Did Thomas Jefferson really father the children of Sally Hemings?
Did Thomas Jefferson, the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence, really father the children of his slave Sally Hemings? I don’t think so.
Yes, I know all about the DNA evidence that established in 1998 that the descendants of Sally’s son Eston had the same DNA as descendants of the Jefferson family. This proves that Sally’s children were fathered by a Jefferson, but not necessarily Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States.
In his lifetime, Jefferson freed only two of his slaves and allowed two others to “escape” with his consent. In his will, Jefferson freed five more of his slaves. All of the slaves that were given their freedom by Jefferson were in the Hemings family. The reason that Jefferson didn’t free more of his slaves in his lifetime is because they would have had to leave the state of Virginia which had a law that no free African-Americans could reside in the state. That means that the former slaves would have had to leave their friends and families behind and make it on their own in some new community. For this reason, Jefferson got special permission for Eston Hemings and Madison Hemings to live in Virginia after they were free.
In 1873, Madison Hemings, an alleged son of Jefferson, wrote a memoir in which he claimed that the father of Sally’s six living children was Thomas Jefferson, Sally’s owner. He claimed that Sally had a son named Thomas who was born in 1790; Thomas was allegedly conceived in France in 1789 when Jefferson was living there as the American Ambassador and Sally was the maid and companion of Jefferson’s 9-year-old daughter Polly (Maria).
Sally’s mother was Betty Hemings, the daughter of a white man named Hemings and a slave women. Jefferson’s wife was Martha Wayles, the daughter of John Wayles who was also the father of Sally. So Jefferson’s wife and Sally were half-sisters. When John Wayles died, he willed all of his slaves to his daughter, Martha, who was then married to Thomas Jefferson, so Sally became the property of Jefferson since married women did not own property of their own back then.
By all accounts, Sally Hemings was “almost white” and very beautiful with straight black hair. Sally was one fourth African American, or a “quadroon” in the language of that time. Her children were “octoroons” or one eighth African American. Beverly Hemings, the son of Sally, passed for white and married a white woman. Sally’s daughter Harriet also passed for white.
So why do I think that Jefferson was not the father of Sally’s children? Thomas Jefferson was a prude and he was a shy person. He was probably a virgin when he married a widow woman; after she died, Jefferson never remarried. Instead of looking for a new wife, Jefferson treated his daughter Martha as his constant companion. His daughter fulfilled Jefferson’s emotional need for female companionship.
When Jefferson would come home from Washington, DC to Monticello, he would first go to his daughter Martha’s house and he would not leave until she agreed to accompany him to Monticello. Many other relatives would also come to Monticello when Jefferson was there. Those who claim that Jefferson was the father of Sally’s children point out that Sally never conceived a child while Jefferson was absent from Monticello. However, when Jefferson was in residence at Monticello, there were many other members of the Jefferson family there. Would Jefferson have left his beloved daughter, Martha, to go down to the slave quarters of Sally Hemings to have sex with her. I don’t think so.
While he was in Paris, Jefferson met and fell in love with a married woman named Angelica Schuyler Church, the daughter of a Revolutionary War hero. He corresponded with her for the rest of his life. While he was pouring out his love for a married woman in numerous letters, would Jefferson have been having sex with a 15-year-old slave girl? I don’t think so.
What really caused me to make up my mind that Jefferson was not having sex with Sally is when I learned that Thomas Jefferson designed the draperies for the windows at Monticello. Jefferson invented and designed many things, including furniture, but draperies? A man who would concern himself with designing draperies would not go down to a smoky slave cabin and have sex with a teen-aged girl. No, Jefferson was too cultured and sophisticated for that.
Thomas Jefferson invented the “alcove bed.” This was a small, narrow bed built between two walls. If Jefferson had been cavorting with a teen-aged slave, wouldn’t he have invented something more practical, like a king sized bed?
Another invention of Jefferson was a “dumbwaiter” for bringing wine up from the basement. The kitchen where the slaves prepared the meals was in the basement. Instead of having a slave bring the wine to the dining room, Jefferson invented a way to get the wine to the table without have to see one of his slaves. Why go to all that trouble if he didn’t mind seeing his slaves?
But a “dumbwaiter” wasn’t enough. Jefferson also invented a revolving door so that the slaves could put the food on a shelf on the outside of the door, and when the door revolved around, the people inside the dining room could take the food off the shelf without having to see the slaves. Jefferson is also credited with inventing the “lazy Susan” which is an revolving platform to hold food at the table so that the food does not have to be passed around. By having a “lazy Susan,” Jefferson’s guests didn’t have to see his slaves serving the food.
