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Martha Jefferson

At age 22, Martha Wayles Skelton was already a widow, an heiress, and a mother whose firstborn son would die in early childhood. Family tradition says she was accomplished, beautiful and wooed by many. When Thomas Jefferson came courting, perhaps a love of music cemented the romance. Jefferson played the violin, and he ordered his new bride a "forte-piano" for the home he was building at Monticello.

Martha was born on October 31, 1748. She married Jefferson at her childhood home near Williamsburg, Virginia, on New Year's Day, 1772. Reaching Monticello in a snowstorm after dark, the couple toasted their new house with a leftover bottle of wine and "song and merriment and laughter." That night, on their own mountaintop, the love of Martha and Thomas Jefferson seemed strong enough to endure any adversity.

The birth of their daughter Martha in September increased their happiness. In ten years the family gained five more children. Only two lived to grow up: Martha, called Patsy, and Mary, called Maria or Polly.

The strain of frequent pregnancies weakened Martha so gravely that Thomas curtailed his political activities to stay near her. He refused an appointment as a commissioner to France. Just after New Year's Day, 1781, a British invasion forced Martha to flee the capital in Richmond with an infant girl - who died in April. In June the family barely escaped an enemy raid on Monticello. She bore another daughter the following May, and never regained strength. Jefferson wrote on May 20 that her condition was dangerous. After months of tending her devotedly, he noted in his account book for September 6, 1782 "My dear wife died this day at 11-45 A.M."

For three weeks he shut himself in his room, pacing back and forth until exhausted. Slowly that first anguish spent itself. In November he agreed to serve as commissioner to France, eventually taking "Patsy" with him in 1784 and sending for "Polly" later.

When Jefferson became president in 1801, he had been a widower for 19 years. He had become as capable of handling social affairs as political matters. Occasionally he called on Dolley Madison for assistance. His daughter Patsy served as the lady of the President's House in the winter of 1802-1803. She was there again in 1805-1806, and gave birth to a son named for James Madison, the first child born in the White House. It was Patsy Randolph with her family who shared Jefferson's retirement at Monticello until he died there in 1826.

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