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Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson

Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson

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Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson, born Martha Wayles ( – September 6, 1782) was the wife of Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

, who was the third President of the United States
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

. It was her second marriage, as her first husband had died young. They had six children together, but only two daughters survived to adulthood, and one past the age of 25.

Early life and education


Martha was born to John Wayles (1715–1773) and his first wife Martha Eppes
Eppes
- People :* Francis Eppes* Francis W. Eppes , Intendant of Tallahassee, Florida* John Wayles Eppes , Democrat; U.S. Representative from Virginia; U.S...

 (1712–1748). John was an attorney, slave trader, business agent for the Bristol-based tobacco exporting firm of Tarell & Jones, and wealthy plantation
Plantation
A plantation is a long artificially established forest, farm or estate, where crops are grown for sale, often in distant markets rather than for local on-site consumption...

 owner in Charles City County, Virginia
Charles City County, Virginia
As of the census of 2000, there were 6,926 people, 2,670 households, and 1,975 families residing in the county. The population density was 38 people per square mile . There were 2,895 housing units at an average density of 16 per square mile...

. Her mother was also of the planter class. Martha Eppes Wayles died when her daughter Martha was three weeks old. The girl Martha was educated at home by tutors, as was customary in the planter class. She was considered accomplished in music, painting and other refined arts.

Her father was born in Lancaster, England and had emigrated alone at the age of nineteen to Virginia in 1734, leaving family in England. He became a lawyer. Her mother Martha Eppes was a daughter of Francis Eppes of Bermuda Hundred. She had already been widowed when Wayles married her. As part of her dowry, Martha Eppes brought with her a personal slave, Susanna, an African woman who had an eleven-year-old mixed-race daughter, Elizabeth Hemings
Betty Hemings
Elizabeth "Betty" Hemings was an American enslaved woman of mixed race, who in 1761 became the concubine of the planter John Wayles of Virginia. He had become a widower for the third time. He had six children with her over a 12-year period...

 (Betty).

John and Martha's marriage contract provided that Susanna and Betty were to remain the property of Martha Eppes and her heirs forever, or be returned to the Eppes family should there be no heirs. This is how Betty Hemings and her children eventually were inherited by Martha's daughter, Martha Wayles, by then married to Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

.

John Wayles soon married a second time, to Mary Cocke of Malvern Hill
Malvern Hill
Malvern Hill stands on the north bank of the James River in Henrico County, Virginia, USA, about eighteen miles southeast of Richmond. On 1 July 1862, it was the scene of the Battle of Malvern Hill, one of the Seven Days Battles of the American Civil War....

. They had a daughter Elizabeth, Martha's half-sister. Later Elizabeth married Martha Eppes' cousin and became the mother of John Wayles Eppes
John Wayles Eppes
John Wayles Eppes was an attorney, a United States Representative and a Senator from Virginia. One of the planter class, he married his first cousin Maria Jefferson, the youngest surviving daughter of Martha Wayles Skelton and Thomas Jefferson...

.

After Mary died, John Wayles married a third time. After his third wife died in 1761, he took the mulatto
Mulatto
Mulatto denotes a person with one white parent and one black parent, or more broadly, a person of mixed black and white ancestry. Contemporary usage of the term varies greatly, and the broader sense of the term makes its application rather subjective, as not all people of mixed white and black...

d slave Betty Hemings as a concubine and had six children with her. Born into slavery, they were three-quarters European in ancestry and half-siblings to Martha and Elizabeth Wayles. The youngest child of Hemings and Wayles was Sally Hemings
Sally Hemings
Sarah "Sally" Hemings was a mixed-race slave owned by President Thomas Jefferson through inheritance from his wife. She was the half-sister of Jefferson's wife, Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson by their father John Wayles...

.

Marriage and family


Martha Wayles, aged 18, first married Bathurst Skelton (1766–1768) and had one son, John Wayles Skelton (1767–1771) with him. Bathurst died in September of 1768 in Williamsburg, Virginia
Williamsburg, Virginia
Williamsburg is an independent city located on the Virginia Peninsula in the Hampton Roads metropolitan area of Virginia, USA. As of the 2010 Census, the city had an estimated population of 14,068. It is bordered by James City County and York County, and is an independent city...

 after a sudden illness. Upon her husband's death, Wayles Skelton moved back to her father's house with her infant son John, who died suddenly of a fever on June 10, 1771.

Wayles Skelton likely met her future husband Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

 in Williamsburg, Virginia
Williamsburg, Virginia
Williamsburg is an independent city located on the Virginia Peninsula in the Hampton Roads metropolitan area of Virginia, USA. As of the 2010 Census, the city had an estimated population of 14,068. It is bordered by James City County and York County, and is an independent city...

 about 1768. Following their January 1, 1772 wedding, the Jeffersons honeymooned for about two weeks at The Forest (her father's plantation) before setting out in a two-horse carriage for Monticello (Jefferson's plantation). They made the 100-mile trip in one of the worst snowstorms to hit Virginia. Eight miles from their destination, their carriage bogged down in 2–3 feet of snow; they had to proceed on horseback. Arriving at Monticello late at night after the slaves had banked the fires and retired, the couple settled in the freezing one-room, twenty-foot-square brick building, the "Honeymoon Cottage". Later known as the South Pavilion, it was to be their home until Jefferson had completed the main house at Monticello.

