World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

John Wayles

Article Id: WHEBN0028159964
Reproduction Date:

Title: John Wayles  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Thomas Jefferson and slavery, Betty Hemings, Thomas Jefferson (film), Jefferson's Birthday, Dick the Mockingbird
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

John Wayles

John Wayles, Esq.
Born January 31, 1715
Lancaster, England
Died May 28, 1773(1773-05-28) (aged 58)
Charles City County, Virginia
Nationality English
Occupation Attorney at law, Planter
Spouse(s) Martha Eppes, Tabitha Cocke, Elizabeth Lomax, Elizabeth Hemings (Common-law)
Children Martha Wayles, Elizabeth Wayles, Tabitha Wayles, Ann Wayles, Robert Hemings, James Hemings, Thenia Hemings, Critta Hemings, Peter Hemings, Sally Hemings

John Wayles (January 31, 1715 – May 28, 1773) was a planter, slave trader and lawyer in the Virginia Colony. He is historically best known as the father-in-law of Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States.

Wayles is widely believed to have taken his mixed-race slave Betty Hemings as a concubine after being widowed the third time; he had six children with her, of whom the youngest was Sally Hemings. The children were three-quarters European in ancestry and half-siblings to his two daughters by his first and second wives. A year after her marriage to Thomas Jefferson, his oldest daughter Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson inherited the Hemings family and 125 other slaves, along with 11,000 acres and debts as part of her father's estate.

Early life and education

Born in Lancaster, England in 1715, to Edward Wayles and Ellen Ashburner-Wayles, Wayles emigrated as a young man to the English colony of Virginia, likely during the 1730s.


In Virginia, Wayles became part of the planter elite. His plantation, called "The Forest", was located in Charles City County. This was one of the first four shires in the colony and located in the Tidewater region along the north side of the James River. Wayles also worked as a lawyer and slave trader.

Marriage and family

Wayles married Martha Eppes (b. at Bermuda Hundred on 10 April 1721) on 3 May 1746. As part of the wedding settlement, her parents gave the new couple an African slave woman and her young mixed-race daughter Elizabeth or Betty Hemings. The girl was the daughter of an English sea captain named Hemings. Hemings family tradition tells that Captain Hemings tried to buy Elizabeth from Wayles; but he refused to sell her. [1]

Martha Eppes Wayles gave birth to fraternal twins on 23 December 1746, but the girl was stillborn and the boy lived only a few hours. About two years later, on 31 October 1748, Martha Wayles had her only surviving child, also named Martha. The mother died less than a week later on 5 November 1748, at the age of 27. In those years, women had a high rate of mortality related to childbirth.

Secondly, Wayles married a member of the Cocke family, also of the planter class. They had several children:

  • Sarah, did not survive to adulthood.
  • Elizabeth, born 24 February 1752; she married an Eppes.
  • Tabitha, born 16 November 1753; and
  • Anne, born 26 August 1756.

Wayles' second wife died sometime between August 1756 and 1759.

On 26 January 1760, Wayles married his third wife, Elizabeth Lomax Skelton (she was the widow of Reuben Skelton, an older brother of his daughter Martha's first husband). They had no children. She died on 10 February 1761.

Elizabeth Hemings and children

Several sources attest that after the death of his third wife, the widower Wayles took his mixed-race slave Elizabeth Hemings, then about 26 years old, as his concubine, a practice relatively common among planters.[2] Elizabeth, also called Betty, already had four children when she became Wayles' concubine.

Together, Wayles and Betty Hemings had six mixed-race children, what was often called "a shadow family" in that society:

As their mother was a slave, the children were all born into slavery under the principle of partus sequitur ventrum, which had been part of Virginia law since 1662. They were three-quarters European in ancestry and half-siblings to Wayles' daughters by his wives. Wayles was not known to acknowledge his children by Betty, nor did he free her or them in his will. He died in debt, and it took Jefferson years as co-executor to clear the estate.

His first daughter Martha married Thomas Jefferson in 1772. A year later her father died, and they inherited the Hemings family and 125 other slaves, 11,000 acres of land, and ₤4,000 in debt.


His daughter Martha Wayles first married Bathurst Skelton, younger brother of Reuben Skelton. He died young. A few years later, Martha married Thomas Jefferson. They had two daughters who survived to adulthood, but only one lived past age 25.

Upon his death at age 58 in 1773, John Wayles left substantial property, including slaves, but the estate was encumbered with debt.[4] Martha and her husband Jefferson inherited all eleven members of the Hemings family as well as numerous other slaves. Jefferson and other co-executors of the Wayles estate worked for years to clear it of debt.

See also


  1. ^ "Memoirs of Madison Hemings". Frontline. Public Broadcasting Service - WGBH Boston. Retrieved 29 November 2011. 
  2. ^ "John Wayles", Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia, Monticello, accessed 10 March 2011. Sources cited on page: Madison Hemings, "Life Among the Lowly," Pike County Republican, March 13, 1873. Letter of December 20, 1802 from Thomas Gibbons, a Federalist planter of Georgia, to Jonathan Dayton, states that Sally Hemings "is half sister to his [Jefferson's] first wife."
  3. ^ "John Wayles", Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia, Monticello, accessed 10 March 2011. Note: Thomas Turner letter published in the Boston Repertory of May 31, 1805, referring to John Wayles and Sally Hemings, said that "an opinion has existed . . . that this very Sally is the natural daughter of Mr. Wales (sic), who was the father of the actual Mrs. Jefferson." ("Natural" as applied to children meant illegitimate.)
  4. ^ Death notice from The Virginia Gazette, June 3, 1773: "On Friday last died, at his house in Charles City, JOHN WAYLES, Esquire, attorney at law."
  • Nash, Gary B.; Hodges, Graham R.G. (2008), Friends of Liberty: Thomas Jefferson, Tadeusz Kosciuszko, and Agrippa Hull. A Tale of Three Patriots, Two Revolutions, and A Tragic Betrayal Of Freedom In The New Nation, pp. 129–130, New York: Basic Books

Further reading

  • Annette Gordon-Reed (1997/1998), Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, reprint with new foreword about DNA evidence, Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press.
  • Annette Gordon-Reed, (2008), The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
  • Robert F. Turner (2001/2011), The Jefferson-Hemings Controversy: Report of the Scholars Commission , Durham,NC: Carolina Academic Press.
  • Cynthia H. Burton (2005), Jefferson Vindicated: Fallacies, Omissions, and Contradictions in the Hemings Genealogical Search "", Charlottesville, VA: Self published.

External links

  • "Getting Word; African Americans at Monticello", Plantation & Slavery, Monticello
  • - The Wayles Family; First Generation
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Fair are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.