Before he left for France to serve as the American Ambassador, Jefferson had never paid any attention to Sally Hemings and didn’t know who she was. He took his older daughter, Martha, with him to France. Then in 1787, he requested that 9-year-old Polly be brought over with a slave woman named Isabel as her maid and companion. When Isabel couldn’t make it because she had just had a baby, 14-year-old Sally was sent instead.
John and Abigail Adams met Polly and Sally at the dock in London and Abigail immediately wrote to Jefferson that Sally was too immature for the job and that she should be sent back. However, Jefferson allowed Sally to stay and she was with him in France for 26 months. Sally’s brother James Hemings had accompanied Jefferson to France so that he could be trained as a chef.
While Sally and James were in France, they were legally free, but Jefferson had made a deal with James to give him his freedom after he returned and taught the cooks at Monticello to prepare French food. In 1789, Jefferson returned with Sally and James. At that time, Jefferson was 46 years old and his wife had been dead for 7 years. He could have easily remarried, but he didn’t.
In 1802, a newspaper published the story of Sally, whom they called Jefferson’s concubine. This was politically motivated; it was intended to smear Jefferson as unworthy to hold public office. But was it true? I don’t think so.
Did Jefferson Sleep with Sally Hemings?
By Robert F. Turner
Mr. Turner is the Associate Director at the Center for National Security Law, University of Virginia School of Law.
In May the descendants of Thomas Jefferson's daughters (Martha and Maria) voted by a margin of 93 percent to deny admission to the descendants of Sally Hemings, the slave woman who was alleged to have been his "concubine" in Paris and thereafter and to have given him several children. The press and liberal pundits have had a field day denouncing the descendants as racists and bigots. The charge is unfair. Honorable people may disagree about the meaning of the very limited evidence that exists, but the case that Thomas Jefferson fathered children by Sally Hemings is far weaker than is popularly believed.
To begin with, the allegation was first publicized in September 1802 by a disreputable scandalmonger names James Callender, who had earlier libeled Washington, Hamilton, and Adams. Callender was trying to blackmail Jefferson into naming him postmaster of Richmond, and when the job was refused he wrote a series of libelous articles which he characterized as "ten thousand fold vengeance" against the president designed to assure that he would not be reelected. Few seem to have believed the allegations, and Jefferson was reelected by a landslide (162-14 electoral votes).
Callender's case was premised upon the existence of "President Tom," a mulatto child allegedly conceived by Jefferson and Hemings in Paris in 1789. There is no record of any such child in Jefferson's papers, but a strong oral history identifies him as Thomas Woodson. But six different DNA tests in 1998, involving male descendants of three different sons of Thomas Woodson, proved that Woodson could not possibly have been Thomas Jefferson's child unless Jefferson himself was illegitimate. (No DNA from Thomas Jefferson is available.)
With the exception of Fawn Brodie (whose book was panned by historians across the political spectrum), until 1997 three was an overwhelming consensus by Jefferson historians that the accusation was false. After all, in Notes on the State of Virginia (1781), Jefferson specifically denounced the despotic sexual exploitation of slave women and focused especially on its harmful effects upon the master's own children. Yet we are asked to believe that six or seven years later he began a sexual relationship with the slave child who was the maid to his own beloved daughters. There is not a single incident to my knowledge in his life after the death of Martha that suggests such reckless behavior, and it is extremely difficult to believe that he would have entrusted his cherished reputation to the discretion of a child who Abigail Adams had described (while watching Sally for three weeks in London on her way to Paris) as lacking the maturity of Jefferson's eight-year-old daughter Polly.
The only comments that survive about Sally's abilities related to that period and are in accord on Sally's immaturity and inability to serve even as a baby-sitter. Her son Madison was alleged to have claimed that he taught himself to read with the help of Jefferson's white grandchildren, which certainly suggests that Sally Hemings was illiterate. Observers who praised other members of the Hemings family at Monticello for their skills limited their comments on Sally to her "handsome" or "pretty" appearance and almost white skin. And excluding her appearance on lists of slaves (where she was treated exactly like other members of her family), everything we really know about Sally Hemings from surviving records could be put on an index card and provides not the slightest hint that she was sophisticated or influential at Monticello. Her son Madison (who under Virginia law at the time probably had enough white "blood" to be legally considered white--and, like Sally, was recorded as being "white" in the 1801 Charlottesville census) reportedly acknowledged that President Jefferson paid no attention to him even in private. Given the love Jefferson showed to his known children, this is totally inconsistent with the theory that he and Sally were madly in love with each other and Madison was their child.
