Being the daughter of a full-blood African American woman, Betty Hemmings was born into slavery in the year 1736. She was property to a man named John Wayles, a planter, slave trader, and lawyer who owned multiple plantations in the Virginia Colony. The plantation where Betty Hemmings resided most of her life was named Monticello. This plantation was home to John Wayles and his family, Betty, her thirteen children, and more than one hundred other slaves. Betty was a domestic servant who mainly attended to the children and elderly who lived within the household. She also did most of the cleaning and other household maintenance that needed to be done. Her master John Wayles had three wives, all of which died and left him a widow. After his third wife died, he took Betty and made her his concubine. Many historians over the years have come to the conclusion that John and Betty had six children together, one of the children being named Sally Hemmings that we will learn about in the following blogs.
After the Seven Year’s War Britain suffered a huge amount of debt. “To enhance revenue, the British tightened enforcement of the customs laws, so long evaded by colonists” (Taylor, 95). In order to pay off the debt Britain obtained from the war, the government decided to charge more taxes on the colonies. By creating these additional taxes, it allowed more money to be sent to Britain and began the start to lower the war debt.
In 1764, Parliament passed the Sugar Act, which was an attempt to raise revenue in the colonies by adding a tax to molasses. One year later, in 1765, Parliament passed the Stamp Act. This act placed taxes on paper, playing cards, and any form of legal documents that were either made or used in the colonies. Both of these acts were passed as another way to bring money in to help Britain lower their debt.
During this time Betty Hemmings and her family, along with all of the other slaves who lived at the Monticello plantation, never paid taxes. Because they were slaves they were considered “property.” Slave traders and other people who owned slaves payed taxes on their property (land, slaves, etc.), but also earned money by owning slaves. After the Seven Year’s War ended, and looking forward to the next ten years, Betty Hemmings and her family never had to worry about taxes because it was not something they ever had to pay for. Knowing that the French and the British were both fighting during the Seven Year’s War for additional territory, the slaves were afraid that the French and British would conquer the plantations that they lived on and their family could be separated. Little did they realize that once these new acts were put in place, it could shape the way of society for many years to come.
The people of Britain thought these new acts were great choices made by King George III and Parliament. It gave them new opportunities to bring money into the country and pay off the debt they brought upon themselves after the Seven Years War. What they did not take into consideration was the impact these new taxes had on the colonists. Men who owned slaved had to pay taxes on their land and slaves, along with all of their other belongings. With these new taxes laid on them by the British, they had to find new ways to bring in some form of income to make sure they wouldn’t lose their property or personal belongings. More importantly, they did not want to lose their slaves because slaves were huge investments during this time.
Alan Taylor, The Divided Ground: Indians, Settlers, and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution (New York: Knopf, 2006).
Library of Congress (www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/timeline/amrev/britref/). 2017. (Accessed on January 18, 2017).