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Jefferson Did Not Father Child with Slave

  • A new report by reputable historians says populist president Thomas Jefferson did not father a child with one of his slaves as has been alleged by culture distorters.
By P. Samuel Foner

Political correctness notwithstanding, a group of scholars in Richmond, Va., agrees with The SPOTLIGHT. A report issued April 12 disputed widely-heralded media claims that Thomas Jefferson fathered children with his slave Sally Hemings, and said the evidence points instead to Jefferson's younger brother.

The scholars could have saved themselves the trouble by reading this populist newspaper, which printed stories destroying the Jefferson-as-father-by-slave-girl myth.

The April scholarly findings resulted from a year-long study commissioned by a group of Jefferson family historians interested in facts, not myth and gossip.

The report comes more than two years after DNA tests showed that Hemings' youngest son, Eston Hemings, had the tell-tale Jefferson Y-chromosome and was possibly fathered by a Jefferson male.

In a summary of its 450-page report, the commission said: "The circumstantial case that Eston Hemings was fathered by the president's younger brother is many times stronger than the case against the president himself."


With one dissenter on the 13-member commission, the scholars bolster their case for the brother, Randolph Jefferson, by noting that:

  • A slave's memoirs assert that Randolph Jefferson often spent time playing the fiddle and dancing with the slaves when he visited Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home.
  • Thomas Jefferson had invited Randolph -- who lived about 20 miles away -- to visit Monticello shortly before Hemings became pregnant with Eston.
  • Descendants of Eston Hemings passed down the story that Eston was fathered by "Thomas Jefferson's uncle." Both of Jefferson's paternal uncles had died before Eston was conceived, but the report points out that Jefferson's daughter Martha referred to Randolph as "Uncle Randolph"; and
  • Sally's childbearing years probably corresponded to the years in which Randolph was a widower.

The findings contradict a January 2000 report by black historians that scientific and historical evidence shows the president probably fathered one and possibly all of Hemings' children.

The new commission included Jefferson scholars at such universities as Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Brown, and Virginia.

"The biggest surprise to me was how weak the case [against the third president] really was," said Commission chairman Robert F. Turner, a University of Virginia professor.

The latest report trashes the conclusions of Annette Gordon-Reed, a professor at the New York Law School, who was not a commission member. Her book, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: an American Controversy, makes a case for the relationship.

"It's an interpretation," she said. "People will just have to read the Monticello report and my book and this and reach their own conclusions."


The scholars said there is no record of Hemings or her children, other than Madison Hemings, ever alleging that Jefferson was the father. Madison made the claim in an 1873 newspaper interview in Ohio.

Jefferson vociferously refuted a story alleging he had sexual relations with a slave that was circulated by an unscrupulous pamphleteer named James T. Callender. Jefferson, a prolific writer, wrote in several letters to acquaintances that the stories were calumnies fabricated to ruin his good name.

The report acknowledged Monticello's claim that Jefferson was home when Hemings' children were conceived, but noted that that is also when he had visitors, including Randolph.

According to the report: "Whatever one thinks of Jefferson's character, there can be little doubt that he was deeply concerned about his reputation.

"Yet we are asked to believe that Jefferson would have entrusted his reputation to the discretion of a 15- or 16-year-old child" -- Hemings' age when the relationship is said to have started.

"If he did that, he was a child-molesting rapist, and that is far from what we know of him," Turner said.

* For a thorough refutation of allegations that Jefferson kept a black mistress and fathered illegitimate children gleaned from primary sources, order The Jefferson Scandals: A Rebuttal by Virginius Dabney ($15, soft cover, 154 pages, item # 192).

About the author

"P. Samuel Foner" is anom-de-plume for Liberty Lobby founder Willis A. Carto.