The DNA tests were grossly misrepresented in much of the press. They excluded Thomas Woodson as a possible child of Thomas Jefferson and found it extremely likely that Eston Hemings was fathered by one of more than two-dozen Jefferson males in Virginia at the time. If we ignore other variables (like known presence at Monticello, but also personal character, age, health, and the like), the DNA tests suggest a less than 4 percent probability that the 64-year-old Thomas Jefferson fathered Eston.
We will likely never know who fathered Eston Hemings, and if it was not Thomas Jefferson the issue is of little importance to most of us. Among the likely candidates are Thomas Jefferson's much younger and less cerebral brother, Randolph, and at least four of Randolph's five sons (ranging in age from about seventeen to twenty-seven when Eston was conceived). One of the few surviving letters from Thomas Jefferson to Randolph was written about a week before the period during which experts project that Eston was probably conceived, and it informed Randolph that his much-beloved twin sister (Anna Scott Marks) had just arrived for a visit; perhaps, it was suggested, Randolph could visit, too. Advocates of the Hemings story emphasize that there is no "proof" that Randolph accepted the invitation. This is true. But Randolph was such a frequent guest that Jefferson did not normally record his visits. Indeed, if one relies only upon visits documented in Jefferson's records (which would occur in connection with some other matter, such as if Randolph were to need a legal document that survived or to bring or do something that warranted comment in a letter to someone else), it would appear that Randolph sometimes waited more than a decade between visits (which we know is not true).
There being no Disney World at the time, it was common for such family visits to last for weeks at a time. August would be a particularly convenient time for such a visit, as crops would probably have been planted but not ready for harvesting. Given Randolph's known fondness for his twin sister, and the absence of any letter explaining why he could not visit, the most logical presumption is that Randolph and his boys made the trip and probably stayed through the entire time during which Eston was likely conceived. Thomas Jefferson had other relatives who might also have visited at that time without leaving behind any surviving documentation.
HEMINGS FAMILY CHANGES ITS STORY
Until Fawn Brodie persuaded them they were mistaken, the descendants of Eston Hemings were told that his father was not the famous president but "an uncle." Randolph Jefferson was widely known as "Uncle Randolph" at Monticello (because of his relationship to Jefferson's daughters). An investigator who believed the Jefferson-Hemings story half-a-century ago reported that Hemings descendants had told her that Randolph fathered children by his own slaves. The book Memoirs of a Monticello Slave, by former Monticello blacksmith Isaac Jefferson, reported that when Randolph visited Monticello he would spend his nights playing his fiddle and dancing "half the night" with Monticello slaves.
Then there is the apparent (but uncertain) coincidence of Sally's children likely being born between the death of Randolph's first wife and his remarriage about the time Jefferson returned home after his second term as president. Sally would have been about thirty-four then, yet she had no more known children. An affidavit from Jefferson used in the dispute over his late brother's will testifies that Randolph's second wife was a controlling woman who might well have put a stop to his fondness for strolling down to the slave quarters when they visited Monticello.
RACISM ISN'T A FACTOR
At their 1999 and 2000 annual meetings, Jefferson's descendants listened to a number of advocates of the Hemings story and apparently found it believable. Some of them were no doubt a bit shocked and disappointed to hear that the long-dismissed rumors were true, but they seemed not only prepared to accept it and move on but to even react negatively to the small number of disbelievers who they felt would reinforce the Hemings allegation that family members "could not accept the idea that a white man might find love in the arms of a black woman." I've heard and read that statement several times from the Hemings side, but I've not even heard second-hand accounts of any white Jefferson descendant suggesting it was an issue.
Even if a small number of them were racists (which is certainly possible), the reality is that Sally Hemings was not really a "black woman." Like so many Americans today, she was a mixture of more than one race--but predominantly white. Every surviving account of her appearance emphasizes her "might near white" appearance, and the 1830 Charlottesville census taker marked her down as "white."
