John Wayles Hemings was born in Charlottesville, Virginia, on May 8, 1835, the first son of Eston Hemings, a former slave who was seven-eights of European descent, and Julia Ann Isaacs, the mixed-race daughter of a wealthy Jewish merchant. John is believed to have been the grandson of Sarah ("Sally") Hemings, a slave, and her master, Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States.
|Monticello, Jefferson's home in Virginia|
Jefferson informally and formally freed all of Sally's children. Jefferson's will freed the brothers Madison and Eston Hemings shortly after the president's death in 1826; Eston was "given his time" so that he did not have to wait until age 21. Madison, already 21, was freed immediately. In 1830 Eston purchased property in Charlottesville, on which he and his brother Madison built a house. Their mother Sally lived with them.
|Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson|
|American House, Madison, Wisconsin|
|Wisconsin 8th Infantry|
“HAINES’ BLUFF, in rear of Vicksburg, May 21, 1863.
Dear Brother:—I hasten to drop you this line; I cannot write much, as I have no time or spirits. Since the 2nd of May up to yesterday (excepting two days I was in Jackson, Miss.,) I have been continually on the March and fighting the rebels. I had not until to-day changed my clothes or had a decent meal for nineteen days. We marched around Vicksburg on the Louisiana side 90 miles, crossed the river at Grand Gulf, marched about 170 miles in a roundabout way to Jackson, Miss. Our brigade charged the rebel works at Jackson, and were the first troops in the town. Four days before this we met the rebels at Mississippi Springs, and had a hard skirmish but whipped them (I am speaking about our regiment and our brigade); we have had a number of other battles. At Jackson Major General Sherman made me Provost Marshal of the town, had also charge of all the prisoners and was ordered to destroy five million dollars worth of rebel property. We are now in the rear of Vicksburg, and in sight of the city. We have been fighting for four days, and have them surrounded. Their entrenchments and breastworks are awful to attack. Their works were stormed to-day by part of our army, and to-morrow all the army will attack the works at 9 a. m. We are losing a great many men, and there will be an awful slaughter to-morrow. We have captured 81 cannon, 10,000 stands of small arms at the different battles (not Vicksburg). I was ordered to turn over 5,500 prisoners in my charge to-day, and that is why I am here. Will return to my regiment in one hour which is only five miles distant. We just lived on what we could pick up during the past three weeks, and I have been almost completely exhausted from hunger, loss of sleep and fatigue. Vicksburg will be ours in a day or two, but it has and will cost as many thousand lives.
I write this hoping you may get it in season.
|Capitol House, Madison, Wisconsin|
|Cotton Sellers on Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee|
|Tombstone of John Wayles Jefferson|
...and I saw and talked with one of the sons, during the Civil War, who was then wearing the silver leaves of a lieutenant colonel, and in command of a fine regiment of white men from a north-western state. He begged me not to tell the fact that he had colored blood in his veins, which he said was not suspected by any of his command; and of course I did not.
|Descendents of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson|