|3rd President of the United States|
March 4, 1801 – March 4, 1809
|Vice President||Aaron Burr
|Preceded by||John Adams|
|Succeeded by||James Madison|
April 13, 1743|
Shadwell, Colony of Virginia
|Died||July 4, 1826
Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S.
The Jefferson–Hemings controversy concerns the question of whether there was an intimate relationship between U.S. President Thomas Jefferson and his mixed-race slave, Sally Hemings, that resulted in his fathering some or all of her six recorded children. The allegations surfaced as early as the 1790s, and remain somewhat disputed.
Jefferson's grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, told a historian in the 1850s that Peter Carr, a nephew of Jefferson's (the son of his sister), had fathered Hemings' children. Historians generally asserted this denial for nearly 150 years. While some historians of the late twentieth century started reanalyzing the body of evidence, for many consensus was not reached until after a Y-DNA analysis in 1998. The DNA study showed a match between the Jefferson male line (which included Thomas Jefferson, eight or nine other Jefferson males who lived within 20 miles of his residence, and various others more distant) and a descendant of Eston Hemings, Sally's youngest son who was born when Thomas Jefferson was 65. It showed no match between the Carr line and the Hemings descendant.
In the 21st century, a consensus emerged among historians that the entirety of the evidence suggests Jefferson's paternity for all of Hemings' children. Exhibits at Jefferson's home of Monticello, as well as its recent publications about Jefferson and his times, and other new works published by a variety of scholars, use the new consensus as a basis for studies into Jefferson and the Hemings family.
The Smithsonian and Monticello collaborated in a "groundbreaking" 2012 exhibit held in Washington, DC: Slavery at Jefferson's Monticello: The Paradox of Liberty. In its study of the lives of six major enslaved families at the plantation, it noted the consensus on Jefferson's paternity. It is now touring the US. A minority of historians continue to argue against Jefferson's paternity.
Jefferson became a widower at age 39 in 1782 and remained so until his death in 1826. He is believed by many historians to have had a relationship with Sally Hemings that lasted nearly four decades, until his death. The Monticello website states:
Through his celebrity as the eloquent spokesman for liberty and equality as well as the ancestor of people living on both sides of the color line, Jefferson has left a unique legacy for descendants of Monticello's enslaved people as well as for all Americans.
In 2000, PBS Frontline produced Jefferson's Blood, an extensive documentary about the historic controversy and changes in the academic consensus of historians and other experts, who by then widely agreed that Jefferson probably fathered all of Hemings' children. The documentary also notes there are dissenting views:
Now, the new scientific evidence has been correlated with the existing documentary record, and a consensus of historians and other experts who have examined the issue agree that the question has largely been answered: Thomas Jefferson fathered at least one of Sally Hemings' children, and quite probably all six. The language of "proof" does not translate perfectly from science and the law to the historian's craft, however. And the DNA findings in this case are only one piece of a complicated puzzle that many in previous generations worked hard to make sure we might never solve. In this section, Frontline has gathered some of the key scientific and documentary evidence which has led historians to believe in Jefferson's paternity, as well as the 'dissenting views' of those who continue to maintain that the evidence is not conclusive.
In the antebellum period, the Hemingses would have been called a "shadow family". Sally Hemings was also a child from a shadow family: her father was probably John Wayles, who as a widower had a 12-year liaison with his mulatto slave Betty Hemings and six children with her. These children were three-quarters white and half-siblings to Jefferson's wife Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson; the youngest was Sally Hemings. As the historians Philip D. Morgan and Joshua D. Rothman have noted, the Jefferson-Hemings liaison was one of numerous interracial relationships in the Wayles-Hemings-Jefferson families, which were common in Virginia and the Upper South. Often succeeding generations repeated the pattern.
Hemings' children by Jefferson were thus seven-eighths European in ancestry; although born into slavery, they were legally white according to Virginia law of the time. (The "one-drop rule", which classified individuals with even "one drop of Negro blood" as black, did not become law until 1924.) Of the four Hemings children who survived to adulthood—William Beverley, Harriet, Madison and Eston Hemings—all but Madison Hemings eventually identified as white and lived as adults in white communities. Nonetheless, under the Virginia law of partus sequitur ventrem, because Sally was a slave, her children were also born enslaved.
In 1997, Annette Gordon-Reed published a book analyzing the historiography of the controversy; she argued that historians since the nineteenth century had accepted early accounts by Jefferson descendants, such as their assertions that one of the Carr nephews fathered Hemings' children, while ignoring or denying the account by Madison Hemings and other Monticello slaves. In her analysis, she showed how historians had overlooked or did not accurately compare known facts to each account.
Since the 1998 DNA study, most historians have agreed that the widower Jefferson had a long intimate relationship with Hemings and fathered all of her six children. The Thomas Jefferson Foundation (TJF), which runs Monticello, conducted an independent historic review in 2000, as did the National Genealogical Society in 2001; both concluded that Jefferson was probably the father of all the children of Hemings.
Scholars have based their conclusions on interpretation of historical evidence and the 1998 Y-DNA study, which showed a match of the Jefferson male line with a descendant of Eston Hemings, Sally's youngest son. Prominent historians and biographers such as Joseph Ellis, Andrew Burstein and Philip D. Morgan have said that such studies led to their accepting Thomas Jefferson's paternity. Since then, Jeffersonian scholarship has generally acknowledged his paternity. New works have been published, such as that by Joshua Rothmann, examining the interracial societies of Monticello, Charlottesville, and nearby towns. The Scholars Commission Report (2001) and other scholars argue against Jefferson's paternity; they generally favor his younger brother Randolph Jefferson as a candidate as father of Hemings' children, although he was never seriously proposed before the results of the DNA study.
In 1802 the journalist James T. Callender, after being refused an appointment to a Postmaster position by Jefferson and issuing veiled threats of "consequences", reported that Jefferson had fathered several children with a slave concubine named Sally. His family denied the allegation. Others privately or publicly made the claim. Elijah Fletcher, the headmaster of the New Glasgow Academy (Amherst County, Virginia) visited Jefferson in 1811 and wrote in his diary:
The story of black Sal is no farce — That he cohabits with her and has a number of children by her is a sacred truth — and the worst of it is he keeps the same children slaves — an unnatural crime which is very common in these parts.
Jefferson made no public comment on the matter, although most historians interpret his cover letter from 1805 to Secretary of the Navy Robert Smith as a denial alluding to a more full reply, which has been lost.
The Jefferson-Wayles descendants and most historians denied for nearly 200 years that he was the father of Hemings' children. Disagreements have arisen since the late 20th century over how to interpret historical evidence related to the issue. According to an 1868 letter by Jefferson biographer Henry Randall to the historian James Parton, Jefferson's grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, said that Jefferson's daughter, Martha, stated on her deathbed that Jefferson had been away from Monticello for 15 months before one of Hemings' children was born, so could not be the father. Randolph also said:
[S]he [Hemings] had children which resembled Mr. Jefferson so closely that it was plain that they had his blood in their veins.... He [Randolph] said in one instance, a gentleman dining with Mr. Jefferson, looked so startled as he raised his eyes from the latter to the servant behind him, that his discovery of the resemblance was perfectly obvious to all.
Randolph told Randall that the late Peter Carr, Jefferson's nephew by his sister and a married man at the time, had fathered Hemings' children, as explanation for the "startling" close resemblance that every visitor to Monticello could see. Gordon-Reed noted that Randolph was violating a strong social taboo against naming a white man as the father of slave children. She suggested he would only have done so for the more compelling reason of protecting his grandfather.
Because of the social taboos about this topic, Randolph requested, and Randall agreed, to omit any mention of Hemings and her children in Randall's three-volume biography Life of Thomas Jefferson (1858). But Randall passed on the Randolph oral history in a letter to the historian James Parton. He also suggested that he had personally seen records supporting it – but no such record has been found. Randall's 1868 letter relating Randolph's family account of the Peter Carr paternity was a "pillar" of later historians' assertions that Carr was the father of Hemings' children, and Jefferson was not.
In 1873, the issue received renewed, widespread attention after publication of an interview with Madison Hemings, who asserted that Jefferson was his father. He was interviewed about his life as a slave at Monticello, and his account was published in an Ohio newspaper. Then age 68, Hemings, who had been noted by the 1870 government census taker as the son of Thomas Jefferson, claimed Jefferson as his and his siblings' father. He said that when Jefferson and Sally Hemings were still in Paris, she became pregnant with his child. Based on Jefferson's promise to free her children when they came of age, she returned with him to the United States from France, where slavery had been banned. Israel Jefferson, also a former slave of Monticello, confirmed the account of Jefferson's paternity of Hemings' children in his own interview published that year by the same Ohio newspaper. Critics attacked the newspaper as politically motivated and the former slaves as mistaken or worse.
In 1874, James Parton published his biography of Jefferson, in which he attributed the content of Hemings' memoir to the political motives of a journalist who interviewed him. He and other critics essentially discounted Hemings' memoir, while attributing to him a range of negative motives for telling his story. (But the 20th-century historian Merrill Peterson noted Hemings' details about events early in his life were mostly accurate.) In his work, Parton repeated the Jefferson family's oral history about a Carr paternity and the claim that Jefferson was absent during the conception period of one of Hemings' children.
Succeeding 20th-century historians, such as Merrill Peterson and Douglass Adair, relied on Parton's book as it related to the controversy. In turn, Dumas Malone adopted their position. In the 1970s, as part of his six-volume biography of Jefferson, Malone was the first to publish a letter by Ellen Randolph Coolidge, Randolph's sister that added to the Carr paternity story. But she claimed that the late Samuel Carr, brother to Peter and also a nephew of Jefferson's through his sister, had fathered Hemings' children. Like Peter, Samuel was married when Hemings' children were born. Neither of the Randolphs named Jefferson's nephews as putative fathers of Hemings' children until after the men had died.
The above 20th-century historians and other major biographers of the late 20th century, such as Joseph Ellis and Andrew Burstein, "defended" Jefferson based on the Jefferson/Randolph family testimony: he was absent at the conception of one Hemings child, and the family identified Peter or Samuel Carr as father(s) of Hemings' children. In addition, the historians concluded from their own interpretations of Jefferson that he would not have had such a relationship. They noted he had expressed antipathy to blacks and miscegenation in his writings, and he was thought to have a "high" moral character.
In 1972, Fawn M. Brodie, a biographer and lecturer in history at UCLA, published "The Great Jefferson Taboo" in American Heritage magazine. The introduction to the article asks: "Did Thomas Jefferson, widowed at thirty-nine, take as a mistress Sally Hemings, the beautiful quadroon half-sister of his late wife?" Anticipating "inevitable controversy", the magazine broke with its usual practice and published Brodie's extensive footnotes. the article was published prior to her full biography of Jefferson.
Nature of the relationship
Historians since the late twentieth century have studied more aspects of slave societies, and they have documented the frequency of planters' taking slave women as concubines. Social convention kept such relationships largely undisclosed among the upper classes. Sally Hemings was three-quarters white, described as "mostly white" and "decidedly attractive", and was the half-sister of Jefferson's beloved wife. Annette Gordon-Reed said that earlier historians had discounted accounts from former slaves, including Madison Hemings, without cross-checking the facts to determine whose account was best supported by the evidence.
For instance, Madison Hemings' account was supported by the fact that Jefferson freed all of Sally Hemings' children, although he was deeply in debt. Hers was the only family whose members were all freed; Sally's daughter Harriet was the only female slave Jefferson ever freed. Gordon-Reed argued that these were notable facts that previous historians had disregarded.
In her book, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy (1997), Annette Gordon-Reed wrote,
It is my belief that those who are considered Jefferson scholars have never made a serious and objective attempt to get at the truth of this matter. . . The failure to look more closely into the identities of the parties involved, the too ready acceptance and active promotion of the Carr brothers story, the reliance upon stereotypes in the place of investigation and analysis, all indicate that most Jefferson scholars decided from the outset that this story was not true and that if they had anything to do with it, no one would come to think otherwise. In the most fundamental sense, the enterprise of defense has had little to do with expanding people's knowledge of Thomas Jefferson or the other participants in the story. The goal has been quite the opposite: to restrict knowledge as a way of controlling the allowable discourse on this subject.
Gordon-Reed has stated that the question she has been asked most often about Jefferson and Hemings since her 1997 book is whether they were in love. "To call this a loaded question does not begin to do justice to the matter, given America's tortured racial history and its haunting legacy", she writes. In an essay entitled "Did Sally Hemings And Thomas Jefferson Love Each Other?" in American Heritage, Gordon-Reed argued that when Hemings became pregnant, Jefferson could have avoided possible scandal on his return to America in 1789 by giving her a sum of money and suggesting she remain with the child in Paris, a city with a large population of free blacks at the time. But "we do know that Jefferson bargained intensely with Hemings to return to America, promising her a good life at Monticello and freedom for her children when they became adults", writes Gordon-Reed. For her part, Sally became free as soon as she entered France, which prohibited slavery, but she chose to return with Jefferson to slavery in Virginia.
In 1953, Jefferson's Farm Book was published, after having been rediscovered. Its records of slave births, deaths, purchases and sales, and other information, provided researchers with considerable data about the lives of slaves at Monticello.
Dumas Malone documented Jefferson's activities and residencies through the years. It was his documentation in his multi-volume biography (published 1948-1981) that showed Jefferson was at Monticello for each of Hemings' conceptions; she never conceived when he was not there. Martha Randolph, Jefferson's daughter, had made a deathbed claim that Jefferson was away for a 15-month period during which one of the Hemings' children was conceived. This is not supported by Malone's documentation; Jefferson was at Monticello at the time of conception of each child.
In 1968 the historian Winthrop Jordan said that Jefferson was at Monticello "nine months prior to each birth" of Hemings' children, during a 13-year period when he was often away for months at a time. Fawn Brodie also used this information in her biography of Jefferson, which contributed to her conclusion that he had fathered Hemings' children. The source for the birth dates of the children is Jefferson's Farm Book.
In 2000, a statistical analysis of the conception data and Jefferson's residencies concluded it was 99 percent likely that he was the father of her children, and that there was only a 1 percent chance that he was not the father of all her children. This analysis, commonly referred to as a Monte Carlo simulation, was done by the head of archaeology at Monticello. In 2001, the Scholars Commission Report of the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society criticized the study, as they said Neiman had not accounted for the possibility of multiple fathers. Before their report, in the previous 180 years historians had made no suggestion that Hemings had more than one partner for her children.
The Executive Summary of the Scholars Commission states:
- The question of whether Thomas Jefferson fathered one or more children by his slave Sally Hemings is an issue about which honorable people can and do disagree. After a careful review of all of the evidence, the commission agrees unanimously that the allegation is by no means proven; and we find it regrettable that public confusion about the 1998 DNA testing and other evidence has misled many people. With the exception of one member, whose views are set forth both below and in his more detailed appended dissent, our individual conclusions range from serious skepticism about the charge to a conviction that it is almost certainly false.
The Hemings children were named for people in the Randolph-Jefferson family or who were important to Jefferson, rather than for people in the Hemings family. When mixed-race children were sired by the master, they were frequently named after people from his family. Jefferson gave the Hemings family special treatment: the three boys while young had very light household duties. At working age, they were each apprenticed to the master carpenter of the estate, the most skilled artisan. This would provide them with skills to make a good living as free adults.
Most importantly, Jefferson freed all the Hemings children; theirs was the only slave family to all go free from Monticello, they were the only slaves freed as they came of age, and Harriet Hemings was the only female slave he ever freed. He allowed Beverley (male) and Harriet to "escape" in 1822 at ages 23 and 21, although Jefferson was already struggling financially and would be $100,000 in debt at his death. He gave his overseer money to give to Harriet for her journey. Jefferson avoided publicity this way, but the gentry at the time noted the Hemingses' absences; Monticello overseer Edmund Bacon noted in his memoir that people were talking about Harriet's departure, saying that she was Jefferson's daughter.
