Jefferson's Slave Was French Master Chef

November 7, 2011

Many people know the name of Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson's mistress, who apparently bore several children with the founding father. Perhaps, though, we should also know the name of her brother, James. Despite being born into slavery, James went to Europe with Jefferson during the 1780s and became a master French chef

In 1784, Jefferson was appointed minister to France and journeyed to Paris. Realizing, however, that he would not stay forever, Jefferson decided to train somebody to prepare his favorite French dishes back on his farm in Virginia. Hemings was that man. In spite of the fact that he was technically a free man upon setting foot in France, Hemings stayed with Jefferson and ultimately returned with him to Virginia (and into a life of slavery).

During their time in France, Jefferson promised to free Hemings but he delayed in doing so because he enjoyed the man's company (and cooking). Finally, he agreed. If Hemings would train someone else in the art of French cooking, Jefferson would grant him freedom. This done, Hemings began to journey throughout Europe and America. Ultimately, his alcoholism caught up with him and he committed suicide in 1801. 

For more on this incredible story, read the full article in The Daily. 

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Jenny's picture

Sally didn't father any children. She bore children, fathered by Jefferson. I realize the point of the article is food, but technical errors like this one make some readers stop reading.

Sheri Wetherell's picture

Thanks for catching the error. Mistakes do happen.