Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Emmitt House and Monticello -- The Hemings Connection


Most of us remember the Emmitt House in Waverly, and we mourn its loss to fire on January 6, 2014. The historic hotel was built by James Emmitt in 1861 on the site of an earlier frame hotel originally owned by Emmitt's former business partner. Emmitt was an celebrated entrepreneuer who became Pike County's first millionaire. He largely earned his fortune from a distillery, which he used to make whiskey, and "Emmitt's Discovery," a snake oil cure-all he reportedly "discovered" when a mule kicked a can of fuel oil into a vat of spirits. Emmitt also served two terms in the US Senate. He died in 1893, at the age of 87.


Emmitt used his influence to have the county seat moved to Waverly from Piketon, and he was instrumental in having the Ohio & Erie Canal route changed between the two towns. He then built the Emmitt House along the canal in 1861, even though railroads had displaced the canal by then. His hotel did a brisk business with travelling salesmen and other people who passed through.

The Emmitt House has a long history and one connection that weaves a story related directly to a founding father and celebrated president. It is a story that remained shrouded in mystery for most of American history. Let's establish the link of the structure to this famous person – it is a story that begins in 1805 at another historic location, Monticello.

Madison Hemings

Madison Hemings was born James Madison Hemings on January 18, 1805. He was the son of the mixed-race slave Sally Hemings. inherited by Martha Wayles Skelton, the wife of Thomas Jefferson. (Sally and Martha were reported half sisters, both fathered by the planter John Wayles.Wayles was said to have a "shadow family": six children with his slave, Betty Hemings, whom he took as a sex slave after his third wife died.)

According to historians Philip D. Morgan and Joshua D. Rothman, Sally Hemings told Madison that his father was Thomas Jefferson, and that their relationship had started in Paris in the late 1780s, where he was serving as a diplomat. Pregnant, she agreed to return with Jefferson to the United States based on his promise to free her children when they came of age.
Much later – through historical and DNA evidence – historians widely agree that Jefferson was probably the father of all of Hemings's children. Madison was actually the third of Sally Hemings's four children to survive to adulthood.

At the age of 68, Madison Hemings claimed the connection in a March 13, 1873 Pike County Republican interview titled, "Life Among the Lowly.” The title is likely a reference to Uncle Tom's Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly, the famous novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe. The article attracted national and international attention. 1998 DNA tests demonstrated a match between the Y-chromosome of a descendant of his brother, Eston Hemings Jefferson, and that of the male Jefferson line.

According to his 1873 memoir, Madison was named for Jefferson's close friend and future president James Madison at the request of Madison's wife Dolley.

Madison lived as a child with his siblings and mother, who were all spared from hard labor. He described Jefferson as kind but showing little or no paternal interest in the Hemings' children.

Like his older brother Beverley (possibly named William Beverley Hemings), at 14 years of age, Madison was apprenticed to his uncle, Sally's brother John Hemings, the most skilled artisan at Monticello, to learn carpentry and fine woodworking. Madison's younger brother Eston joined him two years later.

John Hemmings, who made much of Monticello’s decorative interior woodwork and numerous pieces of furniture, then trained Madison and Eston in his craft. This gave each of the Hemings a valuable trade.

Here is an account by Madison Hemings as it appeared in the “Life Among the Lowly” article:

When I was fourteen years old I was put to the carpenter trade under the charge of John Hemings, the youngest son of my grandmother. His father's name was Nelson, who was an Englishman. She had seven children by white men and seven by colored men—fourteen in all. My brothers, sister Harriet and myself were used alike. They were put to some mechanical trade at the age of fourteen. 
“Till then we were permitted to stay about the 'great house,' and only required to do such light work as going on errands. Harriet learned to spin and to weave in a little factory on the home plantation. We were free from the dread of having to be slaves all our lives long, and were measurably happy. We were always permitted to be with our mother, who was well used. It was her duty, all her life which I can remember, up to the time of father's death, to take care of his chamber and wardrobe, look after us children and do such light work as sewing, &c. Provision was made in the will of our father that we should be freed when we arrived at the age of 21 years.”

All three of the Hemings brothers also studied and learned to play the violin, the instrument associated with Jefferson. Beverley, the oldest, was good enough to be invited to play at dances held by the Jeffersons at Monticello. As an adult, Eston Hemings made a living as a musician and entertainer in Ohio.

In his will, Jefferson gave immediate freedom to three slaves: John Hemings, a brother of Sally, to whom he also bequeathed "the service of his two apprentices Madison and Eston Hemings", with instruction that the brothers each be freed at his respective 21st birthday. Jefferson freed two of Sally's nephews: Joseph Fossett and Burwell Colbert. (John Hemings was a widower and evidently childless by 1826, but Fossett and Colbert were married and the fathers of large families. As Jefferson did not free their wives and children, all were sold along with Monticello's nearly 130 other slaves at auctions in 1827 to settle the heavy debts against his estate. The men and their friends worked to buy the freedom of their families.) Although the three older men had served Jefferson for decades, Madison and Eston were distinguished by being freed as they "came of age" at 21.

