Sally Hemings is hard to know: she left no diary or letters and there are no photographs or painted portraits. There are only two known descriptions of Sally Hemings. The slave Isaac Jefferson remembered that she was "mighty near white. . . very handsome, long straight hair down her back," and Thomas Jefferson Randolph described her as "light colored and decidedly good looking." Only one object owned by Sally Hemings survives: a small bell which family history says was given to Sally by a dying Martha Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson's first wife (who was also Sally's half-sister.)
The lack of sources about Sally has not stopped writers and historians from trying to imagine her, however. In this video report, FRONTLINE spoke to Barbara Chase-Riboud, author of Sally Hemings: A Novel, the earliest full-blown imagining of the slave's life, and Tina Andrews, the screenwriter behind Sally Hemings: An American Scandal, the most recent and largest scale telling of the story. How might Sally Hemings have felt at different times in her 38-year relationship with Jefferson? Was Sally Hemings a "heroine" in any classic sense, or was she a victim?