In his 1826 will, Jefferson freed the younger brothers Madison and Eston Hemings, who were approaching the age of 21. To enable them to stay in Virginia, Jefferson's will petitioned the legislature for permission for them to stay in the state with their families. (Such legislative approval was required by laws related to manumission and free blacks.) Jefferson also freed three older males from the extended Elizabeth Hemings family; they had each served him for decades. His will also requested that they be allowed to stay in the state. Jefferson's daughter Martha Randolph gave Sally Hemings "her time" after Jefferson's death, an informal freedom, and the former slave lived with her two younger sons, Madison and Eston, in nearby Charlottesville for nearly a decade before her death.
1998 DNA study
The Jefferson family assertions about Carr paternity of Eston Hemings were disproved in a 1998 DNA study which tested the Y-chromosome of direct male-line descendants of Eston Hemings, the Carr male line, and the Jefferson male line. (As Thomas Jefferson had no acknowledged male children, male-line descendants of his uncle, Field Jefferson, were used in this study. Similarly, since no direct male-line descendants of Peter Carr could be tested, the study used DNA from descendants of Peter Carr's grandfather John Carr.) The study found that the direct male-line descendents of both Field Jefferson and Eston Hemings, but not direct male-line descendents of John Carr, had DNA with a Y-chromosome haplogroup known as K2 which is not uncommon in parts of East Africa and the Middle East (K2 makes up about 7% of the Y chromosome types found in Somalia, Oman, Egypt, and Iraq), but is rare among European populations. Subsequently, the journal Nature published an article which concluded, on the basis of that evidence, that Thomas Jefferson was probably Eston Hemings's biological father and that Peter Carr could not have been.
When the results were reported, the biographer Joseph Ellis, who in his 1996 book had strongly denied Jefferson's paternity, said in an interview,
It's not so much a change of heart, but this is really new evidence. And it – prior to this evidence, I think it was a very difficult case to know and circumstantial on both sides, and, in part, because I got it wrong, I think I want to step forward and say this new evidence constitutes, well, evidence beyond any reasonable doubt that Jefferson had a longstanding sexual relationship with Sally Hemings. Even though the match is only with one of the Hemings' descendants, Eston Hemings, it's inconceivable that Jefferson, who was 65 when Eston was born, would have made a one-night stand here. I think this is a longstanding relationship. When it began and what the character of the relationship is we probably can't know easily or at all. But it was, without question, an enduring one.
Since 1998, critics of the conclusions about Jefferson paternity have suggested his younger brother Randolph Jefferson as a candidate, or another of the eight Jefferson males who lived within 20 miles of Monticello. Eugene Foster, the lead co-author of the DNA study, is reported to have "made it clear that the data establish only that Thomas Jefferson was one of several candidates for the paternity of Eston Hemings". However, the Monticello Jefferson-Hemings Report, examining Randolph as a candidate, found that Randolph made only four recorded visits to Monticello (in September 1802, September 1805, May 1808, and sometime in 1814), and none coincided with possible dates of Sally Hemings' conceptions. In August 1807, a probable conception time for Eston Hemings, Thomas Jefferson wrote to his brother about visiting, but there is no evidence that the younger man arrived. Similarly, no documentation of a Randolph visit appears at the probable conception time for Madison Hemings.
1998 DNA study further discussion
In 1998 Dr. Eugene Foster with researchers at the University of Leicester tested the Y-DNA of male-line descendants of the Jefferson, Carr and Eston Hemings lines in an attempt to determine whether Thomas Jefferson or one of the Carrs had fathered Sally Hemings' children. Questions raised by the analysis of Annette Gordon-Reed prompted re-evaluation of the issue. There are no living male-line descendants of Madison Hemings, and Beverley Hemings' descendants have been lost to history. Descendants of Madison Hemings declined to have the remains of his son William Hemings disturbed to extract DNA for testing (he was buried in 1910 in a VA cemetery), just as Wayles-Jefferson descendants declined to have Thomas Jefferson's remains disturbed.
