About sixty years ago, there came from Monticello, Virginia, to Chillicothe, a
remarkably fine looking colored man and his family. Eston Hemings was of a
light bronze color, a little over six feet tall, well proportioned, very erect
and dignified; his nearly straight hair showed a tint of auburn, and his face,
indistinct suggestion of freckles. Quiet, unobtrusive, polite and decidedly
intelligent, he was soon very well and favorably known to all classes of our
citizens, for his personal appearance and gentlemanly manners attracted
everybody's attention to him. And when it was rumored that Eston Hemings was a
natural son of President Thomas Jefferson, a good many people accepted the
story as truth, from the intrinsic evidence of his striking resemblance to
Jefferson. So striking was the likeness, that on one occasion the writer of
this sketch, in company with the late Addison Poarson, Edward Adams, Gen. James
Ryan and Seneca W. Ely, while going from Pennsylvania avenue to the White
House, came upon the bronze statue of Jefferson, which is located upon the
broad walk leading from the avenue to the mansion.
This article originally appeared in the Scioto Gazette, a Chillicothe,
Ohio newspaper, on August 1, 1902 under the sub-heading "The Gazette's Delver
Into the Past Brings up a Romantic Story...Was Natural Son of the Sage of
Monticello; Had the Traits of Good Training."
"Gentlemen, who in Chillicothe looks most like that statute?" I asked.
Instantly came the unanimous answer, "Why, Eston Hemings!"
The color of the bronze in the statue probably made the resemblance more
perfect and striking.
Some time after my return from Washington, happening to have some business with
Hemings, I told him of the incident.
"Well," answered Hemings quietly, "my mother, whose name I bear, belonged to
Mr. Jefferson." and after a slight pause, added, "and she never was
"Mr. Hemings wife was lighter in color than her husband: indeed I am not sure
that she was not a purely white woman. At any rate, the children had scarcely
a visible admixture of colored blood; and I saw and talked with one of the
sons, during the Civil War, who was then wearing the silver leaves of a
lieutenant colonel, and in command of a fine regiment of white men from a
north-western state. He begged me not to tell the fact that he had colored
blood in his veins, which he said was not suspected by any of his command; and
of course I did not.
This son, I have lately learned, is now fairly wealthy, and is proprietor and
landlord of a large and popular hotel in a certain north-western city. The
landlord and the hotel bear a family name--and the name is not Hemings.
Eston Hemings, being a master of the violin, and an accomplished "caller" of
dances, always officiated at the "swell" entertainments of Chillicothe; and
they were more frequent then than now, I think.
But notwithstanding all his accomplishments and deserts, the fact remained that
he had a visible admixture of negro blood in his veins, and in Chillicothe
before the war, between those who had, and the white, even the lowest of
them--there was a great gulf, an impassable gulf: and Eston Hemings quietly
moved away from Chillicothe, and I believe, told no one whither.
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