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Biographical Sketch

Martha Wayles was born at The Forest Plantation in Charles City County, VA on October 31, 1748, daughter of John Wayles and Martha Eppes. She married her first husband Bathurst Skelton (1744-1768) on November 20, 1766, with whom she had one son, John Skelton (1767-1771). On January 1, 1772, Martha Wayles Skelton married Thomas Jefferson. 1

Like her mother, who died just under a week after giving birth to her only daughter, Martha Wayles Skelton suffered difficulties recovering from childbirth, and ultimately complications from the birth of her sixth child with Thomas Jefferson resulted in her death almost four months later on September 6, 1782. Only two children of her seven live births survived to adulthood. Daughters Mary Jefferson Eppes (1778-1804) died in childbirth at twenty-six years old and Martha Jefferson Randolph (1772-1836) died at sixty-three years of age, the only child to outlive her father. 2

In a letter written from Edmund Randolph in Richmond, VA to James Madison dated September 20, 1782, Randolph wrote "Mrs. Jefferson has at last shaken off her tormenting pains by yielding to them, and has left our friend inconsolable. I ever thought him to rank domestic happiness in the first class of the chief good; but I scarcely supposed, that his grief would be so violent, as to justify the circulating report, of his swooning away, whenever he sees his children." 3

There are few extant documents written in Martha's hand, one which is available in to view in the William & Mary Special Collections Research Center contains one of those rare documents, which is a letter promoting a scheme of financial, material and personal support of all women in the country to help offset the challenges of war, which was published anonymously but is contributed to Ester Reed of Philadelphia in a document entitled The Sentiments of an American Woman.4 This document devised a method for each state to raise support for the American Revolution through women canvassing their own neighborhoods to collect and count funds locally, and ultimately advance those funds by county to the wife of each state's governor, and then directly to Martha Washington who would ensure her husband received the benefit directly, without any interference of its use from Congress.

Materials in the Special Collections Research Center

Further Reading

  1. Thomas Jefferson Foundation Inc. (US). February, 2003. Accessed October 5, 2016.
  2. Kukla, Jon. Mr. Jefferson's Women (Kindle Locations 3880-3885). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
  3. "To James Madison from Edmund Randolph, 20 September 1782," Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016, [Original source: The Papers of James Madison, vol. 5, 1 August 1782---31 December 1782, ed. William T. Hutchinson and William M. E. Rachal. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1967, pp. 150-152.] Accessed October 11, 2016.
  4. [The sentiments of an American woman. On the commencement of actual war, the women of America manifested a firm resolution to contribute as much as could depend on them, to the deliverance of their country. Recalling the patriotism of women of o]. Philadelphia, 1780. Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, Accessed October 11, 2016.


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A note about the contents of this site

This website contains the best available information from known sources at the time it was written. Unfortunately, many of the early original records of William & Mary were destroyed by fires, military occupation, and the normal effects of time. The information in this website is not complete, and it changes as we continue to research and uncover new sources.