7 Facts About The Founding Fathers That’ll Make You Rethink American History

Published July 3, 2014
Updated July 25, 2022

Founding Father Thomas Jefferson Raped His Teenage Slave

Jefferson Sally

Wikimedia Commons/The Thomas Jefferson FoundationThomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings.

It was 1787 and Thomas Jefferson had been appointed to United States Envoy and Minister to France. He began periodically living in Paris where he invited his daughter Martha to join him along with her 14-year-old chambermaid, Sally Hemings.

Hemings was the daughter of Jefferson’s own father-in-law — John Wayles — who had raped his “domestic servant,” Betty Hemings. She was thus also the half-sibling of Jefferson’s late wife, Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson.

Jefferson described her as “quite a child,” and “handsome (with) long straight hair down her back.” He added that she was “decidedly good looking.”

The year the United States Constitution passed into law, Jefferson raped and impregnated her.

Hemings and Jefferson eventually returned to Jefferson’s Monticello estate in Virginia where their illegitimate child died in its infancy. But Jefferson continued to rape Hemings. She ultimately birthed six more children.

Sally Hemings Quarters In Monticello

Monticello.orgExceedingly little is known for sure about Sally Hemings as a person, but it is assumed she lived in these quarters at Monticello.

Jefferson apologists argue that these offspring were not Jefferson’s and posited that they were perhaps, instead, his brother’s. Even Jefferson’s white daughter Martha had always denied this, but a 1998 DNA test and subsequent studies in 2010 proved otherwise.

The Thomas Jefferson Foundation Research Committee even admitted that the second president fathered a minimum of six of Hemings’ seven children. One of Hemings’ own children, Madison, claimed that Jefferson fathered all seven of them.

Marco Margaritoff
A former staff writer for All That’s Interesting, Marco Margaritoff holds dual Bachelor's degrees from Pace University and a Master's in journalism from New York University. He has published work at People, VICE, Complex, and serves as a staff reporter at HuffPost.
Leah Silverman
A former associate editor for All That's Interesting, Leah Silverman holds a Master's in Fine Arts from Columbia University's Creative Writing Program and her work has appeared in Catapult, Town & Country, Women's Health, and Publishers Weekly.