up before. Please read:

  1. Y-DNA testing – This type of testing checks the Y-chromosome, which only males have (women have two x chromosomes). The basic idea is that since men carry the surname of their ancestors, it’s fairly easy to trace back the DNA on their Y-chromosome to prove or disprove ancestry. Genetically, the Y-chromosome is almost unchanged when passed from father to son, making the test highly reliable. Men with a common ancestor have nearly identical yDNA."
Jefferson DID NOT have a direct male heir. His son died shortly after his birth. NOW, Jefferson had a much younger brother that may have been the father of some of Hemmings children. 


  1. Y-DNA testing – This type of testing checks the Y-chromosome, which only males have (women have two x chromosomes). The basic idea is that since men carry the surname of their ancestors, it’s fairly easy to trace back the DNA on their Y-chromosome to prove or disprove ancestry. Genetically, the Y-chromosome is almost unchanged when passed from father to son, making the test highly reliable. Men with a common ancestor have nearly identical yDNA.
  2. Jeffersons only son died a short time after his birth. Jefferson had no other son. Jeffersons younger brother may have been the man people are referring to. 
Yes, yes, yes.

Thomas Jefferson's legitimate son died before having a son. But Thomas' father, Peter Jefferson, passed hisvY-DNA to not only Thomas, but to (according to Wiki tree) three additional male siblings to Thomas. Each of their male line descendants will carry the same Y-DNA. I believe that one of the living known Jefferson descendants provided s DNA sample which is how an answer at all was able to be determined. Part 1 of the DNA question is - yes, at least 1 of Hemmings' children was sired by one if the Jefferson men. Part 2 - is WHICH Jefferson was (or were) the fathers of Hemming' children?

 Had the study continued on by exhuming any of the past Jeffersons to collect autosomal DNA? If so, have they been able to determine which Jefferson was the father of Hemmimgs line of children? Have the determined if that same father was responsible for gathering all of Hemmings' children? If not, why not? Were they unwilling to exhume? Were they unable to get permission to exhume? If they were able to obtain the additional samples what results did they yield?
The DNA testing was performed on samples from living descendants of Field Jefferson, TJ's uncle. The samples matched with those from living descendants of Eston Hemings, Sally's youngest child. There is not much argument that DNA evidence shows that some male in TJ's bloodline fathered Eston. Most critics of the theory that TJ was the father attack the theory based on the possibility that some other male in the TJ bloodline was the father. However, most Jefferson historians believe that the historical records indicate that TJ is by far the most likely father. It is my understanding that the DNA evidence from purported descendants of other sons of Sally Hemings do not match the Jefferon/Eston y-DNA. This means that either (i) Sally's children had different fathers or (ii) the purported descendants of Sally Hemings other sons were not in fact blood line descendants (eg, there was either some "non-paternal event" in their lineage that introduced non-Jefferson DNA or their family history was incorrect).
Then it needs to be PROVEN. Dig the man,s body up and have it tested.
From what I can find, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation is the organization that would need to authorize the exhumation and DNA testing. However, even if they did so, I'm not sure it would prove anything. It would probably show that TJ's y-DNA matched that of the descendants of Field Jefferson and Eston Hemings, which would still permit the argument that some other Jefferson (eg Randolph) was the father. Perhaps someone with more au-DNA expertise might want to chime in here, but I suspect that, since TJ and Randolph Jefferson were brothers, it would be hard to differentiate their possible parentage based on autosomal DNA, unless perhaps you had samples from both TJ AND Randolph and maybe also from Eston.
Chase, the technology exists to get to the bottom of this.  Were the same DNA samples needed to proove a criminal allegation in a modern courtroom, we would have already had a forensic report. It sort of makes one wonder if there is any real desire to know the actual answer.

The evidence supporting TJ as father is more than just DNA. I strongly encourage you to read this carefully:


It points out (among many other things) that Randolph is a far less likely candidate than TJ because the documented periods of Randolph's presence at Monticello do not coincide with Sally's conceptions. TJ, on the other hand, was present at all of them.
They would have to use autosomal DNA and they would need a minimum of three decendents samples although more samples means greater accuracy in deducing which shared markers came from which ancestors. If luck is with you, some highly unusual characteristic might be found in the father's sample that is not present in the other potential candidates.
+2 votes
I guess WikiTree has quite a few concubines connected as "wives", as do other genealogy sites.  It can be convenient, and legally it can be a grey area, though maybe not in this case.
answered by RJ Horace G2G6 Pilot (405k points)
I'm sure the gentlemen involved in the arrangements found them to be "very convenient". :-/

As far as other concubines attached as wives, they also should be detached. The act of marrying is both sacred and legal. There are social statuses, legal rights and legal responsibilities conferred on the married couple that are withheld from concubinage for the good of the spouses, their offspring and society. The two statuses are not the same. We should not confuse them.

As pointed out there are many instances of non wives on profiles . This particular example is one that for obvious reasons raises emotions (I've read some of the threads  about this on the 23 and me forum, which was an eye opener for me, as a  non American)  Perhaps it is not the best one to discuss dispassionately.

