Sally Hemings was Thomas Jefferson’s most famous slave, and believed to be the mother of several of the third American president’s children. In a piece for Slate, Max Perry Mueller reports that she was also posthumously baptized by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and may be “sealed” in an eternal marriage bond with Jefferson, in the church’s view:
On April 21, 1991, two members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints entered a baptismal font. One laid hands upon another and proclaimed, “having authority given me of Jesus Christ, I baptize you for and in behalf of Sally Hemings, who is dead.”
But the database does reveal that the LDS church recognizes Hemings as Jefferson’s wife — and also that every sacred ordinance (there are others in addition to sealing and baptism) has been performed on Hemings’ behalf. With all of this evidence, I strongly suspected that Hemings and Jefferson had been posthumously sealed as husband and wife. I asked the LDS Church to confirm my hunch. And in a rare move, the Church obliged: Sally Hemings and Tom Jefferson, I was told, have been posthumously sealed as husband and wife in an LDS Temple.
This obviously raises number of difficult questions. The nature of the Hemings-Jefferson relationship has been one of considerable historical debate. Could love actually pass between the most influential man in America and a mixed-race slave he owned? Could Hemings genuinely consent to Jefferson’s sexual advances? Could she really say no? Because slaves were denied control over their bodies, what went on between Hemings and Jefferson — and, of course, countless other slave masters and slaves in antebellum America — is rightly regarded by most as abusive. Perhaps on rare occasions these sexual acts involved true mutual intimacy; but because of the inherent power dynamic, today we’d consider this sex forced. We’d call it rape.
Sealing a slave master to his slave is at least as troubling as the baptism of Holocaust victims, the practice of which the LDS Church has officially condemned. Just last month, LDS leaders sent out a statement to every congregation and required that it be read over the pulpit; it declared that that the Church is “committed to taking action against individual abusers [who submit names of Holocaust victims for baptism] by suspending the submitter’s access privileges. We will also consider whether other Church disciplinary action should be taken.”
Read more at Slate.