The point that I hear repeatedly emphasized by those who find the allegation "out of character" for Thomas Jefferson is that the allegation begins the relationship in Paris where by all accounts Sally was a very young and immature child lacking the judgment of Jefferson's eight-year-old daughter Polly. More importantly, as a slave Sally had no right (and probably no concept) of "consent." Morally speaking, for Thomas Jefferson to have become sexually involved with Sally Hemings in Paris would be akin to a teacher or minister engaging in sex with a child entrusted to his care. Thomas Jefferson was on record in strong opposition to the sexual exploitation of even mature slave women, and one of his arguments was that the relationship was harmful to the master's children. Sally Hemings was not just an immature slave, she was the maid to both of Jefferson's beloved daughters.
THOMAS JEFFERSON HERITAGE SOCIETY
The small group of Jefferson defenders joined together with like-minded people from outside the family and set up the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society (TJHS). They were so convinced that the facts were on their side that they took an interesting gamble, and asked a blue-ribbon group of more than a dozen scholars to examine the evidence anew and issue a public report.
For reasons that I was never told but have assumed had to do with the unwillingness of more senior scholars to take on the administrative burdens of the job, I was asked the chair the "Scholars Commission." I had been a student of Thomas Jefferson for about three decades, and one of their members learned of my existence through a mutual friend. I agreed to take on the task only under certain conditions, all designed to guarantee both the perception and reality of a fair process. They had earlier contacted several scholars, and I went over their list and excluded everyone who was not at least a full professor (most were chaired professors or had served as departmental chairs, graduate program chairs, or the like). No one was to receive so much as a penny in compensation for their work, so it could not be claimed that we were influenced to reach a particular conclusion. I wanted complete control for the Commission to set its own rules, pick its own members, and conduct its work completely independent of the TJHS.
They accepted my terms, and the only effort of which I became aware to modify them was when they learned I had invited Forrest McDonald to join the Commission. He was very open in telling me that he was not a Jefferson fan and had known of the Hemings story for decades, since he was an Associate Professor at Brown when Winthrop Jordan was writing White Over Black there. I replied that I was delighted, because his anti-Jefferson bias would balance my own admiration for Jefferson. (I, too, had accepted the Hemings story when I learned that Monticello had confirmed it was true--until I read their report.) When someone in the TJHS learned that McDonald was on the commission, he/she/they suggested that there needed to be a rule that no dissenting opinion could be longer that "x" number of pages. (I don't think a specific figure was ever suggested.) I responded that if they wanted me to remain as chair and as a member of the group, there would be no limits on dissenting views, and they quickly withdrew the proposal. I didn't know at that time how the final vote would come out, but I was determined that it would be a fair process.
Readers can learn more about the Scholars Commission and read the full text of our report (originally 550-pages with more than 800 footnotes, although it was later reduced to a shorter length by converting it to single-spaced Times Roman text) on the web at: http://www.geocities.com/tjshcommission. It will be published (later this year or early in 2003) by Carolina Academic Press (CAP - The Jefferson-Hemings Controversy).
We concluded unanimously that the case was not proven, and with but a single mild dissent (by another clear critic of Jefferson) that he was probably not the father of Eston or any other Hemings child. The story is contrary to everything we know about Thomas Jefferson's character. It is contrary to the eye-witness testimony of Edmund Bacon, Monticello overseer at the time of Eston's conception, who reported having frequently observed a man other than Thomas Jefferson leaving Sally's room early in the morning while arriving for work. No one who was close to Jefferson at the time the children were born is alleged to have believed the story, and many of his Federalist enemies disbelieved it because they knew Callender's reputation.
Monticello was crawling with visitors when Jefferson was present (as many as 50 strangers would show up at a time expecting to be put up, fed, and entertained for sometimes weeks at a time), yet there is not a scrap of paper suggesting that any of them saw the slightest hint of a sexual relationship between Jefferson and Sally Hemings. No one saw her sneaking into the house at night, or him sneaking out, or the two of them walking off into a field, or so much as a suggestive glance between them. There is no record that Sally ever alleged the story was true. (She was also libeled by Callender, who referred to her as a "slut" and called her children a "yellow litter.")
This, by the way, raises another problem with the whole story: Sally may well not even have lived in the same building with Thomas Jefferson in Paris except for a brief period as they prepared to return to Virginia. Jefferson's daughters Patsy and Polly lived in a convent across town that had accommodations for servants. Letters from Paris classmates written to Patsy at Monticello asked to be remembered to "Sally"--establishing that people at the convent knew Sally Hemings. Advocates of the Sally story argue that it was possible the classmates met Sally while visiting Jefferson's residence. But we must ask whether they would be more likely to make reference to a servant they encountered briefly during a home visit, or to have sent their regards to a servant who lived at the convent and with whom they interacted on a regular basis. We can't be certain, as there is no documentation on where Sally lived or what she did in Paris other than that she was apparently the servant to Jefferson's daughters. But no one who lived at or visited Jefferson's residence made any reference to her.
