Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson, born Martha Wayles (October 30 [O.S. October 19] 1748 – September 6, 1782) was the wife of Thomas Jefferson, who was the third President of the United States. She never became First Lady of the United States because she died long before her husband was elected to the presidency.
Her father was born in Lancaster and emigrated alone to Virginia in 1734, at the age of nineteen, leaving family in England. He was a lawyer. Martha's mother was a daughter of Francis Eppes of Bermuda Hundred and was a widow when Wayles married her. As part of her dowry, Patty's mother brought with her a personal slave, Susanna, who had an eleven year old daughter by the name of Elizabeth Hemings (Betty). Their marriage contract stipulated that mother and child were to remain the property of Patsy Eppes and her heirs forever or be returned to the Eppes family should there be no heirs. This is how the Hemingses came into the custody of Martha Wayles. Patsy Eppes Wayles died when Patty was three weeks old. Patty's father remarried Mary Cocke of Malvern Hill and had her half-sister Elizabeth, who married Patty's cousin and became the mother of John Wayles Eppes. After the death of his third wife, John Wayles took up with the slave Susanna and had several children, the famed Sally Hemings as well.
Patty first married Bathurst Skelton (1744-1768) and had one son, John Wayles Skelton (1767-1771). Skelton died in September of 1768 in Williamsburg after an accident. Her son, John, died suddenly of a fever on June 10, 1771, when Patty was already engaged to Jefferson.
She married her distant cousin Thomas Jefferson on January 1, 1772 at her father's house, the Forest. They had six children: Martha (Martha Jefferson Randolph, Patsy) (1772-1836), Jane Randolph (1774-1775), an unnamed son (b./d. 1777), Mary (Maria Jefferson Eppes, Polly) (1778-1804), Lucy Elizabeth (1780-1781), and Lucy Elizabeth (1782-1785).
Patty was in frail health for much of her marriage. She is believed to have suffered from diabetes, the cause of her childbearing problems. In the famous summer of 1776 she had suffered a miscarriage and was very ill, thus Jefferson's desperation to get out of Philadelphia as soon as possible.
Patty Jefferson was, according to her daughter and to eyewitness accounts (the French delegation), musical and highly educated, a constant reader, with the greatest fund of good nature, a vivacious temper which might sometimes border on tartness but which was completely subdued with her husband by her affection for him. She was a little over five feet tall, with a lithe figure, luxuriant auburn hair and hazel eyes. She played the keyboard and the guitar, and was an accomplished needlewoman. Her music book and several examples of her embroidery survive. It was she who instituted the brewing of beer at Monticello, which continued until her husband's death. She was much beloved by her neighbours, and a great patriot, raising funds for the cause before and after her tenure as First Lady of Virginia.
When she died, after the birth of her sixth child, Jefferson was distraught and for years suffered from deep depression. No miniature of her survives, although there are a silhouette and sketches of her daughter Maria Eppes, who resembled her mother. Other portraits, reputing to be of her, are of her daughter, Martha Jefferson Randolph.
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