Researchers tested Y-chromosomal DNA from living male claimed descendants of Hemings and of Jefferson's uncle Field Jefferson. The study concluded that the descendant of Eston Hemings had a Y-chromosome that matched the Y-chromosome of the Jefferson male line. Given historic evidence supporting Thomas Jefferson's paternity, according to the report of the study in Nature, the team concluded he was the likely father of Eston, and probably the other Hemings children. Eight weeks later, in Science, Foster was reported to have "made it clear that the data establish only that Thomas Jefferson was one of several candidates for the paternity of Eston Hemings."
The president's grandson and granddaughter had identified one of his Carr nephews as the biological father of Hemings' children. Three Carr male-line descendants of Peter and Samuel Carr, the nephews in question, were tested. The results showed a consensus Carr haplotype for the male line. It was conclusively different from that of the Hemings descendant and the Jefferson male line. Foster said, "The simplest and most probable explanations for our molecular findings are that Thomas Jefferson, rather than one of the Carr brothers, was the father of Eston Hemings Jefferson".
Descendants of Thomas Woodson were also tested, as they have had a long family tradition of descent from Hemings and Jefferson. In his 19th-century reports, Callender had referred to a "Tom" as one of Jefferson's children with Sally. The Thomas Jefferson Foundation had earlier written that historic evidence regarding Thomas Woodson did not support his descent from Hemings and Jefferson, but the family has persisted in their belief. There is no record of Sally Hemings having had a surviving child born before 1795. As Monticello has stated, other historic evidence, such as census data and land records, also work against the Woodson family claim. The DNA study showed conclusively that there was no match between the Woodson descendants and the Jefferson male line. Four of the five Woodson descendants had a common haplogroup suggesting a common ancestor of Thomas Woodson; it is typical of European origin. The fifth descendant showed a different haplogroup, indicating adoption or illegitimacy in that paternal line (a break in descent between Thomas Woodson and this descendant). His DNA was also indicative of paternal European origin.
Predominant current view
With the Carr nephews disproved and a match for the Eston Hemings descendant found with the Jefferson male line, formerly skeptical biographers such as Joseph Ellis and Andrew Burstein publicly said they had changed their opinions and concluded that Jefferson had fathered Hemings' children. As Burstein said in 2005,
[T]he white Jefferson descendants who established the family denial in the mid-nineteenth century cast responsibility for paternity on two Jefferson nephews (children of Jefferson's sister) whose DNA was not a match. So, as far as can be reconstructed, there are no Jeffersons other than the president who had the degree of physical access to Sally Hemings that he did.
In 2000, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which operates Monticello, issued a report of its own investigation, which concluded by accepting Jefferson's paternity. Dr. Daniel P. Jordan, president of Monticello, committed at the time to incorporate "the conclusions of the report into Monticello's training, interpretation, and publications." This included new articles and monographs on the Hemings descendants reflecting the new evidence, as well as books on the interracial communities of Monticello and Charlottesville; and new exhibits at Monticello show Jefferson as the father of the Sally Hemings children. In 2010, the Monticello website noted the new consensus that has emerged on Jefferson's paternity of Hemings' children in the decade since those major studies.
In its January 2000 issue, the William and Mary Quarterly published Forum: Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings Redux, a total of seven articles noting the changed consensus and the developing new views on Jefferson. Included among them was the results of an analysis by Fraser D. Neiman, who studied the statistical significance of the relationship between Jefferson's documented residencies at Monticello and Hemings' conceptions.
In May 2000, PBS Frontline produced a program Jefferson's Blood about the issues related to the DNA test and historical controversy. It stated in its overview:
More than 20 years after CBS executives were pressured by Jefferson historians to drop plans for a mini-series on Jefferson and Hemings, the network airs Sally Hemings: An American Scandal. Though many quarreled with the portrayal of Hemings as unrealistically modern and heroic, no major historian challenged the series' premise that Hemings and Jefferson had a 38-year relationship that produced children.
In the fall of 2001, the National Genealogical Society published a special issue of its quarterly about the Jefferson–Hemings controversy. In several articles, its specialists concluded that, as the genealogist Helen M. Leary wrote, the historical, genealogical, and DNA evidence were sufficient by standard genealogical standards to conclude that Thomas Jefferson was the father of all of Hemings' children.