If Sally had been influential and the "lady of the house" as Callender suggested, surely someone would have recorded such a role. Many visitors wrote about their visits to Monticello, but none of them suggested that the Callender story was true.
THE HEALING LIE
One individual who I am told read our report agreed that we were correct in our conclusions, but nevertheless was angry because we had "killed the healing lie." The theory was that it is important to sacrifice the reputation for another "dead white male" in order to promote diversity and make everyone feel good. I have several problems with that.
First of all, I don't perceive it to be the role of the scholar to lie to the public to promote some political agenda. Finding the truth is often very difficult, but that ought to be our goal.
Secondly, as Henry Steele Commager pointed out in his foreword to one edition of Jefferson's Farm and Garden books, no Virginian (and probably no American) did more than Thomas Jefferson to oppose slavery. I don't have time to summarize all of his contributions, but the 13th Amendment is largely taken from a report Jefferson submitted to the Continental Congress and he repeatedly jeopardized his political viability by denouncing slavery. He inserted anti-slavery language in the Declaration of Independence until South Carolina and Georgia refused to sign if it was not removed. Ultimately, I think he realized that it was better to win independence from Great Britain and then work on the slavery issue rather than dividing the country when the freedom of all Americans was at risk.
Even Joseph Ellis acknowledges Jefferson could have passed a polygraph test on his belief that his own slaves were better off under his care than had they been turned loose to fend for themselves. Jefferson argued that, until they could persuade the people to end the evil practice by law, those entrusted with the care of slaves had a duty to treat them fairly, provide for their care, and demand of them no more than they would demand of a hired laborer.
To be sure, looking back from the 21st Century we can agree that this was not properly his decision to make, and that even Monticello slaves lived a harsh life and deserved their freedom. Jefferson was incredibly paternalistic by today's standards--indeed, when he set out a schedule for his daughter he filled it with so many "lessons" that there was no break for lunch.
Jefferson bought and sold slaves. But often that was to unite families or to fulfill the expressed wishes of individual slaves. In the end, he clearly wanted to free all of his slaves, but he was more than $100,000 in debt and, as "property" under Virginia law, his slaves were as subject to the claims of his creditors as his house and land.
I've only scratched the surface of this issue. My point is that, of all the Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson (with all his imperfections) was the man who cried out for equality and justice. He ought to be as much a hero to African-Americans as Martin Luther King ought to be to European- and Asian-Americans. Instead, we are told that we should embrace the lies of James Callender, who wrote the "Black Sal" story because he assumed that all Americans would be as revulsed at the idea of interracial love as he was. And we are told it is more important to promote the myth that Sally Hemings was a "sophisticated" and "influential" woman--for which there is not the slightest bit of evidence--than to uphold the character of Thomas Jefferson.
No one is saying that Jefferson ought to be admired because he was less cruel to his slaves than were his neighbors. Slavery was evil, he knew that, and we would all have been happier had he never owned a single slave. Indeed, the only people who might not have been happier were those slaves who belonged to him, because by every surviving slave account he was recognized to have been unusually kind--probably kinder than the masters who would have owned them had he not been around. But that is only to say that he was perhaps "less evil" than others who owned human beings as "property."
On September 11th, religious fanatics murdered 4,000 innocent people. If there is an antithesis to Osama bin Laden, it is Thomas Jefferson, whose Declaration of Religious Freedom continues to stand as a landmark of religious tolerance and human freedom. Even if he didn't always live up to his ideals, the ideals he left to us were truly remarkable and provide the intellectual creed of this country. And I personally believe that includes his denunciation of the evils of human bondage.
Some criticize him because he toned down his rhetoric as he got older. Even in his final year he continued to privately denounce slavery, but I believe the failure of his fellow citizens to see the obvious truth of his arguments was so emotionally painful for him that he withdrew a bit from that battlefield. To have done much more than he did would likely have denied us the benefits of his tremendous service in other areas. Perhaps it is selfish of me, but if that is true I am glad he made the decision not to "fall on his sword" in a fruitless protest on this one issue and instead continue to fight hard for the things he could influence. We are a better, and a freer, country for his efforts.
