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John Wayles Eppes

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John Wayles Eppes
United States Senator
from Virginia
In office
March 4, 1817 – December 4, 1819
Preceded byArmistead T. Mason
Succeeded byJames Pleasants
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 16th district
In office
March 4, 1813 – March 3, 1815
Preceded byJames Pleasants
Succeeded byJohn Randolph
In office
March 4, 1803 – March 3, 1811
Preceded byAnthony New
Succeeded byJames Pleasants
Member of the
Virginia House of Delegates
from Chesterfield County
In office
December 7, 1801 – March 4, 1803
Preceded byThomas Augustus Taylor
Succeeded byIsaac Salle
Personal details
BornApril 1772
Eppington, Virginia Colony, British America
DiedSeptember 13, 1823(1823-09-13) (aged 51)
Buckingham County, Virginia, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic-Republican
(m. 1797; died 1804)
Martha Burke Jones
(m. 1809)
Children9, including Francis W. Eppes
Alma materHampden–Sydney College
ProfessionLawyer, planter, politician

John Wayles Eppes (April 1772 – September 13, 1823) was an American lawyer and politician. He represented Virginia in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1803 to 1811 and again from 1813 to 1815. He also served in the U.S. Senate (1817–1819). His positions in Congress occurred after he served in the Virginia House of Delegates representing Chesterfield County (1801–1803).[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Eppes was born in April 1772 at Eppington, in Chesterfield County in the Colony of Virginia, the sixth child and only son of Elizabeth (née Wayles) and Francis Eppes, who would serve one term in the House of Delegates a decade later.[2] A member of the First Families of Virginia, he was related through both his parents to Martha Jefferson, his mother's half-sister and the wife of Thomas Jefferson, with whom Eppes was close.[3][1]

After being taught by tutors as was customary in his planter class, Eppes attended the University of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia, and graduated from Hampden–Sydney College in Virginia in 1786. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1794, commencing practice in the state capital, Richmond.

Marriage and family[edit]

Eppes married his first cousin Mary Jefferson (known as "Polly" in childhood and "Maria" as an adult) on October 13, 1797, at Monticello.[1] They resided at Mont Blanco plantation in Chesterfield County, Virginia.

After several miscarriages,[4] Maria and John had three children:[3]

  • Unnamed daughter Eppes (December 31, 1799 – January 1800)[4]
  • Francis Wayles Eppes (September 20, 1801 – May 30, 1881)
  • Maria Jefferson Eppes (February 15, 1804 – February 1806)

Mary died at Monticello on April 17, 1804, two months after the birth of Maria, and is buried there.[3][5]

On April 15, 1809, Eppes married Martha Burke Jones, daughter of Willie Jones, a prominent North Carolina planter and politician. They had six children.[1]

Betsy Hemmings[edit]

After Mary's death, Eppes moved his household and slaves from Mont Blanco to another of his plantations called Millbrook in Buckingham County, Virginia. Among the slaves was Betsy Hemmings, the mixed-race daughter of Mary Hemings and granddaughter of Betty Hemings.[6][7] According to her descendants, Hemmings became a concubine to Eppes in a relationship that began when he was a young widower. She bore his son, Joseph, likely named for her brother.[8] She named their daughter Frances,[6] a name traditional among men in the Eppes family.[7] She lived at Milbrook for the rest of her life,[9] and when she died in 1857, was buried next to John Wayles Eppes in the family cemetery there.[6][10]

Political career[edit]

Eppes was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from 1801 to 1803 alongside Matthew Cheatham.[11] On March 4, 1803, he won election as a Democratic-Republican to the Eighth United States Congress and the next three succeeding Congresses, so he was frequently away from his plantations. He chaired the Ways and Means Committee for the Eleventh Congress but lost his re-election attempt so did not serve in the Twelfth, but instead spent the next two years at his Milbrook plantation.

Eppes won election to the Thirteenth Congress (March 4, 1813 – March 4, 1815) and again chaired the Committee on Ways and Means. After losing the election to the Fourteenth Congress, he was elected to the United States Senate and served from March 4, 1817, until December 4, 1819, when he resigned because of ill health. He chaired the Committee on Finance during the second session of the Fifteenth Congress.

Retirement and death[edit]

Late in life Eppes suffered from various ailments. He died at Millbrook on September 13, 1823, and was buried in the Eppes family cemetery at Millbrook.


  1. ^ a b c d Looney, J. Jefferson and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography (April 14, 2016). "John Wayles Eppes (1772–1823)". Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Retrieved January 10, 2019.
  2. ^ Cynthia Miller Leonard, The Virginia General Assembly 1619-1978 (Richmond: Virginia State Library p. 141
  3. ^ a b c "Maria Jefferson Eppes", Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia, Monticello website
  4. ^ a b Kerrison, Catherine (2018). Jefferson's Daughters: Three Sisters, White and Black, in a Young America. Ballantine Books. ISBN 978-1-101-88624-3.
  5. ^ "Persons Buried at the Monticello Graveyard, 1773 - 1997". Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia - Monticello website. Thomas Jefferson Foundation. Retrieved January 17, 2020.
  6. ^ a b c Jacques, Edna Bolling. "The Hemmings Family in Buckingham County, Virginia". buckinghamhemmings.com. Retrieved January 10, 2019.
  7. ^ a b "Betsy Hemmings", Hemings Family/People of the Plantation, Monticello, accessed February 14, 2011
  8. ^ Annette Gordon-Reed, The Hemingses of Monticello, New York: W.W. Norton, 2008, Frontispiece: "The Hemings Family Tree-1," pp. 127-128
  9. ^ "Betsy Hemmings: Loved by a Family, but What of Her Own?", Plantation & Slavery/Life after Monticello, Monticello, February 14, 2011
  10. ^ Laura B. Randolph, "THE THOMAS JEFFERSON/SALLY HEMINGS CONTROVERSY: Did Jefferson Also Father Children By Sally Hemings' Sister?" Archived January 19, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, Ebony, February 1999, accessed February 16, 2011
  11. ^ Leonard pp. 223, 227

External links[edit]

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 16th congressional district

March 4, 1803 – March 4, 1811
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 16th congressional district

March 4, 1813 – March 4, 1815
Succeeded by
U.S. Senate
Preceded by U.S. senator (Class 2) from Virginia
March 4, 1817 – December 4, 1819
Served alongside: James Barbour
Succeeded by