In 1999 the newly formed Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society (TJHS) commissioned its own report. Its founder and Director Emeritus Herbert Barger, a family historian, had assisted Eugene Foster by finding descendants of the Jefferson male line, Woodsons and Carrs for testing for the DNA study. Foster later stated that the Nature report should have given credit to Barger, who was "fantastic" and "of immense help to me". The TJHS Scholars Commission included Lance Banning, Robert F. Turner and Paul Rahe, among others. In 2001 the group published its report, in which the majority concluded there was insufficient evidence to determine that Jefferson was the father of Hemings' children. Their report suggested that his younger brother Randolph Jefferson was the father, and that Hemings may have had multiple partners. They emphasized that more than 20 Jefferson males lived in Virginia. Paul Rahe published a minority view, saying he thought Jefferson's paternity of Eston Hemings was more likely than not.
In response to the 2000 Frontline special on the DNA study, John H. Works, Jr., a Jefferson descendant and a past president of the Monticello Association, a lineage society, wrote that DNA tests indicated that any one of eight Jeffersons could have been the father of Eston. The team had concluded that Jefferson's paternity was the simplest explanation and consistent with historic evidence, but the DNA study could not identify Thomas Jefferson exclusively of other Jefferson males because no sample of his DNA was available.
In the fall of 2001, articles in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly criticized the Scholars Commission Report for poor scholarship and failure to follow accepted historical practices of analysis, or to give sufficient weight to the body of evidence. In the same year, historian Alexander Boulton responded by observing that Randolph Jefferson had never been seriously proposed as a candidate by historians before the 1998 DNA study. He noted "previous testimony had agreed" that Hemings had only one father for her children, and criticized the idea that she had multiple partners for her children. Jeanette Daniels, Marietta Glauser, Diana Harvey and Carol Hubbell Ouellette conducted research and in 2003 concluded that Randolph Jefferson had been an infrequent visitor to Monticello.
In 1999, Lucian Truscott IV, a Wayles-Jefferson descendant and member of the Monticello Association, the Jefferson lineage society, invited Hemings' descendants to that year's annual meeting. In light of the new material on Jefferson DNA and other historic reviews, the Association decided to commission its own report to determine whether it would admit Hemings' descendants to the lineage society. Its focus was whether the Hemings descendants could satisfy the society's requirements for documentation of lineage. The 2002 report to the Monticello Association concluded the evidence was insufficient to establish Jefferson's paternity, and the majority of Association members voted against admitting the Hemings descendants as members of the group.
Truscott IV noted in American Heritage that the Association did not have such strict documentation standards before the DNA study results were published in 1998. He checked the membership rules and found the following:
"ARTICLE III — Membership . . . Any lineal descendant of Thomas Jefferson who applies for membership, and annually pays dues as stated in the By-Laws of this Association, shall be a Regular Member of the Association. . . ." Only those 33 of the 93 words in that section of the article address membership criteria; the rest of the paragraph was largely concerned with the payment of dues.
In 2010, Shay Banks-Young and Julia Jefferson Westerinen (descended from Sally Hemings' sons Madison and Eston, respectively; they identify as African American and white), and David Works (brother of John H. Works, Jr., and descended from Martha Wayles), were honored with the international "Search for Common Ground" award for "their work to bridge the divide within their family and heal the legacy of slavery." The three have spoken about race and their extended family in numerous appearances across the country. After organizing a reunion at Monticello in 2003 of both sides of the Jefferson family, they organized "The Monticello Community", for descendants of all who lived and worked there during Jefferson's lifetime. In July 2007, the three-day Monticello Community Gathering brought together descendants of many people who had worked at the plantation, with educational sessions, tours of Monticello and Charlottesville, and other activities.
