Patty and Tom: A Story of Marriage and Leadership

· Jefferson’s political allies nagged and hounded him during August and September 1782 about returning to political debates and issues. He refused, staying holed up in his wife’s bedroom and in the small temporary office near the bed. He had insisted on being present for every childbirth and for every child death. They were a devoted husband and wife.
· Get ready for a shocking point—Sally Hemings, the slave girl/woman who became Thomas Jefferson’s paramour (from the late 1780s until he died in 1826) was in fact the half-sister of Jefferson’s dead wife, Martha (Patty). Martha’s father had owned Sally and was Sally’s father, having had an affair with one of his adult slave women on his own plantation not far from where Jefferson grew up. This is shamefully overlooked in today’s retelling of the Jefferson-Hemings relationship.
· Sally Hemings died in 1835 at the approximate age of 62. She was known to be arrestingly attractive and vivacious, a bit more of a fiery-minded, volatile person that Jefferson was.
· The only slaves Jefferson ever freed were his and Sally’s children.
· Thomas had 6 children with Martha; 2 lived to adulthood. He had 6 children with Sally; at least 3 lived to adulthood.
· Current scientific research (DNA testing) points to a 99% probability that a Jefferson male was the father of the Hemings children. It isn’t, however, 99% certain that the Jefferson male was Tom. There were a handful of other male Jeffersons running around the vicinity of Monticello. I have to say this—I’m not really sure it makes all that much difference. Tom clearly cared for her in the same way that he did for Patty—except that he never claimed her publicly as his intimate companion. I think the longevity of the relationship stems from Sally’s blood relation as a half-sister to Patty. I also think Jefferson’s public silence on his attachment to Sally stems from his bigoted views of blacks.
· The world of slavery and race in 18th century America was far, far more complex and tangled than we usually hear or read about. The key point by the late 18th century and early 19th century was racial purity and the extent to which it didn’t exist and yet had to be made to appear to exist. People in both races went to great and bizarre extents to prove—for various reasons—the state of their racial purity or impurity. Mark Twain’s story Pudd’n’head Wilson is one depiction of this reality.
· Speaking of racial purity, one of the suggestions in the mid-18th century for improving British colonial skill in guerrilla/irregular/Indian warfare was for frontier whites to intermarry with Native Americans. The assumption was that the mixed-race offspring would be naturally suited to fighting in the woods while retaining stricter controls on conduct and behavior. Interesting, don’t you think?
· I know, I’m digressing, this is about Patty and Tom’s marriage and leadership. I just thought you’d be intrigued by the above tidbit about race and warfare in 18th century America.
· Having someone “plucked out” of your life is a major piece of anyone’s and everyone’s River. How about you? What’s happened with the loss of a spouse? A parent? A son or daughter? A special friend? It can be more mundane, too, such as with a particular mentor or sponsor or ally and their subsequent plucking-out of your River.
· Holding up Patty and Tom to Caty and Nathanael and you see a general flipping of effects. Nathanael died; Caty soldiered on. Patty died; Tom collapsed, literally, and then spent the rest of his life dealing with the impact in key parts of His River.
· Why do you think Jefferson leaned so hard on their 10-year old daughter in the early stages of his grief after Patty’s death? Would you or have you done the same?
· It’s hard not to think that a great deal of guilt must have reverberated in Jefferson’s heart and mind and soul. I’m referring to the consistent and ultimately fatal impact on Patty of her child-bearing experiences.
· Here is the quotation from “Tristam Shandy”, by Laurence Sterne, that Patty attempted to write out with a feather pen:
o Patty wrote: “Time wastes too fast: every letter/I trace tells me with what rapidity/Life follows my pen. The days and hours/Of it are flying over our heads/Like clouds of windy day, never to return—More everything presses on…”(the feather pen falls from Patty’s hand)
o Tom picks up the pen and finishes with this: …“and every/Time I kiss thy hand to bid adieu,/ Every absence which follows it, are preludes to/that eternal separation/Which we are shortly to make.”
· There are all types of intimate rhythms, joinings, and sharing in a marriage. The most obvious is sexual. But I’m starting to wonder if Tom and Patty happened onto perhaps the most intensely personal and bonded tie imaginable in a marriage—the link of their sense of life ending and ended life.
· You can see the powerful strain of anti-spiritual thought in Jefferson’s embrace of that part of the Shandy quote pertaining to eternal separation. That is the opposite of a Christian view. You may know a little about Jefferson’s somewhat hands-off relationship with Christianity and every other form of spirituality. He wasn’t a Christian. Still, and this is where you really see the power of The River in a person’s life, there are remarkable hints that Jefferson was open to aspects of Christianity. I’ve done a presentation on Jefferson and Christianity that goes much deeper into this question than you usually see in more atheistic perspectives on Jefferson’s spiritual attitudes.
· I ask it again—what if Patty had lived? How much different a leader would Tom have been? Substantially different, if you ask me.
· And what if the person plucked out of your life had lived?
· And then this last question—what will be the result of your death on someone else who sees you as the pivotal person in their leadership?