Mary Jefferson Eppes

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Mary Jefferson Eppes
Mary Jefferson

(1778-08-01)August 1, 1778
DiedApril 17, 1804(1804-04-17) (aged 25)
Spouse(s)John Wayles Eppes
Children3, including Francis W. Eppes
Parent(s)Thomas Jefferson
Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson

Mary Jefferson Eppes (August 1, 1778 – April 17, 1804), known as Polly in childhood and Maria as an adult, was the younger of Thomas Jefferson's two daughters who survived infancy. She married a first cousin, John Wayles Eppes, and had three children with him. Only their son Francis W. Eppes survived childhood. Maria died months after the birth of her third child.

Early life and education[edit]

Mary Jefferson was born to politician and future president Thomas Jefferson and Martha Wayles Skelton 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 four. Polly also inherited her mother's beauty, which was frequently complimented, to her chagrin. She preferred to be known for her character or mind. When her widowed father was first serving as Minister to France, Polly and her younger sister Lucy were cared for by relatives, her mother's cousin Francis Wayles Eppes and his wife Elizabeth, her mother's half-sister, at their plantation Eppington.[1][2] After Lucy died of whooping cough, Jefferson requested that Polly be sent to him in France.

In the care of her enslaved aunt Sally Hemings, at age nine Polly sailed to Europe to join her father and older sister Martha in Paris. They first 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.[3] In France, Polly attended the Pentemont Abbey convent school with her older sister Martha (Patsy).[4] After some time, her father had the girls tutored at home.

Accompanied by their slaves Sally Hemings and her older brother James, who had served Jefferson as chef in Paris, the family returned to Virginia in 1789. At that time, Polly adopted the pronunciation and name "Maria" (with a long "i" in the Virginia fashion), which she used the rest of her life.[1] After living for a time in the temporary national capital of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, while Jefferson was Secretary of State, the family returned to Monticello. Maria spent most of the rest of her short life in Virginia.

Marriage and family[edit]

Maria married her childhood friend and cousin John Wayles Eppes on October 13, 1797, at Monticello. The couple resided at his plantation, Mont Blanco, on the James River in Chesterfield. They also spent much time at his family's plantation home Eppington, on the Appomattox River where she and her younger sister Lucy had lived as a child in their care while her father was Minister to France.[2] His father Francis was a cousin and his mother Elizabeth the half-sister to Maria's late mother Martha.

Maria and Wayles, as he was known, had three children, of whom only their son Francis VII survived childhood:

  • Baby Boy Eppes (January 1800; aged 3 days),[5]
  • Francis W. Eppes (September 20, 1801 – May 10, 1881; aged 79 years) (Francis Wayles Eppes VII),[1]
  • Maria Jefferson Eppes (February 15, 1804 – February 1806).[1]

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, Maria, was born in February 1804. She died months later.[1]

Maria never recovered physically from her third childbirth. 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 her sister Martha and Jefferson. Maria died on April 17, 1804 and was buried beside her mother, at her request.[6]

Her death prompted Abigail Adams to send written condolences to President Jefferson, thus ending a long silence between the two families that had resulted from their political differences during the presidential campaign of 1800. Abigail wrote movingly of the immediate affection she had felt for Maria when meeting her in London as a girl, which had never altered.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Maria Jefferson Eppes", Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia, Monticello website
  2. ^ a b Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission Staff (July 1969). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination: Eppington" (PDF). Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
  3. ^ McCullough, David. John Adams, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001 p.373
  4. ^ "Sally Hemings and Her Children", Plantation and Slavery, Monticello
  5. ^ "Mary Jefferson Eppes, Jefferson's daughter", Learning Resources, Monticello Classroom. Quote: "She gave birth to three children."
  6. ^ "Maria Jefferson Eppes". Find a Grave. Retrieved 13 June 2018.
  7. ^ McCullough John Adams p.581