Thomas Jefferson's Family Life and Children

Although Thomas Jefferson was instrumental in founding a new nation, he was no newcomer to the American colonies. His ancestors on both his mother's and father's side came from England to North America nearly a century before Jefferson was born.

The Future President's Forebears

The founding father was a fourth-generation Virginian. His paternal great-grandfather Thomas settled in Henrico, Va., in the 1660s. His maternal great-grandfather, William Randolph, settled in Virginia a few years later. He established an estate consisting of thousands of acres and a reputation as a political leader.

Jefferson's paternal grandfather, also named Thomas, acquired about 1,500 acres in Osborne, Va., where Jefferson's father, Peter, made a home in the 1730s. He and his wife, Jane Randolph, later lived at Shadwell, a tobacco plantation they established nearby, which became Thomas Jefferson's birthplace.

Thomas Jefferson's Marriage

Jefferson married Martha Wayles Skelton on New Year's Day 1772. He was nearly 29 years old while his bride was 24. Both belonged to wealthy Virginia society, and both appreciated music and literature. By all accounts, they were also in love.

The newlyweds lived in one of the buildings on Jefferson's tobacco plantation while Monticello was under construction. When her father died, Martha inherited a wealth of land as well as around 100 slaves, all of which reverted to Jefferson. However, as her husband pursued his political career, Martha ran the household, oversaw the grounds and managed the slaves.

The couple's first child was born late in 1772, and they named her Martha after her mother. The Jeffersons would have five more children, which took a toll on the elder Martha's health. She died a few months after delivering their last child, Lucy.

Jefferson was overcome with grief and for several weeks, he isolated himself. He wrote his sister-in-law Elizabeth Epps that if it weren't for his responsibility to the children, he would not be able to continue on. By December, however, three months after his wife's death, he returned to public life at the Confederated Congress in Philadelphia.

Thomas and Martha Jefferson's Children

Thomas and Martha had five daughters and a son. Of the six, only two would live to be adults: Martha, the first-born, and Mary, who went by Polly when she was young. The youngest child, Lucy, succumbed to whooping cough at the age of two. The other children did not survive past infancy.

When Jefferson went to Philadelphia, he brought young Martha along with him. She continued her schooling under the instruction of tutors while her father attended to congressional duties.

Two years later, when Jefferson went to France as an emissary and a U.S. ambassador, the 12-year-old Martha again accompanied her father. The younger daughter, Mary, was content to remain with her aunt and uncle, who had cared for her since her mother died. However, in 1787, her father sent for her and she made the journey overseas in the company of a Jefferson family slave, Sally Hemings.

Martha and Mary studied at Abbaye Royale de Panthemont, a well-respected convent school in Paris. Their father supported their studies and urged them to do well.

The Jeffersons returned to Monticello in 1789. Martha, an accomplished and worldly 17, soon married Thomas Mann Rudolph Jr. The couple gave Jefferson 11 grandchildren, and the Rudolph family lived at Monticello with for a time before his death.

In 1797, Mary wed her cousin and childhood companion, John Wayles Eppes. The two had one surviving son, Frances. Mary died in 1804, a few months after giving birth to daughter Maria, who would only survive for two years.

Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings

Although Jefferson never remarried after losing his wife, Martha Skelton, he took his slave, Sally Hemings, as his mistress when she was in her teens. Historians believe their affair began while they were in Paris and continued after returning to the U.S. Soon after coming home to Monticello, Hemings gave birth to her first child. Her seventh child was born in 1805.

Rumors of a secret relationship between Jefferson and Hemings circulated in the newspapers and political columns, but Jefferson largely ignored them. In spite of the rumors, he was elected to two terms as President of the United States.


Recently, historians identified Sally Hemings' bedroom in Monticello, which is adjacent to Jefferson's. Rather than keep it hidden, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation has made it a part of the official tour. Also, since Martha Jefferson had been long dead and Hemings was in a relationship with Jefferson when he was president, some have suggested that Hemings was the nation's third first lady.