Passing

 

Everyone says I look like my father.

Well, everyone “below stairs,” as it were, and even then they speak of it only in whispers.

As for guests, the naked shock on their faces as they look at my father sitting at the head of the table and then at me, standing behind his chair, and their gaze, as it travels around the table from my sister Harriet to my younger brothers Eston and Madison, also standing behind the guests, tells me they know perfectly well who sired us.

But it must never be mentioned. That’s the rule. Once a journalist even tried to accuse Father of causing our existence, but Father would not deign to comment. He doesn’t acknowledge us as his offspring at all, even though Mother wrote our names and dates of birth in her Bible. I was born April 1, 1798. Mother calls me by my middle name, Beverly[1].

Of course, we never address him as “Father,” even when we’re with Mother and he enters her room. We address him as “Mr. Jefferson.”

It’s no wonder the guests are shocked: my sister, my two younger brothers, and I, William Beverly, are all seven-eighths White. Our mother, christened Sarah but known as Sally, is three-fourths White, which makes her what they call a quadroon.

You understand, there was a time when my mother and her brother James were both free. That was when Father was living in France, and Mother and James lived with him. They were even paid for their daytime work, herself as maid and seamstress and James as chef. They used the money he paid them to learn French. The only reason Mother consented to return with Father to Monticello was his promise that all their children would be freed from slavery as soon as they reached the age of twenty-one. She was expecting her first child at the time, so she wanted to be with her mother, Betty, as women do in that situation.

With this in mind, Father had us boys apprenticed to the plantation carpenter so we could earn our livings when we gained our freedom at age twenty-one. I didn’t like carpentry. Unbeknownst to anyone, I would spend every moment I could with my Uncle James, learning how to cook and even to speak a little French.

The day came at last. I was twenty-one years old, according to my mother’s Bible. I ran away to Washington, D.C. There, although I passed for White, I sought employment in the kitchen of a tavern, where few but the other kitchen workers would see me. I changed my name to William Beverly, dropping the “Hemings.”

I never saw or communicated with my father again. Let me tell you, life as a free man who is paid for my hard work, even though I’m a chef in a hot kitchen, is a thousand times better than life as a slave at Monticello!

Call me Bill. Just plain Bill.

 

The End

 

[1] In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was common to give the names Beverly, Joyce, Shirley, and Vivian to male children. Those have now become female names.

N. B. According to our 21st-century standards, Thomas Jefferson was guilty of statutory rape, defilement of a minor child, and teen endangerment (impregnating a 16-year-old).

Is it any wonder that Beverly, as his mother called him, chose to pass into the White population? Can you imagine the utter humiliation of having to wait on your own father like a servant, and of having him never publicly acknowledge you? Running away was the only opportunity Beverly had for living a happy life.

Slavery is a horrible stain on the soul of America.

 

 

About Diana in NoVa 36 Articles
I'm quite literally an old Witch. In my spare time I follow politics, write fiction about those who follow the Pagan path, keep house (not terribly successfully), and hang out on the Moose, Facebook, and sometimes the Great Orange Satan. I'm a nanny-granny to three adorable grandchildren and the granny of two who are quite grown up. Sisterhood is powerful!

4 Comments

  1. The more I’ve learned about our “heroes”, the less heroic and more evil they prove themselves to be/have been. This is a very good story, one that should be read to/by children at least by mid-elementary level.

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