Thomas Jefferson Papers

Deed of Manumission for Robert Hemings, 24 December 1794

Deed of Manumission for Robert Hemings

This indenture witnesseth that I Thomas Jefferson of the county of Albemarle have manumitted and made free Robert Hemings, son of Betty Hemmings: so that in future he shall be free and of free condition, with all his goods and chattels and shall be discharged of all obligation of bondage or servitude whatsoever: and that neither myself, my heirs executors or administrators shall have any right to exact from him hereafter any services or duties whatsoever. In witness whereof I have put my seal to this present deed of manumission. Given in Albemarle this twenty fourth day of December one thousand seven hundred and ninety four.

Th: Jefferson

Signed, sealed and delivered
in presence of
D: Carr

MS (ViU); in TJ’s hand, except for the signature of Dabney Carr, Jr.; indented, with TJ’s seal affixed; words lost in frayed right margin supplied from PrC; notation on verso: “Charlottesville September District Court 1795. This Deed of manumission was produced into Court and acknowledged by Thomas Jefferson party thereto and ordered to be Recorded. Teste Jno. Nicholas CCk”; endorsed in several hands: “Jefferson to Hemings } Deed of manumission” and “September 1795. Acknowledged & to be Recorded” and “Recorded.” PrC (MHi); lacks Carr’s signature.

Robert Hemings (1762–1819) was the first slave TJ actually released. TJ inherited him after the death in 1773 of his father-in-law John Wayles, who is now generally recognized to be Hemings’s father. As TJ’s personal attendant, Hemings went with him on his trips to serve in the Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1775 and 1776 and in Annapolis in 1783 and 1784. In the latter city TJ paid for two-and-a-half months of barber’s training for Hemings, who then accompanied him to Boston. He brought the horses back to Monticello from there when TJ took ship for France in July 1784. During TJ’s absence in Europe and for most of his service as Secretary of State, Hemings was permitted to hire himself out to the master of his choosing, subject only to the requirement that he return to Monticello when TJ was in attendance. At some point during this period of comparative autonomy Hemings married and had a child with a Fredericksburg slave named Dolly. She subsequently moved to Richmond where her master, Dr. George Frederick Stras, agreed to pay TJ to free Hemings in exchange for Hemings’s promise of repayment. TJ regarded the price of £60 set by arbitrators as inadequate and alleged that Stras had “debauched” Hemings from him, but he accepted the situation and the purchase price and turned over this deed to Stras to hold until Hemings repaid him, an event presumably marked by the recording of the deed in the Albemarle County District Court in September 1795. Hemings subsequently operated a livery or hauling business in Richmond, first appearing on a Richmond tax list in 1799 and by 1802 owning a half-acre lot at the intersection of G and Seventh Streets. His death may have been related to a pistol accident in which he lost a hand (James A. Bear, Jr., “The Hemings Family of Monticello,” Virginia Cavalcade, xxix [1979], 80–1; “The Memoirs of Madison Hemings,” in Annette Gordon-Reed, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy [Charlottesville, 1997], 245–8; MB description begins James A. Bear, Jr., and Lucia C. Stanton, eds., Jefferson’s Memorandum Books: Accounts, with Legal Records and Miscellany, 1767–1826, Princeton, 1997, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series description ends , 21 June 1773, and note, 27 Oct. 1775, 7 June 1776, 3, 10, 13 Feb., 19 Apr.,30 June 1784, 24 Dec. 1794; TJ to Nicholas Lewis, 1 July 1784, 11 July, 16 Dec. 1788; TJ to William Fitzhugh, 21 July 1790; Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr., to TJ, 30 Apr. 1791; TJ to Daniel L. Hylton, 1 July 1792; TJ to Randolph, 26 Dec. 1794).

SJL records letters from Hemings to TJ of 28 Nov. 1794, 7 Jan. 1795, 29 July, 27 Oct., and 9 Nov. 1796, received respectively on 3 Dec. 1794, 6 Feb. 1795, 3 Aug., 30 Oct., and 11 Nov. 1796, and a letter of 21 Oct. 1796 from TJ to Hemings, none of which has been found.

Index Entries