Select Jefferson Miscellany

Here are some Jefferson stories and accounts over the years:

The Jeffersons of Whitehaven

The Jeffersons of Whitehaven is a concise and long overdue history of the Jeffersons.

Richard Jefferson, the patriarch of the family, was born in Wigton, but the fortunes of the family were founded in Whitehaven, once a port of great importance in England.   The author was born and bred in West Cumberland and, as a boy, well remembers the Jefferson family business, with huge barrels of wines and spirits being delivered to their cellars in Chapel Street by railway wagons drawn by huge Clydesdale or Percheron horses and the occasional dire result when they bolted.

In the 18th century, the Jefferson family were mariners and shipbuilders.  They acquired estates in Antigua and opened up the United Kingdom rum trade.  The Story of Rum exhibition occupies the Jefferson family's original buildings, constructed in 1785.  The Jefferson family was in business until the two last surviving family members, finding it difficult to cope with the demands of a disparate group of 18th century buildings, decided to retire.

Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings

Members of Hemings' family have passed down the paternity claim through generations.   Hemings' children were lightly skinned.  Several of them "passed" into white society.  A DNA study concluded that Jefferson was likely the father of at least one of Hemings six children, Eston Hemings born six years after the accusation surfaced during President Jefferson's second term.

There was much comment at the time and even some ditties written by contemporaries, such as the following:

"Dear Thomas, deem it no disgrace
With slaves to mend thy breed
Nor let the wench's smutty face
Deter thee from the deed."

Lucian Truscott IV, a white member of the Monticello Association who invited the black descendants to the Jefferson reunion, blamed racism for the group's refusal to let Jefferson's black descendants join the association and have the right to be buried in the Monticello graveyard. 

However, the association believed that the Monticello report was mistaken in many of their evaluations and that there was no proof that Thomas Jefferson fathered any Hemings child.  They thus voted not to accept any applications from Hemings family members for membership in their association. 

Isaac Jefferson at Monticello

In 1847, a writer came across Isaac Jefferson, a man who had served for many years as one of Thomas Jefferson's slaves at Monticello.  Isaac was then living in quiet retirement in Petersburgh, Virginia.  The writer took down Isaac's life story, as well as a vivid account of domestic life at Monticello including perhaps the most detailed first-person description of Sally Hemings ever recorded.

The manuscript was not published.  For more than a century, Isaac Jefferson's words lay unread.  In 1951 they were rediscovered and published under the title Memoirs of a Monticello Slave, an invaluable insight into everyday life at Jefferson's home and plantation.

Only three other accounts from Thomas Jefferson's slaves survive: Madison Hemings' and Israel Jefferson's interviews in an Ohio newspaper in 1873 and Joseph Fossett's interview in the New York World in 1898.  

Geoffrey Jefferson on the Eastern Front

During World War 1, Geoffrey Jefferson served in the Anglo-Russian hospital in Petrograd, Russia, where he gained experience in gun wounds on soldiers wounded on the eatern front.  The hospital, a gift from the British Empire to its Russian allies, consisted of a basic clinic with three mobile field hospitals at the front. Patients were hardly in short supply.  During a single week during the summer of 1916, Jefferson in one of the three field hospitals treated 340 wounded soldiers and conducted 33 major surgical operations.

Following the March revolution in Russia, chaos prevailed on the eastern front during the spring of 1917 and the Anglo-Russian hospital faced almost insurmountable tasks. 

Jefferson wrote to his wife in England:

"There are plenty of rumors about an eccentric socialist named Lenin, which is said to have arrived here via Germany and is now causing nothing but trouble and misery.  The majority of our wounded from the war think that he ought to be arrested immediately, something I hope will be a fait accompli in a few days."

A few days later Jefferson communicated:

"I have just treated a man who had been shot in the foot by one of the terrorists of Lenin's gang.  I don't think we shall have any more trouble with these Lenin types.  They are in majority, and even if they should succeed in assuming power in Petrograd, the rest of Russia will not act in accordance with their premises."

Thomas Jefferson, the Son of a Famous Actor

Thomas Jefferson, born in 1857, was the son of Joseph Jefferson, well remembered by a generation of theater addicts in the role of Rip Van Winkle which he acted for forty years in the US, Australia, and England.

Thomas grew up to be an actor, though an actor less famed than his father.  He played with his father in Rip Van Winkle, then replaced him in the title part, married and had three daughters.  Many years ago, he left the legitimate stage and went into the movies.  Five years ago he came back to the stage and took over Frank Bacon's part in Lightin'.

Last week, divorced from his first wife because he had made too realistic love to his cinematic heroines, the 71 year old Thomas Jefferson announced his intention of marrying the latest one of these, Daisy Robinson aged 32.  Prophets were busy commenting on the imminent nuptials.

Wesley Jefferson from Mississippi

Bassist, vocalist, and bandleader Wesley Jefferson has been a stalwart of the Clarksdale blues scene since the mid 1960's.  He was born in Roundaway in Coahoma County in 1944, the oldest boy of thirteen children. As a youth he picked and chopped cotton, plowed with mules and later with a tractor, and lived in extreme poverty.

He recalls being infleunced by his grandfather, Claude Jefferson, who played guitar at his home in Clarksdale. He also furtively listened to records by "deep blues" artists at a juke joint run by his mother out in the field where they sold catfish and moonshine made by his stepfather.  Local musicians who he saw playing at small venues in the country included the one man band Popeye, guitarist Ernest Roy (the best guitarist I ever saw) and the band led by Tutwiler's Lee Kizart, who hauled his piano from gig to gig.

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