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Israel Jefferson
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Mary Lee Brady, Ph.D.

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The slave named Israel adopted his surname of Jefferson after the Civil War and had been a friend to Madison Hemings when both were childhood slaves at Monticello. 

The war was not only a very bloody affair but perhaps even more important demonstrated that even though truths had been crushed in the peculiar institution that ravaged the world of the slave wars, slave trade, legalized slavery and chattel slavery for centuries, ... the turn of the world tilted towards moral justice finally received by men like Israel Jefferson (Madison's childhood friend). 

"Madison Hemings died of Consumption on November 28, 1877, at the age of seventy-two. His death notice in the Probate Court records of Ross County, Ohio, II, 13."  The 1880 census lists his son James Hemings as living in Virginia as a White man as were other siblings and cousins who made similar choices.  Apparently William who joined the post-war Buffalo soldiers and Harriet who married a prominent African-American Civil War veteran ... decided to accept living as African-Americans in a society where color mattered most by most people they encountered most of the time.   The Civil War was indeed the Second American Revolution for freedom by millions of men, women and children of color in America. 

The mass media in Ohio and a few other union loyal states before and during the war had developed a generation of journalists and writers who gave us a knowledge of slavery that 20th century scholars for the most part chose to ignore in favor of ante-bellum claims that all plantations were like those of Washington and Jefferson.  The fact of the matter is that even the best of them like Monticello where slaves had the gift of life, their liberties and pursuit of happiness were not sufficient for generating better generations of African-Americans.  We do not blame Thomas Jefferson for the cursed institution that he was born into.   As a slave owner, he was far better than most other slave owners ever were or dared want to be.

His grandsons, like George Wythe Randolph inherited the institution that would utterly ruin their lives in a cause proven to be immoral and unable to exist without the brutality that created it. Thomas Jefferson had noted in his famed "Notes On The State of Virginia" that slavery had a bad effect on children like his grandson and their playmates such as Israel Jefferson.  For one, the Civil War was a curse, but for the other a blessing.  To the best of our knowledge, Madison nor his siblings displayed envy or hatred toward the numerous Randolph, Eppes and other offspring of their generation that they played with daily on the great mountain-top of a great man and mind in human history. But, Madison like his father must have known the tragic ending was a new beginning for his Randolph cousins.

It is a challenge for researchers to learn about the lives of the people who came up out of slavery.  We do not why each one decided which identity to use, but their choices did matter a lot in the stories that would be told and recorded about their journeys to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.  We suspect that Madison died a broken hearted man, having lost his two sons, countless cousins, both white and black, in addition to his beloved wife  Mary McCoy.  

 

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