John Wayles Eppes

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John Wayles Eppes
John w eppes.jpg
United States Senator
from Virginia
In office
March 4, 1817 – December 4, 1819
Preceded by Armistead T. Mason
Succeeded by James Pleasants
Personal details
Born (1773-04-19)April 19, 1773
Chesterfield County, Virginia
Died September 13, 1823(1823-09-13) (aged 50)
Buckingham County, Virginia
Political party Democratic-Republican

John Wayles Eppes (April 19, 1773 – September 13, 1823) was an attorney, a United States Representative and a Senator from Virginia. One of the wealthy planter class, he married his first cousin Maria Jefferson, the youngest surviving daughter of Martha Wayles Skelton and Thomas Jefferson. After her early death following the birth of her third child, Eppes was a widower for five years before marrying Martha Burke Jones from North Carolina.

Descendants of his slave Betsy Hemmings, who was with his household from the age of 14, say that Eppes as a widower took her as a concubine when she was about 21. The oral tradition among her descendants is that their relationship continued through his second marriage, and she had several children with him.[1] Hemmings was buried next to Eppes in the planter's family cemetery at Millbrook plantation, and her grave is marked by a fine tombstone.[2] Martha Jones Eppes chose to be buried at her daughter's plantation.

Personal life[edit]

Eppes was born at Eppington in Chesterfield County, Virginia, the only son and youngest of six children of Francis Eppes and Elizabeth (née Wayles) on April 19, 1773. He attended the University of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia and graduated from Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia in 1786. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1794 and commenced practice in Richmond, Virginia.

Marriage and family[edit]

Eppes married his first cousin Mary Jefferson (known also as "Maria" and "Polly"), the daughter of Martha (Wayles) and Thomas Jefferson, October 13, 1797 at Monticello. The couple resided at Mont Blanco plantation in Chesterfield County, Virginia.

Among the wedding gifts received from Thomas Jefferson was the 14-year-old enslaved girl Betsy Hemmings (1783–1857), the mixed-race daughter of Mary Hemings and granddaughter of Betty Hemings, and 30 other slaves.[3] ([1][4][5])

Eppes and Maria had three children:

  • a daughter born December 31, 1799 who lived only weeks;
  • a son Francis W. Eppes (September 20, 1801–May 30, 1881), and
  • Martha (called Maria) (February 20, 1804–February 1806).[6]

After her son Francis was born, in 1802 Maria Jefferson Eppes "borrowed" Critta Hemings, one of Betty Hemings' daughters, from her father's household to care for the infant boy as a nurse. In 1827 after Jefferson's death, Francis W. Eppes purchased his former nurse from the estate and gave her freedom. She was then 58 years old and lived until 1850.[7]

Mary Jefferson Eppes died two months after the birth of her third child, Martha, on April 17, 1804 at her father's home. The girl died at age two.

Betsy Hemmings[edit]

After Mary's death in 1804, Eppes moved his household and slaves from Mont Blanco to another of his plantations called Millbrook in Buckingham County, Virginia. The slaves included Betsy Hemmings, then 21 years old, who was recorded as being the nurse of his son Francis.[1][3]

According to her descendants, Betsy became a concubine to Eppes in a relationship that began when he was a widower and continued for the rest of his life, even after his second marriage in 1809. Betsy bore his son, Joseph,[8] and a daughter, whom she named Frances.[1] This was a name traditional in the Eppes family; as noted above, Eppes' surviving son was named Francis. The names of Betsy Hemmings' other children were lost in 1869 when the records of Millbrook burned in a fire.[3]

As the historians Philip D. Morgan and Joshua D. Rothman have written, there were numerous interracial relationships in the Wayles-Hemings-Jefferson families, as well as in Albemarle County and Virginia, often with multiple generations repeating the pattern.[9][10] For instance, Eppes' father-in-law Thomas Jefferson had such a relationship with his slave Sally Hemings when he was a widower, as his father-in-law John Wayles had had as a widower with his slave Betty Hemings; they were the parents of Sally and five other children who were half-siblings of Jefferson's wife Martha. Each man had six children with their slaves, who were also mixed-race. The succeeding generations had increasing proportions of European ancestry, so that Jefferson's "natural" children were seven-eighths European, legally white in Virginia at that time.[11]

Betsy Hemmings lived as a slave at Milbrook for the rest of her life, and cared for the children of Eppes' second family. The matriarch of the slave community, she was distressed when in 1828 Francis Eppes took some of her grown children with him as slaves when he moved with his young family and relations to Florida.[2]