They had six children, but only two daughters reached adulthood, and only the eldest, Martha, survived past the age of 25:
  • Martha "Patsy" Washington Jefferson Randolph
    Martha Jefferson Randolph
    Martha Washington Jefferson Randolph was the daughter of Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, and his wife Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson. She was born in Monticello, near Charlottesville, Virginia and was named in honor of her mother and of Martha Washington, wife of...

     (1772–1836)
  • Jane Randolph (1774–1775)
  • Unnamed son/Stillborn child (b. 1777)
  • Mary "Polly" Jefferson Eppes (1778–1804)
  • Lucy Elizabeth (1780–1781)
  • Lucy Elizabeth (1782–1785)


After her father John Wayles died in 1773, Martha and her husband Jefferson (since men controlled the property at the time) inherited his many slaves, as well as the debts of his estate. These took Jefferson and other co-executors of the estate years to pay off.

Among the more than 100 slaves were Betty Hemings
Betty Hemings
Elizabeth "Betty" Hemings was an American enslaved woman of mixed race, who in 1761 became the concubine of the planter John Wayles of Virginia. He had become a widower for the third time. He had six children with her over a 12-year period...

, of mixed-race ancestry, and her ten mixed-race children. After being widowed for the third time, John Wayles had taken Hemings as his concubine and had six children with her over a 12-year period until his death. The youngest was Sally Hemings
Sally Hemings
Sarah "Sally" Hemings was a mixed-race slave owned by President Thomas Jefferson through inheritance from his wife. She was the half-sister of Jefferson's wife, Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson by their father John Wayles...

. The six were three-quarters European in ancestry and half-siblings of Martha Wayles Jefferson. Betty also had four children born before those of Wayles. All the Hemings family members came to have privileged positions among the slaves at Monticello, where they were trained and worked as domestic servants, chefs, and highly skilled artisans.

According to her daughter and to eyewitness accounts (the French delegation), Martha Jefferson was musical and highly educated, a constant reader, with a good nature, and a vivacious temper that sometimes bordered on tartness. She had great affection for her husband. She was a little over five feet tall, with a lithe figure, auburn hair, and hazel eyes. She played the keyboard
Keyboard instrument
A keyboard instrument is a musical instrument which is played using a musical keyboard. The most common of these is the piano. Other widely used keyboard instruments include organs of various types as well as other mechanical, electromechanical and electronic instruments...

 and the guitar
Guitar
The guitar is a plucked string instrument, usually played with fingers or a pick. The guitar consists of a body with a rigid neck to which the strings, generally six in number, are attached. Guitars are traditionally constructed of various woods and strung with animal gut or, more recently, with...

, and she was an accomplished needlewoman. Her music book and several examples of her embroidery
Embroidery
Embroidery is the art or handicraft of decorating fabric or other materials with needle and thread or yarn. Embroidery may also incorporate other materials such as metal strips, pearls, beads, quills, and sequins....

 survive.

During her first year at Monticello, she instituted the production of 170 gallons of beer, a practice which Jefferson continued until his death. She was beloved by her neighbors; she raised funds for the cause of independence before and after her tenure as First Lady of Virginia. Martha Washington had contacted Martha Jefferson to work with the Ladies Association to raise money for the colonial troops. The Association raised $300,000 to buy linen shirts for Washington's army.

Martha Jefferson was in frail health for much of her marriage. She is believed to have suffered from diabetes, a condition aggravated by childbearing, and endangering both mother and child. In the summer of 1776, she had suffered a miscarriage
Miscarriage
Miscarriage or spontaneous abortion is the spontaneous end of a pregnancy at a stage where the embryo or fetus is incapable of surviving independently, generally defined in humans at prior to 20 weeks of gestation...

 and was very ill. Jefferson wanted to leave Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Philadelphia is the largest city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the county seat of Philadelphia County, with which it is coterminous. The city is located in the Northeastern United States along the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers. It is the fifth-most-populous city in the United States,...

 as soon as possible.

Throughout their almost eleven-year marriage, the Jeffersons appeared to have been devoted to each other. According to slaves who attended the dying woman, Jefferson promised his wife that he would never remarry. Jefferson was inconsolable in his loss and "was led from the room almost in a state of insensibility by his sister Mrs. Carr, who, with great difficulty, got him into his library where he fainted, and remained so long insensible that they feared he would never revive." When Martha died following the birth of her sixth child on September 6, 1782, Jefferson was distraught. After the funeral, he withdrew to his room for three weeks. Afterward he spent hours riding horseback alone around Monticello. His daughter Martha wrote, "In those melancholy rambles I was his constant companion, a solitary witness to many a violent burst of grief." Not until mid-October did Jefferson begin to resume a normal life when he wrote, "emerging from that stupor of mind which had rendered me as dead to the world as was she whose loss occasioned it."

No miniature of her survives, although there is a silhouette {See White House biography link below}. Extant sketches of her younger daughter Mary Jefferson Eppes are said to show the resemblance between them. Other portraits, formerly reputed to be of Martha Jefferson, are now believed to be of her eldest daughter Martha Jefferson Randolph
Martha Jefferson Randolph
Martha Washington Jefferson Randolph was the daughter of Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, and his wife Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson. She was born in Monticello, near Charlottesville, Virginia and was named in honor of her mother and of Martha Washington, wife of...

.

External links