Use the smaller-sized text Use the larger-sized text Use the very large text

Odd Wisconsin Archive

Jefferson's Madison Descendants

Rumors that Thomas Jefferson fathered children with a slave, Sally Hemings, started 200 years ago with this 1802 article in a Richmond, Virginia, newspaper. Recent DNA analysis has persuaded most historians that Jefferson was indeed the likely father of Eston Hemings (1808-1856), who moved to Madison in 1852 with his wife and three children.

A cabinet-maker and musician, Eston Hemings (who added Jefferson to his name when he moved to Wisconsin) died soon after arriving in the city and left little evidence about himself in the public record. His eldest child was John W. Jefferson (1835-1892), proprietor in the late 1850s of Madison's American House hotel across the street from the Capitol. He led Wisconsin's 8th Infantry during the Civil War, and sent letters home to the press. After being wounded twice, Col. Jefferson was mustered out in October 1864.

Eston Hemings Jefferson's second child was a daughter, Anna W. Jefferson (1836-1866). She married in Madison but died young, and like her father left few traces in local documents.

Eston's youngest child, Beverley Jefferson (1839-1908) worked for his brother and served briefly in the war before himself becoming proprietor of the American House and, later in the 1860s, of the Capitol House hotel. He also ran a carriage and trucking service that brought travelers up from Madison's train stations to the Capitol Square, and so was well-known to most of the state's late-19th c. political leaders. His personality is described and his children are named in this obituary, which includes a photograph.

All of these grandchildren of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings had light complexions like their grandmother, and passed as white in society and in the public records. The entire Eston Hemmings family is buried in Forest Hill Cemetery, Madison.

In April 2006, Odd Wisconsin highlighted stories from Madison's early years in order to help celebrate our capital's 150th anniversary.

:: Posted in Madison on April 8, 2006

  • Questions about this page? Email us
  • Email this page to a friend
select text size Use the smaller-sized textUse the larger-sized textUse the very large text