WHY I'M SPEAKING OUT
But my real point in writing is a simpler one. The descendants of Thomas Jefferson who met in Charlottesville this spring and by a 93 percent majority voted to exclude the Hemings, were not all motivated by racism. Indeed, I believe they examined the issue carefully and voted their conscience. To be sure, there was "rancor" at the meeting as the press has reported. But, prior to the final vote, I did not hear a single word from a single member of the Jefferson family that struck me as being motivated by racial prejudice. (That is not to say there could have been no racists in the group.) Their arguments had to do with the lack of compelling evidence that the Callender story was true. And I think their anger came from listening to descendants of Thomas Woodson denounce them as "racists" if they did not admit the Woodsons to their organization on the basis of their strong (and no doubt very sincerely believed) oral history--despite the fact that six DNA tests had disproved their claim. Rather than address the merits of the arguments raised in the Scholars Commission report, one Hemings member tried to dismiss it by alleging it was "funded by the Klan."
Racism is an evil thing and a sign of ignorance. To be wrongfully called a racist is a hurtful thing. There is racism in America--within those of all colors and genders--and we should work to eliminate it by education and telling the truth. But we should not tell lies to make anyone feel good, and we should not accuse anyone of racism in the absence of serious evidence that they are guilty of it.
To me (and I think to many others who have looked carefully at the issue), it is silly to treat the Sally Hemings story as a controversy about race. (I would personally be delighted if someone found evidence that Jefferson had found love in the arms of a free African-American adult woman who had the capacity to give consent and was a willing partner.) In addition to the absence of evidence to support the story, what makes it difficult for me to believe is that it is contrary to most of what we believe we know about Jefferson's character. He clearly loved his daughters, and urged them time and again to "do what is right." Would he have entrusted his reputation with them to the discretion of a servant who lacked the judgment of an eight-year-old and was regularly in their contact? Would he have betrayed his trust (as he viewed his relationship to slaves pending a democratic decision to outlaw the evil institution) by imposing himself on such a child? Paris was filled with beautiful women and he often complained about the lack of marital fidelity--and from the women we know he found attractive his tastes consistently ran not to immature children but rather highly accomplished and mature women. Most of the women he flirted with were excellent musicians, and Maria Cosway was a superb painter, linguist, and scientist as well. Many men in that era did find teenage girls to be attractive (including William Short and James Madison), but Thomas Jefferson's known "crushes" were on sexually mature women who either were married or had in the past been married.
Perhaps the greatest irony in all of this is that since our report was released the leading scholars on the pro-Hemings side have been reluctant to engage in public debate. When contacted, they tend to explain that they have "moved on" to other issues. When Prof. Paul Rahe, a former Rhodes Scholar and the sole dissenter on the Scholars Commission, tried to set up a Jefferson-Hemings debate at the 2002 annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, the program had to be canceled because he could not find anyone willing to defend the Hemings position. I assured him I would be happy to debate anyone, anywhere, at a mutually-convenient time if someone would pick up my expenses. That offer remains, if someone reading this wants to promote a major public debate on this issue.
Was Thomas Jefferson Really a Liar and a Rapist?
by Mary Mostert, Analyst - Banner of Liberty
Over the weekend, the Washington Post reported, documented descendants of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, voted 74 to 6 to “bar the kin of slave Sally Hemings from joining the family organization, ending three years of rancorous and racially charged debate.” Matthew Mackay-Smith, a Jefferson descendant, spoke to loud applause, arguing that it would take "inventions" of history to establish that Jefferson fathered Hemings’s children. Those who disagree, he said, "accept or assert that he forsook his most sacred oath and was a monstrous scoundrel. I find it curious that they wish to claim such a person as an ancestor."
Lucian K. Truscott IV, another Jefferson descendant who favors accepting the Hemings’ descendants into the Jefferson family, challenged Smith and demanded to know “what the monstrous behavior was. Sex with a slave? A relationship with a slave? Sex with an African American? . . . What is monstrous about what we’re saying Mr. Jefferson did?"
The original accusation that Thomas Jefferson had an affair with Sally Hemings, according to the Richmond, Virginia Times Dispatch, grew from seeds of the controversy “sown 200 years ago, in 1802, when scandal-mongering journalist James Callender published a story in the Richmond Recorder claiming that Jefferson was sleeping with a slave named Sally Hemings and had, in fact, fathered her first child, Thomas.”
