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Col John Wayles Jefferson
Birth: May 8, 1835
Death: Jul. 12, 1892

John Wayles Jefferson (May 8, 1835 - July 12, 1892) was born free in Charlottesville, Virginia, likely a grandson of President Thomas Jefferson. His birth name was John Wayles Hemings. The eldest son of Eston Hemings (1808-1856) and Julia Ann Isaacs Hemings (1814-1889), he was the grandson of Sarah (Sally) Hemings, a slave owned by Thomas Jefferson. DNA tests in 1998 confirmed that a male descendant of John's brother, Beverly, was descended from the male Jefferson line, which has confirmed for most people the family's claim of descent from Thomas Jefferson. On that basis and the weight of historical evidence, John Wayles Jefferson is believed to have been a grandson of Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson's father-in-law, John Wayles, is believed to have been John's great-grandfather: most historians credit the rumor that Wayles was the father of both Jefferson's wife, Martha Wayles, born to one of his wives, and Sally Hemings, whose mother was the enslaved woman Betty Hemings.

John's father Eston Hemings was born a slave at Monticello in 1808, the youngest of Sally Hemings' six children. Eston was freed in 1829 at the age of 21, as provided for in President Jefferson's will. The following year, Eston purchased property in Charlottesville, on which he and his brother Madison built a house. Their mother Sally lived with them until her death in 1835.

Eston married Julia Ann Isaacs, a mixed-race daughter of wealthy Jewish merchant David Isaacs from Germany, and Ann (Nancy) West, a free woman of color. John Wayles Jefferson was born in Charlottesville in 1835. His first and middle name were after his paternal great-grandfather John Wayles.

After his mother died, Eston Hemings moved his family to Chillicothe, Ohio for several years. It had a thriving free black community. In 1852, after passage of the Fugitive Slave Act increased the danger to the African-American community as slave catchers came to Ohio, the family moved to Madison, Wisconsin, the state capital. There Eston changed his name to Eston H. Jefferson; his children also adopted the new surname, and the family passed as white.

John W. Jefferson entered the United States Army on August 26, 1861, at Madison, Wisconsin. He took command of the Wisconsin 8th Infantry during the American Civil War. On September 28, 1861 he was promoted to Major; to Lieutenant Colonel on April 23, 1863; and to Colonel on June 16, 1864. He fought in significant battles of the war and was wounded at Vicksburg and during the Siege of Corinth. He was mustered out of service on October 11, 1864 at Madison, Wisconsin. His brother, William Beverly Jefferson also served as a white man in the Civil War. His cousins James Madison Hemings and Thomas Eston Hemings served in the United States Colored Troops.

According to his service records, John had red hair and gray eyes.[2] Because of his mostly white ancestry and appearance, there was no reason for his troops to suspect African heritage. In 1902, a former neighbor recalled:

...and I saw and talked with one of the sons, during the Civil War, who was then wearing the silver leaves of a lieutenant colonel, and in command of a fine regiment of white men from a north-western state. He begged me not to tell the fact that he had colored blood in his veins, which he said was not suspected by any of his command; and of course I did not.

John was a newspaper correspondent during and after the war. He later moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where he became a prominent businessman, buying and selling cotton as the owner of the Continental Cotton Company. Prior to entering military service, he and his younger brother Beverly had successfully managed the American House hotel in Madison, Wisconsin.

Jefferson died on June 12, 1892 and was interred in Madison, Wisconsin, in a family plot at Forest Hill Cemetery. He never married.

Family links: 
  Eston Hemings Jefferson (1808 - 1856)
  Julia Ann Isaacs Jefferson (1814 - 1889)
  John Wayles Jefferson (1835 - 1892)
  Annie W. Jefferson Pearson (1836 - 1866)*
  Beverly Frederick Jefferson (1838 - 1908)*
*Calculated relationship
Forest Hill Cemetery
Dane County
Wisconsin, USA
Plot: Section 3, Lot 018, Grave
Created by: Laurie
Record added: Aug 24, 2009
Find A Grave Memorial# 41104369
Col John Wayles Jefferson
Added by: Andrew Daft
Col John Wayles Jefferson
Added by: Laurie
Col John Wayles Jefferson
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