Mary Jefferson Eppes

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Mary Jefferson Eppes
Born August 1, 1778
Monticello, Virginia
Died April 17, 1804(1804-04-17) (aged 25)
Monticello, Virginia

Mary "Maria" Jefferson Eppes, born Mary Jefferson (August 1, 1778 – April 17, 1804), was the younger of Thomas Jefferson's two daughters who survived infancy.

Early life and education[edit]

Mary Jefferson was born to politician and future president Thomas Jefferson and Martha Wayles Jefferson (née Wayles). Known as "Polly the Parrot" and "gopher" in her childhood, she later chose the nickname "Maria." She was known as such until her death at age 25.

She had a sickly disposition as her mother did, who died in 1782 when Polly was five. Polly also inherited her mother's beauty, which was frequently complimented, to her chagrin. She preferred to be known for her character or mind.

In the care of the young slave Sally Hemings, at age nine Polly sailed to Europe to join her father who was serving as Minister to France. First they landed in England, where Abigail Adams, wife of the U.S. Minister John Adams, looked after the girls before they joined her father in Paris: Abigail developed a deep and lasting affection for Polly.[1] In France Polly attended the Pentemont Abbey[2] convent school with her older sister Martha (Patsy). After some time, her father had the girls tutored at home. The family returned to Virginia in 1789. After living for a time in Philadelphia while Jefferson was Secretary of State, they returned to Monticello. Polly spent most of the rest of her short life in Virginia. Polly was a poor but brave soul living her short, loving life with her father.

Marriage and family[edit]

Maria married her childhood friend and cousin John Wayles Eppes on October 13, 1797, at Monticello, and the couple resided at his plantation, Mont Blanco, on the James River in Chesterfield. She spent much of her time until her death at his family's nearby plantation home Eppington where she had lived as a child while her father was Minister to France.[3] They had three children, of which only one survived childhood:

  • Baby Boy Eppes (January 1800; aged 3 days)
  • Francis W. Eppes (September 20, 1801 – May 10, 1881; aged 79 years)
  • Baby Girl Eppes (February 1804-March 1804; aged c. 1 months)

Their first child was born in January 1800; but lived only a few days. Mary gave birth to Francis W. Eppes in 1801; he was their only child to survive infancy. Their last child was born in February 1804. The baby girl was small and died later that year, much to her mother's sorrow.

Maria never recovered physically from her third childbirth, or emotionally when the baby girl died a month later. Her condition worsened and her father, by then the President, rushed home when Congress adjourned on March 27. She was moved to Monticello and nursed by Jefferson and her sister Martha. She died on April 17, 1804 and was buried beside her mother, as she had asked.

It was her death that prompted Abigail Adams to send written condolences to President Jefferson, thus ending a long silence between the two families that had been brought on by political differences during the presidential campaign of 1800. Abigail wrote movingly of the immediate affection she had felt for Maria which had never altered.[4]

  1. ^ McCullough, David John Adams, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001
  2. ^ "Sally Hemings and Her Children", Plantation and Slavery, Monticello
  3. ^ Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission Staff (July 1969). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination: Eppington" (PDF). Virginia Department of Historic Resources. 
  4. ^ McCullough John Adams