The charge at the time was an effort to defeat Thomas Jefferson’s bid for the presidency by accusing him of what, at that time, would be considered “monstrous behavior.” Why? Because, of course, that would violate not only the laws of God, but the laws of the State of Virginia. The Times Dispatch reported: “‘By making any connection between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, you are calling him a liar and a criminal, because it was against the law to have sexual relations with slaves,’ said Jefferson descendant Matthew Mackay-Smith.” Besides, Sally Hemings was also Jefferson’s sister-in-law. He inherited the Monticello estate, an its slaves, including Sally, when both his wife and her father, who also was the father of Sally Hemings, died.
When Sally Hemings had her first baby, whom she named Thomas Woodson, she was 17 and 47 year old Thomas Jefferson was George Washington’s Secretary of State. In any time, even in today’s era of rampant moral decay, if a powerful 47 year old politician, got an unmarried 17 year old girl employee pregnant, it would certainly be considered a monstrous event. It might even get him impeached.
What does it say about the moral level of those claiming kinship with Thomas Jefferson if they do not understand that kinship is claimed through a monstrous act - the rape of a teen-aged dependent and employee/slave?
And, that brings us to the apparent reason for this suddenly becoming a news item, back in 1998. Two days before the 1998 Congressional elections, U.S. News and World Report declared there was DNA evidence which gave “proof ... beyond any reasonable doubt that (President Thomas) Jefferson had a long-term sexual relationship with his mulatto slave," Sally Hemings.
Well, actually, the DNA evidence did nothing of the sort, as I pointed out in an article at the time. However, it appeared to be a handy red herring to drag across the Clinton scandal trail, since there was a story circulating that President Bill Clinton, while governor, had fathered a child by a black woman prostitute named Bobbi Ann Williams.
Some folks, the Washington Times for example, thought perhaps the 200 year old campaign accusation by a newspaperman claiming that Jefferson had “fathered Sally Hemings’ six children” was being revived to make a comparison between Clinton and Jefferson and their black mistresses Bobbi Ann Williams and Sally Hemings.
So, here we are, four years later, and the Jefferson Family, those in the genealogical family tree who are descendants of Mary and Martha Jefferson, are still trying to cope with the 200 year old scurrilous political attack and a half-baked “scientific” DNA report that claimed “proof” of a “long term sexual relationship” Thomas Jefferson was supposed to have had with Sally Hemings.
Almost immediately, following the U.S. News and World Report article in 1998, others challenged the DNA report as outlined. Dr. Ken Wallenborn issued a minority report in 1999 which has not been given much publicity.
In his report, Wallenborn gives far more convincing proof that Thomas Jefferson could not have possibly been the father of any of Sally Hemings children, and some very strong clues as to who might have been the father. Wallenborn notes that “only four or possibly five people -Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings, Randolph Jefferson, Jefferson’s oldest grandson, and Peter Carr, and Samuel Carr, his nephews who lived at Monticello - would have known the truth about the paternity question.”
The only one of the five who ever wrote anything on the subject was Thomas Jefferson himself. In 1805 he wrote a “very straight forward denial of all the Federalist charges which included the report of a sexual liaison with Sally Hemings.”
Wallenborn backed that up with information including direct testimony from Randolph Jefferson and Edmund Bacon, who was overseer of Monticello during the years that the last three of Sally Hemings children were born. The only Hemings that DNA evidence indicates a Jefferson connection was Eston, who was born when Sally was 35 and Thomas Jefferson was 65 years old. At the time, according to historian Williard S. Randall, "There were 25 men within 20 miles of Monticello who were all Jeffersons and had the same Y chromosome. Twenty-three of them were younger than Thomas Jefferson.”
Since the DNA evidence is not derived from either Thomas Jefferson, or any of Sally Hemings children, it would also be possible that, in 200 years, there has been an introduction through marriage of the Jefferson chromosome via a male descendent of one of Jefferson’s male relatives.
The leap to the claim that the author of the Declaration of Independence had a bevy of bastard children via a sexual liaison with his wife’s half-sister, who was also a Monticello slave, is made simply because someone wants to make such a leap for whatever purposes. It is not at all verifiable with current data.
And, that is exactly how the Jefferson Family organization has left it. The Richmond Times-Herald concluded with a quote from Nat Ables, who was elected president of the Jefferson association on Sunday. He said the group would welcome the Hemingses if they ever offer conclusive proof that Jefferson is their forefather.
"They don’t meet the criteria with DNA because the technology is not there yet," Ables said. "In 10, 15, 20 years, if the technology is there, we would welcome them with open arms."
