Courtland Village, N.Y.|
June 1, 1868
The "Dusky Sally Story"--the story that Mr. Jefferson kept one of his slaves,
(Sally Henings) as his mistress and had children by her, was once extensively
believed by respectable men, and I believe both John Quincy Adams and our
Bryant sounded poetical lyres on this very poetical subject!
Walking about mouldering Monticello one day with Col. T. J. Randolph (Mr.
Jefferson's oldest grandson) he showed me a smoke blackened and sooty room in
one of the collonades, and informed me it was Sally Henings' room. He asked me
if I knew how the story of Mr. Jefferson's connexion with her originated. I
told him I did not. "There was a better excuse for it, said he, than you might
think: she had children which resembled Mr. Jefferson so closely that it was
plain that they had his blood in their veins." He said in one case that the
resemblance was so close, that at some distance or in the dusk the slave,
dressed in the same way, might be mistaken for Mr. Jefferson.--He said in one
instance, a gentleman dining with Mr. Jefferson, looked so startled as he
raised his eyes from the latter to the servant behind him, that his discovery
of the resemblance was perfectly obvious to all. Sally Henings was a house
servant and her children were brought up house servants--so that the likeness
between master and slave was blazoned to all the multitudes who visited this
Mr. Jefferson had two nephews, Peter Carr and Samuel Carr whom he brought up in
his house. There were the sons of Mr. Jefferson's sister and her husband Dabney
Carr that young and brilliant orator, described by Wirt, who shone so
conspicuously in the dawn of the Revolution, but died in 17--. Pete was
peculiarly gifted and amiable. Of Samuel I know less. But he became a man of
repute and sat in the State Senate of Virginia. Col. Randolph informed me that
Sally Henings was the mistress of Peter, and her sister Betsey the mistress of
Samuel--and from these connections sprang the progeny which resembled Mr.
Jefferson. Both the Henings girls were light colored and decidedly goodlooking.
The Colonel said their connexion with the Carrs was perfectly notorious at
Monticello , and scarcely disguised by the latter--never disavowed by them.
Samuel's proceedings were particularly open.
Col. Randolph informed me that there was not the shadow of suspicion that Mr.
Jefferson in this or any other instance ever had commerce with his female
slaves. At the periods when these Carr children were born, he, Col. Randolph,
had charge of Monticello. He gave all the general directions, gave out their
clothes to the slaves, etc., etc. He said Sally Henings was treated, dressed,
etc., exactly like the rest. He said Mr. Jefferson never locked the door of his
room by day: and that he (Col. R.) slept within sound of his breathing at
night. He said he had never seen a motion, or a look, or a circumstance which
led him to suspect for an instant that there was a particle more of familiarity
between Mr. Jefferson and Sally Henings than between him and the most repulsive
servant in the establishment--and that no person ever living at Monticello
dreamed of such a thing. With Betsy Henings, whose children also resembled him,
his habitual meeting, was less frequent, and the chance for suspicion still
less, and his conexion with her was never indeed alleged by any of our northern
politicians, or poets.
Col. Randolph said that he had spent a good share of his life closely about Mr.
Jefferson--at home and on journeys--in all sorts of circumstances and he fully
believed him chaste and pure--as "immaculate a man as God ever created."
Mr. Jefferson's oldest daughter, Mrs. Gov. Randolph, took the Dusky Sally
stories much to heart. But she never spoke to her sons but once on the subject.
Not long before her death she called two of them--the Colonel and George Wythe
Randolph--to her. She asked the Colonel if he remembered when "-- Henings (the
slave who most resembled Mr. Jefferson) was born." He said he could answer by
referring to the book containing the list of slaves. He turned to the book and
found that the slave was born at the time supposed by Mrs. Randolph. She then
directed her sons attention to the fact that Mr. Jefferson and Sally Henings
could not have met--were far distant from each other--for fifteen months prior
to such birth. She bade her sons remember this fact, and always to defend the
character of their grandfather. It so happened when I was afterwards examining
an old account book of the Jeffersons I came pop on the original entry
of this slaves birth: and I was then able from well known circumstances to
prove the fifteen months separation--but those circumstances have faded from my
memory. I have no doubt I could recover them however did Mr. Jefferson's
vindication in the least depend upon them.