Whatever the policy on wiki-tree is, it  has also to work elsewhere.  I'm sure there are lots of examples from all over the world where relationships are real but the partners were not married in a conventional Christian sense. What about all those French maîtresse-en- titres https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ma%C3%AEtresse-en-titre  and their children?  What about the  more common mundane example  on 'my' tree.'  The  husband left his wife, moved some distance away and set up with another woman . They were not married but lived as if they  were. The woman took the man's name , their children were registered and baptised with that name. Their descendants on the male line will still have that name today.

 They were not in a common law partnership since at least one existing spouse was still living. In any case, there was no such thing in England at the time.  Wikipedia suggests that the law in the (former) colonies was quite different to England and Wales and Scots law differs again.Before the 1937 Matrimonial act when divorce became a bit more attainable for all but the most wealthy,  their situation  probably wasn't that  unusual 

 I  would not want to detach the partner from the profile because they were in fact together as partners for want of a better word. I think the obvious answer to this (and I know nothing of the programming needed on wiki-tree) is the ability to put 'was not married' in place of the marriage date and place.



Helen, there is already a way to represent non married couples on this site. It has nothing to do with elevating the concubine's status to wife, and thus lowering the status of the legitimate wife in this profile as well as wives in every other legitimate state of matrimony, current as well as historic.

It requires no reprogramming. It does require detaching the concubine from the man who kept her, or in this specific case, the man who owned her and her children.

Where the partner in the affair is pertinant to the biography of each participant, that partner is named within the narrative of the relationship. A hyperlink to the profile of the mentioned party is created by typing [[wikitree id#|name as it is to appear in the text]] .

There is no evidence suggesting Jefferson married his slave. Therefore they were not married and Hemmings was not his wife.

The question of mistresses at the French royal courts could, and probably should, be discussed in a seperate thread by Franco historians who are familiar with the contemporary legal and social influences and consequences of liasons with these women.
BTW Helen, when rereading your post, I caught the previously missed connection that you have a profile or two who kept a mistress during life. If he (or they) presented themselves to the world as a bigamist or did indeed have a second wedding before the first wife passed, you could add the project designator the the Black Sheep Project and add him to [[Category:Bigamists]] if you want to.
+1 vote
This situation and other similar situations where men left their wife without obtaining a divorce and lived with another woman and had children by her, is the reason WikiTree needs to add a selection or additional selections for other types of relationships, such as "common law wife", "un-married relationship" or "lived with".  Listing that there was a marriage when there was not does not accurately describe the relationship and it is misleading.
answered by Carolyn Wilder G2G6 Mach 2 (27.4k points)
edited by Carolyn Wilder

I am dealing with one such situation in my own tree. Apparently, this 20th century ancestor kept a wife and four children on the east coast of the country while traveling cross country to also maintain a relationship with his mistress and her children on the west coast...and telling everyone that he was out working and visiting with his mother while he was absent from his wife and family. Meanwhile, he and his wife and children are all connected on his profile. His mistress and her children are connected on her profile. If anyone can produce a marriage certificate for the west coast relationship, I'll be more than happy to add him to the Blacksheep project as a bigamist.

One of the exercises I taught as a catechist involved gathering the class in a circle to hold hands. Each member of the circle took a turn standing in the middle of the circle and stated something about him or herself that he or she thought was unique. Everyone who shared that with him joined him in the middle of the circle.  Then the student was to say something about him or herself that everyone in the room shared and everyone who shared that left the inside to reform the circle. Those who really named something unique and remained unaccompanied got one of the treats in my prize bag. The exercise was to illustrate that while each of us is a unique individual to be respected as such, we are all also members of groups that include greater and greater numbers of others until at the largest we are all part of the human family. That is an exercise that would be useful for all those who would like to modify this site.

We already have a site that addresses both. For the people in the lives of each profile, there are fields for parents, siblings, and spouses that fit into the nice, neat, time honored, majority categories for which there are fields at the header before the biography begins. We also already have a free-form text area in which all the other people significant to that life may be linked, described, honored, or whatever else one might want to do with them. It is the text block.

You want to include a mistress or the man who cuckolded the husband? That's the place. You want to tell about a neighbor, teacher, mentor, religious leader or other non-related person who was significant in molding this person's life or was significant in some other way? That's the place. You want to include a pet who was much loved and always accompanied the person in the profile? That's the place.

In short, we already have a methodology that allows us to chronicle the lives of both the ancestors who colored within the lines and the ones who were the colors themselves. I fail to understand why this subject keeps coming up and WHY there is so much resistance to placing real, verifiable facts into the fields at the top of the profile page and describing all the unique things about the person and how he or she interacted and related to the world in the text block.

Apparently, our wiki-population is against the idea of treating each person as the unique individual they were and just won't be happy until there is a new "selection" or "button" or "category" for every single one of the infinite possibilities that could have or might in the future occur within the course of a life. Then we can all be put into our little boxes. And whoa to he who doesn't fit, eh?  This is very disheartening.

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