Thomas Jefferson Did Not Father Sally Hemings' Children, Author Claims in New Book
Contrary to popular belief, Thomas Jefferson did not father the children of his slave, Sally Hemings, according to William G. Hyland Jr., author of 'In Defense of Thomas Jefferson: The Sally Hemings Sex Scandal.' It was his brother, Randolph, "a ne'er-do-well,'' who had a history of consorting with his brother's slaves.
Hyland, a lawyer and member of the board of directors of the Thomas Jefferson Society, says the DNA results that established a link between Hemings and Thomas Jefferson implicated the wrong man. Randolph, 13 years younger, would have the identical Jefferson Y chromosome as his older brother and would have been a match for the DNA, he says.
Further, Randolph was at Monticello around the time Hemings conceived her children, including Eston, the youngest. Hyland spends a great deal of time trying to link Hemings and Randolph, while exculpating Thomas Jefferson. Hyland argues, in part, that a ruffian, not a refined man, would mingle with slaves.
"From all accounts, he was just a ne'er-do-well farmer,'' Hyland says of Randolph in a telephone interview. "He certainly didn't have the intellect or the training or education that Thomas Jefferson had. But very little is known about him. We do know he was married a couple of times. Sally Hemings didn't have any other children after he got married. He was at Monticello nine months before she got pregnant with Eston, and he was known to kind of socialize with the servants and the slaves.''
Hyland also tries to overturn theories mapped out in Annette Gordon-Reed's groundbreaking tome 'Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy.' The effort is not new. A long line of historians has concluded that the affair was unfounded. But Gordon-Reed's research put it on the map. Hemings was the half-sister of Jefferson's wife, Martha Wayles, who died in 1782. Jefferson never remarried, and he and Hemings remained silent on the affair.
Hyland took time from his busy schedule to discuss his book with BV Bookshelf:
Your book takes a different viewpoint than others that have been written recently.
It really does. It's a different viewpoint on the affair. It kind of questions some of the evidence. Since I'm a trial lawyer, I've taken the perspective and acted like Jefferson's lawyer and how he would kind of analyze the case if it went to court. I found there were a lot of inaccuracies and misstatements and really a lot of pure hearsay that hasn't been verified.
We've never really heard Jefferson's side of the story. You address that.
He basically denied the allegation in private. He wrote a long letter to his secretary of Navy, Robert Smith, and basically denied the allegations. But he never in public denied it. That was kind of his routine and practice. He believed if he denied one thing in public that another thing would crop up and then another thing. So he never denied it in public, but he did deny it in private to his friends and family. Randolph is really the one who had the affair with Sally. There is no doubt that a Jefferson fathered one or more of her children. It's just a question of whether it was Thomas Jefferson or some other Jefferson.
Why do you think it's Randolph?
There were a number of factors. They had the same Y chromosome DNA that would have matched. Again, DNA was never taken from Thomas Jefferson because he didn't have any male children. Randolph had six male children. Thomas had all female children except for a small infant who died, and the DNA match was to a male child. So Randolph was more likely to be the father.
Also, he was kind of a ne'er-do-well partier. I mean he actually socialized with the slaves. The kicker and hard evidence I found was a really obscure letter that was in the archives at the University of Virginia, written from Thomas Jefferson to his brother on August 12, 1807. That was about nine months before [Sally] gave birth to Eston, who was the DNA match. The letter invites Randolph to Monticello. In all probability, he was there at the conception time for Eston.
You say that like it's a bad thing, socializing with the servants and the slaves.
That was something that Thomas Jefferson, a refined person, would not think to do at that time. But for Randolph, it perfectly was natural. It wasn't a bad thing. I just put it out as a different mindset of the two brothers.
What prompted you to write the book?
I was born and raised in Virginia. I've always had an affinity for history and certainly for Thomas Jefferson. My late father encouraged me to write the book. He kind of put together some material presenting the other side of the controversy. I took that and wrote a law review article that was published. Then I just had an idea to make it into a book.
It will be interesting to see how the book will be received.
There is no doubt it was a Jefferson. The question is which Jefferson? I just think the public hasn't heard the other side of the story. They've only heard one side, especially after the DNA findings. That was the nail in the coffin. There are a lot more facts on both sides that need to be heard. I say in the book that I wanted to stabilize both sides to give a different perspective than what you've heard. There are other facts and there are other inaccuracies. I really think the truth does matter.
Jefferson did not rape his slaves
Can I get you to concede that no evidence as of this time proves that Thomas Jefferson ever fathered a Negro child? One would have to agree that from all of Jefferson's writings the likelihood is that he did not rape this young slave girl.