John Wayles

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John Wayles, Esq.
BornJanuary 31, 1715
DiedMay 28, 1773(1773-05-28) (aged 58)
OccupationAttorney at law, Planter
Spouse(s)Martha Eppes
Tabitha Cocke
Elizabeth Lomax
Elizabeth Hemings (Common-law)
Children10, including Martha Wayles, James Hemings, and Sally Hemings

John Wayles (January 31, 1715 – May 28, 1773) was a planter, slave trader and lawyer in the Virginia Colony. He is historically best known as the father-in-law of Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States.

Early life and education[edit]

Born in Lancaster, England in 1715, to Edward Wayles and wife Ellen Ashburner, Wayles emigrated as a young man to the English colony of Virginia, likely during the 1730s.


In Virginia, Wayles became part of the planter elite. His plantation, called "The Forest", was located in Charles City County. This was one of the first four shires in the colony and located in the Tidewater region along the north side of the James River. Wayles also worked as a lawyer and slave trader. Jefferson began legal work for Wayles in 1768. [1]

Marriage and family[edit]

Wayles married Martha Eppes (b. at Bermuda Hundred on 10 April 1721) on 3 May 1746. As part of the wedding settlement, her parents gave the new couple an African slave woman and her young mixed-race daughter Elizabeth, or Betty Hemings. The girl was the daughter of an English sea captain named Hemings. Hemings family tradition tells that Captain Hemings tried to buy Elizabeth from Wayles, but he refused to sell her.[2]

Martha Eppes Wayles gave birth to fraternal twins on 23 December 1746, but the girl was stillborn and the boy lived only a few hours.[citation needed] About two years later, on 30 October 1748, Martha Wayles had her only surviving child, also named Martha.[citation needed] The mother died less than a week later on 5 November 1748, at the age of 27. In those years, women had a high rate of mortality related to childbirth.

Secondly, Wayles married Mary of the Cocke family, also of the planter class of Malvern Hill. They had several children:

  • Sarah, did not survive to adulthood.
  • Elizabeth, born 24 February 1752; she married an Eppes.
  • Tabitha, born 16 November 1753; and
  • Anne, born 26 August 1756.

Wayles' second wife died sometime between August 1756 and 1759.

On 26 January 1760, Wayles married his third wife, Elizabeth Lomax Skelton (she was the widow of Reuben Skelton, an older brother of his daughter Martha's first husband). They had no children. She died on 10 February 1761.

Elizabeth Hemings and children[edit]

Several sources attest that after the death of his third wife, the widower Wayles took his mixed-race slave Elizabeth Hemings, then about 26 years old, as his mistress.[3] According to the oral history presented by Madison Hemings, Betty Hemings "was taken by the widower Wayles as his concubine."[4] Elizabeth, also called Betty, already had four children.

Together, Wayles and Betty Hemings had six mixed-race children, (often called "a shadow family" in that society[citation needed]):

As their mother was a slave, the children were all born into slavery under the principle of partus sequitur ventrum, which had been part of Virginia law since 1662. They were three-quarters European in ancestry and half-siblings to Wayles' daughters by his wives. Wayles was not known to acknowledge his children by Betty, nor did he free her or them in his will.


His first daughter Martha first married Bathurst Skelton, younger brother of Reuben Skelton. He died young. A few years later, Martha married Thomas Jefferson in 1772. They had two daughters who survived to adulthood, but only one lived past age 25.

Her father, John Wayles, died a year later at age 58 in 1773. He left substantial property, including slaves, but the estate was encumbered with debt.[6] Martha and her husband Jefferson inherited all eleven members of the Hemings family and 125 other slaves, 11,000 acres of land, and ₤4,000 in debt. Jefferson and other co-executors of the Wayles estate worked for years to clear it of debt.

Martha died in 1782 and most historians believe that years later the widower Jefferson took his wife's mixed race half-sister, Sally Hemings, a slave woman he owned as his concubine and fathered her six children.[7]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Annette Gordon-Reed (1997/1998), Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, reprint with new foreword about DNA evidence, Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press.
  • Annette Gordon-Reed, (2008), The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
  • Robert F. Turner (2001/2011), The Jefferson-Hemings Controversy: Report of the Scholars Commission , Durham,NC: Carolina Academic Press.
  • Cynthia H. Burton (2005), Jefferson Vindicated: Fallacies, Omissions, and Contradictions in the Hemings Genealogical Search "", Charlottesville, VA: Self published.


  1. ^ Meacham, Jon (2012). Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power. p. 54. ISBN 9781400067664.
  2. ^ "Memoirs of Madison Hemings". Frontline. Public Broadcasting Service - WGBH Boston. Retrieved 29 November 2011.
  3. ^ "John Wayles", Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia, Monticello, accessed 10 March 2011. Sources cited on page: Madison Hemings, "Life Among the Lowly," Pike County Republican, March 13, 1873. Letter of December 20, 1802 from Thomas Gibbons, a Federalist planter of Georgia, to Jonathan Dayton, states that Sally Hemings "is half sister to his [Jefferson's] first wife."
  4. ^ Blassingame, John (1977). Slave Testimony: Two Centuries of Letters, Speeches, Interviews, and Autobiographies. p. 475. ISBN 0807102733.
  5. ^ "John Wayles", Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia, Monticello, accessed 10 March 2011. Note: Thomas Turner letter published in the Boston Repertory of May 31, 1805, referring to John Wayles and Sally Hemings, said that "an opinion has existed . . . that this very Sally is the natural daughter of Mr. Wales (sic), who was the father of the actual Mrs. Jefferson." ("Natural" as applied to children meant illegitimate.)
  6. ^ Death notice from The Virginia Gazette, June 3, 1773: "On Friday last died, at his house in Charles City, JOHN WAYLES, Esquire, attorney at law."
  7. ^ "Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: A Brief Account". Monticello. Retrieved 6 November 2017. Quote: "Ten years later [referring to its 2000 report], TJF [Thomas Jefferson Foundation] 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."

  • Nash, Gary B.; Hodges, Graham R.G. (2008), Friends of Liberty: Thomas Jefferson, Tadeusz Kosciuszko, and Agrippa Hull. A Tale of Three Patriots, Two Revolutions, and A Tragic Betrayal Of Freedom In The New Nation, pp. 129–130, New York: Basic Books

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