“We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
July 4th, 1776
Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States and probably the most intelligent, authored one of the most important documents in American History, the Declaration of Independence. He died 50 years later on the exact same day it was penned, July 4th. The year was 1826. He was 83 years old.
Three years before the Declaration was written in 1776, a baby girl born into slavery and half sister to Jefferson’s wife, Martha, would soon (in my opinion) tame one of the most of most influential men born on American soil. Sally Hemings, at age 14, traveled to Europe with Jefferson’s youngest daughter, Polly, where Jefferson was serving as United States Minister to France. It is there where old TJ found this half-breed daughter of a plantation owner and began sexually abusing her. It had to be abuse because Jefferson was 44 years old at the time. Remember, slaves were considered property back then nearly 90 years prior to the Emancipation Proclamation. By today’s standards, the po child had no chance, but in the late 18th century all was fair in rape and war.
“We hold these truths to be self evident” is the phrase of the Declaration of Independence that we start to quote thinking that it’s the beginning of the document itself, however, it is not. That part starts in the second paragraph. The first paragraph breaks down the reasons why the 13 Colonies wanted to separate themselves from British rule. The colonies were informing England that they were “free” and God granted them said freedoms at birth. The same could not be said by Sally Hemings. Not at that time, anyway. Over the course of the next 50 years, Sally would get her freedom.
Hemings bore Jefferson six children. We hold these truths to be self evident through DNA testing. It was quite obvious that the President was making sure that all of his (and Sally’s) offspring were created “equal” at least six times. I don’t know how “endowed” old “Big Daddy TJ”was by his Creator, but history tells us that his (and Sally’s) children did end up with “unalienable rights” even as slaves. There was definitely something about Sally and the way she worked her “jelly” in order for the most powerful man in the land to be his “girl” for nearly 40 years. Remember, he was 30 years older than her.
“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” was far reaching to millions of slaves prior to the Civil War. But, during a time when this nation was in its most formative years, a little Black girl managed to tame the nation’s third president long enough to insure that her kids would be able to stand up courtesy of certain “benefits” of her lying down. While thousands of slave children were sold into bondage and torn apart from their families, Miss Sally managed to keep hers together. The odds of accomplishing this feat are startling when you measure in the amount of power she was playing house with. But, Sally Hemings wasn’t playing. She and all of her children were set free and upon his death they moved away from Jefferson’s Monticello to Charlottesville, Virginia where she died at age 62.
Sally Hemings understood the Declaration of Independence a little better than most people of her day. The evidence is true. Her children may not have been created equal, but they ended up equal. They enjoyed rights that not too many slaves found unalienable, and ultimately they were able to digest a big helping of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; even if it meant “passing” as White people.
On this July 4th, Independence Day will probably take on a entirely new meaning for some of you who read the this column. Its true meaning was a work-in-progress for a little black girl from Virginia who stole a slave-holding president’s heart and guaranteed freedom for her own little children. You won’t find how she “Tamed the 3rd President of the United States” in any history book, but WE know she did.