Patsy Jefferson

05/08/2012

Patsy Jefferson Randolph

Mr. Jefferson’s Ladies, by Gordon Langley Hall

American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson , by Joseph Ellis

Patsy(Martha) Jefferson Randolph, was the eldest surviving daughter of Thomas Jefferson, gave birth to twelve children, and was married to a possibly mentally ill/alcoholic husband. She infrequently played hostess during Jefferson’s two terms as President in the early 1800’s. Her mother, Martha Jefferson, had passed away not too long after giving birth to her third surviving child in 1782.

Jefferson biographer Joseph J. Ellis describes Patsy at 13 as an “uncommonly tall and long limbed girl with her father’s bright eyes and angular bone structure.” Both Patsy and her sister Polly accompanied Jefferson to Paris, France where he was serving as a diplomat. Jefferson placed both girls in a convent; however, he removed them promptly when he learned of Patsy’s intention to become a nun.

Like Martha Washington, Patsy was mistress of a southern plantation; at her father’s Monticello. She never spent much time at the White House: she had eleven kids! Of course, being a plantation mistress was no easy task and her duties including being a midwife at times.

As for Sally Hemings, Jefferson’s girlfriend for many years, it is difficult to claim Patsy’s ignorance: she lived with her father throughout the duration of his affair with Sally. Yet, according to Ellis, Patsy went to the grave defending her father against accusations of having a slave lover. Yes, before the revelation of this relationship in 1998, there was much speculation and gossip mongering in Jefferson’s time over it.

Like many mistresses of plantations, Patsy had to notice the physical similarities between young slave children and the white masters. It’s pretty much common knowledge the white men of plantations often took advantage of slave women; often fathering many mulatto children. There was nothing for her to do but turn her head the other way.

After her beloved father’s death in 1826, Patsy was a pauper. She was estranged from her husband. All furniture and valuables from Monticello were sold to pay off debts; later Monticello itself was sold. Two years after her father’s death her husband died.

At one point Patsy was given $10,000 by the states of South Carolina and Louisiana, in honor of her father’s memory, in lieu of starting a girl’s school in Charlottesville, Va. She invested these funds into  the Uni. of Va., a source of a modest income, but until her death in 1836 Patsy lived in straightened circumstances.

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