The musicians of Monticello, children of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson

Posted on: February 4, 2022

“An 1887 article in the Chillicothe Leader describes the heyday of a band led by Eston Hemings, the once-enslaved son of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson,” writes David McCormick in the February issue of Early Music America magazine. “Born in 1808, Eston bore a striking resemblance to his father…. Standing just over six feet tall, with slightly auburn hair … Jefferson, of course, never acknowledged fathering children with Sally Hemings, but the resemblance caused a great deal of public and private speculation. Today, the DNA evidence is conclusive on the topic. Whether the sexual relationship between Hemings and Jefferson was a loving one is the subject of some debate, but, of course, no relationship between enslaved and enslaver can truly be considered consensual…. Beverly Hemings, Eston’s oldest brother, was born in 1798…. According to Jefferson’s granddaughter Virginia Randolph, Beverly played for the dances arranged by her and her friends at Monticello…. Though Jefferson’s own Black children were clearly musically talented, he was predictably dismissive of Black musical talent … focusing instead on a purely European measure of musical talent.” The article discusses the lives and careers of other musical members of the Hemings-Jefferson family tree.