Betsy, also called Mam Bess, died at the age of 73 in 1857. She was buried at Millbrook plantation next to her master John Wayles Eppes in the white family cemetery, which was extremely unusual for those times.[4] Her gravesite is marked by a substantial tombstone attesting to the Eppes family's affection and respect for her; her descendants believe its location also marks the importance of her role in the life of John W. Eppes.[1] These are the only two tombstones still visible in the family cemetery.[2]

Political career[edit]

Eppes was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from 1801 to 1803. On March 4, 1803 he was elected as a Democratic-Republican to the Eighth United States Congress and the next three succeeding Congresses, so he was frequently away from his plantation. He chaired the Ways and Means Committee for the Eleventh Congress but failed to be elected to the Twelfth. He spent the next two years at his plantation, Milbrook.

He was elected to the Thirteenth Congress (March 4, 1813 – March 4, 1815) and chaired the Committee on Ways and Means again. After losing the election to the Fourteenth Congress, he was elected to the United States Senate and served from March 4, 1817, until December 4, 1819, when he resigned because of ill health. He chaired the Committee on Finance during the second session of the Fifteenth Congress.

Retirement and death[edit]

Eppes retired to his estate, Millbrook, in Buckingham County, Virginia, where he died September 13, 1823. He was buried in the private cemetery of the Eppes family at Millbrook, near Curdsville, Virginia.

John's second wife Patsy Eppes died at Millbrook in 1862. She was buried in the family cemetery of her daughter Mary (Eppes) and her husband Philip A. Bolling at their plantation in nearby Chellowe. Local stories were that she did not want to be buried near her husband's mistress.[1]

A portrait of John W. Eppes hangs in the dining room of Weston Manor house in Hopewell, Virginia. He had given the plantation as a wedding gift to his cousin Christian Eppes and William Gilliam.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Edna Bolling Jacques, "The Hemmings Family in Buckingham County, Virginia", 2002, Official Website, accessed 13 February 2011. Note: The oral tradition of the Betsy Hemmings descendants (as they spelled it) was that Betsy, born in 1783, was the daughter of the recently widowed Thomas Jefferson, whose wife died in 1782.
  2. ^ a b c "Betsy Hemmings: Loved by a Family, but What of Her Own?", Plantation & Slavery/Life after Monticello, Monticello, 14 February 2011
  3. ^ a b c "Betsy Hemmings", Hemings Family/People of the Plantation, Monticello, accessed 14 February 2011
  4. ^ a b Laura B. Randolph, "THE THOMAS JEFFERSON/SALLY HEMINGS CONTROVERSY: Did Jefferson Also Father Children By Sally Hemings' Sister?", Ebony, February 1999, accessed 16 February 2011
  5. ^ Lucia Stanton, ’’Free Some Day: The African-American Families of Monticello,’’ Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Monticello Monograph Series, 2000. The historian Lucia Stanton found that Jefferson had taken Mary Hemings and her children with him as part of the household staff when he became governor; she lived with him and his family at Williamsburg and Richmond from 1779-1781.
  6. ^ See Thomas Mann Randolph to Peachy Gilmer, February 17, 1806. http://retirementseries.dataformat.com/Document.aspx?doc=49506928
  7. ^ "Critta Hemings Bowles", Plantation and Slavery, Monticello, accessed 21 March 2011
  8. ^ Annette Gordon-Reed, The Hemingses of Monticello, New York: W.W. Norton, 2008, Frontispiece: "The Hemings Family Tree-1"
  9. ^ 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. 
  10. ^ 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
  11. ^ "Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: A Brief Account", Monticello Website, Thomas Jefferson Foundation, accessed 22 June 2011. Quote: "Ten years later [referring to its 2000 report], TJF and most historians now believe that, years after his wife’s death, Thomas Jefferson was the father of the six children of Sally Hemings mentioned in Jefferson's records, including Beverly, Harriet, Madison and Eston Hemings."

External links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Anthony New
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 16th congressional district

March 4, 1803 - March 4, 1811
Succeeded by
James Pleasants
Preceded by
James Pleasants
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 16th congressional district

March 4, 1813 - March 4, 1815
Succeeded by
John Randolph
United States Senate
Preceded by
Armistead T. Mason
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Virginia
March 4, 1817 - December 4, 1819
Served alongside: James Barbour
Succeeded by
James Pleasants