Thomas Jefferson’s Women

Sure, he was the third President of the United States and author of the Declaration of Independence, but what about his sex life?

Though he was famously private when it came to his personal affairs, few historical topics have undergone as much speculation as Jefferson’s personal life and relationships with these women.

Martha Jefferson: Martha and Thomas Jefferson were married Jan. 1, 1772, and during their marriage of 10 years, had six children. Unfortunately, Martha was sickly. She died before she could become first lady. Accounts of her death suggest Jefferson promised he would never remarry.

Maria Cosway: During his time serving as American minister to France, Jefferson met Maria Cosway, a British painter, and together they attended exhibits and concerts over a six-week period. Though personal correspondence would seem to suggest a shared affection, the extent of their relationship is not exactly known.

Sally Hemings: For years there was speculation that Jefferson had a sexual relationship with Sally Hemings, a slave at Monticello who was rumored to be the half-sister of his late wife, Martha. It is thought their relationship lasted for many years and produced several children.

Thomas Jefferson stands as an infallible oracle to today’s society. Both ends of the political spectrum quote him as evidence for their causes. And while his words on many big ideas still seem to have credence for contemporary events, his views on women (and on race) shock us now. His progressive ideas about equality among “all men” did not include women or non-white men. We will consider the perplexing paradoxes on Thomas Jefferson this May in Charlottesville, Virginia. Join us. Founding Farmer: Thomas Jefferson at Home.

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