Twenty-one-year-old Madison Hemings was emancipated almost immediately after Jefferson died and Eston soon after. The brothers rented a house in nearby Charlottesville, Virginia, where their mother Sally joined them for the rest of her life. (Sally was not formally freed but was "given her time" by Jefferson's surviving daughter Martha Randolph, who was also Hemings' niece)

Madison and Eston each worked and married there. Madison wed Mary Hughes McCoy, a free woman of mixed-race ancestry. (Her grandfather Samuel Hughes, a white planter, freed her grandmother Chana from slavery and had children with her.) Eston married Julia Isaacs (West), daughter of a well- to- do Charlottesville “woman of color” and a Jewish storekeeper.

In 1836, Madison, Mary, and their infant daughter Sarah left Charlottesville for Ohio, probably to join his brother Eston, who had already moved there with his own family. Reports confirm that Madison settled in Pike County, Ohio, near the border of Ross County, while Eston Settled in Chillicothe, which had a thriving free black community, abolitionists among both races, and a station of the Underground Railroad.

In 1852, Madison's brother, Eston, moved with his family away from Ohio to Madison, Wisconsin, to escape possible danger due to the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act. Slave catchers were known to kidnap free blacks and sell them into slavery, as demand and prices were high in the Deep South. One account from Ohio tells of Eston being “in demand (as a musician) in all the neighboring towns in the winter season, and Circleville, Lancaster, Portsmouth and Columbus frequently sought his services.”

Madison chose as the site for his permanent home, a hill in Huntington Township, in Ross County, where he moved his family in 1849. In addition to a two- story house, he built a summer kitchen and a barn. Madison planted an apple orchard on the property. He and Mary raised their children in that house and it was in this community that they went to school, church and joined in other community activities.

Surviving records in Pike County state that Madison Hemings purchased 25 acres for $150 on July 22, 1856, sold the same area for $250 on December 30, 1859, and purchased 66 acres for $10 per acre on September 25, 1865.

Madison and his wife Mary lived there in Ohio the remainder of their lives; he worked as a farmer and highly skilled carpenter.

The children of Mary and Madison were: Sarah (1835-1884), Thomas Eston (1838-1864), Harriet (1839-1931), Mary Ann (1843-- ), Catherine Jane (1844-1880), William Beverly (1847-1910), James Madison (1849-1922), Julia Ann ( 1851-1866), Ellen Wayles,(1856-1936).

Mary McCoy Hemings died in 1876 and Madison died in 1877. Their daughter Julia Ann died very young and was buried in the Barnett -Williams Cemetery in Pike County. Their son Thomas Eston died as result of wounds received in the Civil War in the Andersonville Prison. William Beverly served in the Civil War also, serving in the Ohio 73rd OVI from Chillicothe. An all white fighting unit! He died in 1910 in Kansas.

Harriet married James Butler and soon afterward moved to Bloomingburg in Fayette, County, Ohio. The couple were parents to three children. After the death of James, Harriet married the Rev. Henry Speers. Descendants still live in Fayette County, Ohio and one descendant , 91 year old Nancy Lee passed away in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania in 1997. She one of the keepers of the family story.

Ellen Wayles became the wife Andrew J. Roberts, who was a teacher. The marriage was arranged by her father, Madison, shortly before his death. The family moved to California, where they opened Roberts Funeral Home and were owners of considerable property. Their son was one of the first persons of color to serve in the legislature of the state of California.

James Madison, it appears, “passed over into the white world.” He died in Jeffersonville, Ohio at the home of his sister Harriet.

The Emmitt Connection

Among the craftsmen James Emmitt employed when building the Emmitt House was Madison Hemings, then generally considered a master carpenter. Emmitt also worked on the construction of many other buildings in the area. He speaks of some in his “Life Among the Lowly” interview ...

“We settled in Pebble township, Pike county. We lived there four or five years, and during my stay in that county I worked at my trade on and off for about four years. Joseph Sewell was my first employer. I built for him what is now known as Bizzleport No. 2, in Waverly. I afterwards worked for George Wolfe, Senior, and did the carpenter work of the brick building now owned by John J. Kellison, in which the Pike County Republican is printed. I worked for and with Micajah Hinson. I found him to be a very clever man. I also reconstructed the building on the corner of Market and Water streets from a store to a hotel for the late Judge Jacob Row.

“When we came from Virginia we brought one daughter (Sarah) with us, leaving the dust of a son in the soil near Monticello. We have had born to us in this State nine children. Two are dead. The names of the living, besides Sarah, are Harriet, Mary Ann, Catharine, Jane, William Beverly, James Madison and Ellen Wales. Thomas Eston died in the Andersonville prison pen, and Julia died at home. William, James and Ellen are unmarried and live at home, in Huntington township, Ross county. All the others are married and raising families. My post-office address is Pee Pee, Pike county, Ohio.”