Colonel Randolph said that a visitor at Monticello dropped a newspaper from his
pocket or accidentally left it. After he was gone, he (Colonel R.) opened the
paper and found some very insulting remarks about Mr. Jefferson's Mulatto
Children. The Col. said he felt provoked. Peter and Sam Carr were lying not far
off under a shade tree. He took the paper and put it in Peters hands, pointing
out the article. Peter read it, tears coursing down his cheeks, and then handed
it to Sam. Sam also shed tears. Peter exclaimed, "arnt you and I a couple of
pretty fellows to bring this disgrace on poor old uncle who has always fed us!
We ought to be -- by -- !"
I could give fifty more facts were there time, and were there any need of it,
to show Mr. Jefferson's innocence of this and all similar offenses against
I asked Col. R why on earth Mr. Jefferson did not put these slaves who looked
like him out of the public sight by sending them to his Bedford estate or else
where--He said Mr. Jefferson never betrayed the least consciousness of the
resemblance--and although he (Col. R.) had no doubt his mother, would have been
very glad to have them removed, that both and all venerated Mr. Jefferson too
deeply to broach such a topic to him. What suited him, satisfied them. Mr.
Jefferson was deeply attached to the Carrs--especially to Peter. He was
extremely indulgent to them and the idea of watching them for faults or vices
probably never occurred to him.
Do you ask why I did not state, or at least hint the above facts in my Life of
Jefferson? I wanted to do so, but Colonel Randolph, in this solitary case alone
prohibited me from using at my discretion the information he had furnished me
with. When I rather pressed him on the point he said, pointing to the family
graveyard, "You are not bound to prove a negation. If I should allow you to
take Peter Carr's corpse into Court and plead guilty over it to shelter Mr.
Jefferson, I should not dare again to walk by his grave; he would rise and
spurn me." I am exceedingly glad Col. Randolph did overrule me in this
particular. I should have made a shameful mistake. If I had
unnecessarily defended him (and it was purely unnecessary to offer any
defense) at the expense of a dear nephew--and a nobleman--hating a single
I write this currente calamo, and you will not understand that in telling what
Col. R. and others said, I claim to give the precise language. I give it as I
now recall it. I believe I hit at least the essential purport and spirit of it
in every case.
Do you wonder that the above explanations were not made by Mr. Jeffersons
friends when the old Federal Party were hurling their missiles at him for
keeping a Congo Harem! Nobody could have furnished a hint of explanation
outside of the family. The secrets of an old Virginia manor house were like the
secrets of an Old Norman Castle. Dr. Dungleson, and Professor Tucker had lived
years near Mr. Jefferson, in the University, and were often at Monticello. They
saw what others saw. But Dr. D told me that neither he nor Professor T. ever
heard the subject named in Virginia. An awe and veneration was felt for
Mr. Jefferson among his neighbors which in their view rendered it shameful to
even talk about his name in such a connexion. Dr. D. told me that he never
heard of Col. Randolph talking with anyone on the subject but me. But he said
in his own secret mind he had always believed the matter stood just as Col.
Randolph explained it to me.
You ask if I will not write a cheap Life of Jefferson of 600 pages, to go into
families who will not purchase a larger work. I some years ago commenced such a
condensed biography. I suspended the work when the storm of Civil War burst
over the land. I have not again resumed it. I may yet do so hereafter--I have
been strongly urged to the work by a prominent publishing house, and if I find
time I may again mount my old hobby.
I must again express my regret that I cannot send you a fine autograph letter
of Mr. Jefferson on some interesting topic--but I am stripped down to those his
family expected me to keep. But I send you some characteristic leaves--one from
his draft of his Parliamentary Law.
Very truly yours,
Henry S. Randall
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