In closing, it must be stated that Madison Hemings is still the “probable son” of the principal author of the Declaration of Independence. Many authorities still hold that the Jefferson-Hemings charges still beg for more evidence. History Channel reports conclude the following:

“In January 2000, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation accepted the conclusion, supported by DNA evidence, that Jefferson and Sally Hemings had at least one and probably six offspring between 1790 and 1808. Though most historians now agree that Jefferson and Hemings had a sexual relationship, debate continues over the duration of that relationship and, especially, over its nature. Admirers of Jefferson are inclined to see his relationship with Hemings as a romantic love affair, despite his public statements about race. Those who doubt the sterling nature of Jefferson’s character, however, cast things in a much more negative light, seeing him as one more predatory white slave owner and his relationship with Hemings as proof of the hypocrisy behind his eloquent statements about freedom and equality.”

One last historical note ...

“James Callender, a newspaper reporter, published accounts in 1802 of a slave at Monticello looked so much like Jefferson that he proved to be an embarrassment to the Master of Monticello. Jefferson's political foes made up songs about the slave children of Monticello and Sally Hemings. Two of the ballads were 'Long Tom' an 'Dusky Sally.' It is said that the poet, William Cullen Bryant, was the author one the poems printed about Sally and TJ.

“The Woodson Family history states that at age twelve, young Thomas was arranged lodging away from Monticello on another plantation. The owner of the plantation was a man by the name of Woodson, and so Thomas took that name as his surname. He became Thomas C. Woodson, Sr. Thomas Woodson married Jemima Grant (Price), a slave on that farm, and after buying her and their children's freedom, moved to Chillicothe, Ohio. They lived on Marzluff's Hill and were charter members of the Quinn Chapel AME Church, the first AME Church west of the Allegheny Mountains. They were responsible for the settling of a mulatto village in Jackson County, Ohio, in 1828. Madison, in his reminiscences said that this child died shortly after birth. The two men lived with in thirty miles of each other in Ohio.”


Beverly J. Gray. “The Hemings Family of Monticello. Ross County Historical Society Magazine Recorder. February 1994 and updated in 1998.

Philip D. Morgan (1999). "Interracial Sex In the Chesapeake and the British Atlantic World c.1700-1820". In Jan Lewis, Peter S. Onuf. Sally Hemings & Thomas Jefferson: history, memory, and civic culture. University of Virginia Press. ISBN 978-0-8139-1919-5.
Joshua D. Rothman, Notorious in the Neighborhood: Sex and Interracial Relationships Across the Color Line in Virginia, 1787-1861, University of North Carolina Press, 2003
Madison Hemings. “Life Among the Lowly.” Pike County Republican. March 13, 1873.


Deborah White. (2013). Freedom on my mind. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin. p. 192.

Madison Hemings. “Life Among the Lowly.” Pike County Republican. March 13, 1873. 

Jefferson's Blood. 2000, PBS Frontline, accessed 10 March 2012.

Carol Wilson. Freedom at Risk: The Kidnapping of Free Blacks in America, 1780-1865. University of Kentucky Press, 1994.

“The Memoirs of Madison Hemings, Thomas Jefferson.” Frontline, PBS-WGBH Legal documents related to Madison Hemings, as well as a transcript of his memoir and that of Israel Jefferson, another former Monticello slave, can be found in the appendices of Fawn M. Brodie's biography Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History, excerpts from which can be accessed online at Google Books.
Lucia Stanton and Dianne Swann-Wright. “Bonds of Memory: Identity and the Hemings Family.”
Sally Hemings & Thomas Jefferson: History, Memory, and Civic Culture, Ed. by Jan Lewis, Peter S. Onuf, University of Virginia, 1999, p. 163, accessed 7 March 2011

Half Sisters
Martha Jefferson & Sally Hemings

Oil and acrylic on canvas 48 x 42"
©2002 Tina Mion

"When Martha Jefferson died 10 years after her marriage to Thomas, he was so inconsolable people began to think he had gone mad. Rumor has it he made a deathbed promise to Martha never to remarry. There is a lot of talk about whether Jefferson fathered his black slave Sally Hemings’ children. Science can only tell us that some Jefferson did — but not which one. I feel that the real story is being overlooked. Most people don’t know that Sally was Martha’s half-sister and that, by written accounts, she looked like Martha. Sally moved into the White House after Martha’s death. How strange it must have been for Jefferson to be constantly reminded of his dead wife. Sally’s children were the only slaves Jefferson freed; he did so upon his death, but by that time a couple of Sally’s children had already escaped. Being so fair-skinned, they passed into white society keeping their past a secret."

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