Shay Banks-Young, a descendant of Madison Hemings, had grown up with a family tradition of descent from Jefferson. David Works had originally resisted the new DNA evidence, but after he read the commissioned reports, he became convinced of Jefferson's paternity. Julia Jefferson Westerinen is descended from Eston Hemings. After Hemings moved his family to Madison, Wisconsin in 1852, they took the surname Jefferson and entered the white community. His descendants married and identified as white from then on. In the 1940s, Julia's father and his brothers changed the family oral tradition and told their children they were descended from an uncle of Jefferson, as they were trying to protect them from racial discrimination. In the 1970s, a cousin read Fawn Brodie's biography of Jefferson and recognized Eston Hemings' name from family stories. She contacted Brodie and learned the truth about their descent. This enabled tracking down the family to gain a descendant for DNA testing. Julia's brother, John Weeks Jefferson, was the Eston Hemings descendant tested in 1998.
In his last book before the DNA test results were published, Andrew Burstein wrote that Jefferson could not have been the father of Hemings' children. Since then he published Jefferson's Secrets: Death and Desire at Monticello (2005), in which he concluded that Jefferson did have a long-term sexual relationship with Sally Hemings. Burstein said, in an interview about his book,
On Jefferson's isolated mountaintop, sex took place as part of a hierarchy that everyone involved understood. Jefferson, and those of his class, did not share our current understanding of sexual morality. Sally Hemings was his servant, and had little power. She was dependent economically, though this does not mean her feelings were irrelevant. But it does mean that he had extraordinary power, and she very little, and so, as his concubine, she had probably replicated her mother's relationship with Jefferson's father-in-law; for she was, in fact, Jefferson's late wife's half-sister, and I have described the Hemings family as a parallel, subordinate family to the all-white Jeffersons.
In 2005 Christopher Hitchens published a new biography of Jefferson, whom he had always admired and praised. While continuing that praise, he assessed the president and his views. In an interview on NPR about the book, Hitchens discussed Jefferson's views against the co-existence of whites and blacks in the United States. He said,
Then there's the odd, of course, fact that he had a very long love affair with a woman who he owned, who he inherited from his father-in-law, who was his wife's half-sister, and produced several children by her, whose descendants have mainly been brought up on the white side of the color line. So in a strange way, his own patrimony disproves his own belief that there couldn't be coexistence between black and white Americans.
In her Pulitzer Prize-winning The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (2008), Annette Gordon-Reed recounts the history and biography of four generations of the enslaved Hemings family, focusing on their African and Virginian origins until the death in 1826 of Thomas Jefferson. She discusses Jefferson's complex relationships as the family's master, Sally Hemings' partner, and the father of her children.
William G. Hyland, Jr., a trial lawyer, published In Defense of Thomas Jefferson: The Sally Hemings Sex Scandal (2009), in which he argues that Jefferson's younger brother Randolph, who had a reputation for socializing with the Monticello slaves (in contrast to Thomas, who, Hyland argues, did not) is the most likely of several possible candidates for the father of Sally Hemings' children. He also traces the rumor about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings back to the allegation by James Callendar, a "drunken ruffian" who carried a grudge after unsuccessfully lobbying Jefferson for a postmaster appointment, and who bragged of ruining Jefferson's reputation.
In 2012, the Smithsonian Institution and Monticello collaborated on a major exhibit held at the National Museum of American History, Slavery at Jefferson's Monticello: The Paradox of Liberty (January–October 2012). Described as a "groundbreaking exhibit", it was the first on the national Mall to address Jefferson as slaveholder and the lives of his slaves. Members and descendants of six families, including the Hemings, were documented and the strength of the enslaved families was shown. The exhibit noted that "evidence strongly support[s] the conclusion that Jefferson was the father of Sally Hemings' children." More than one million visitors saw the exhibit. Following the Washington run, the exhibit is touring the US, to be held at museums in Atlanta, St. Louis and other venues. Both the United States National Park Service and the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs note in their online biographies that Jefferson's paternity of Hemings' children has been widely accepted.
- Jefferson's Blood, PBS Frontline, 2000, accessed March 10, 2012. Quote: "Now, the new scientific evidence has been correlated with the existing documentary record, and a consensus of historians and other experts who have examined the issue agree that the question has largely been answered: Thomas Jefferson fathered at least one of Sally Hemings's children, and quite probably all six."
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- "Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: A Brief Account", Monticello Website, accessed June 22, 2011, Quote: "Ten years later [referring to its 2000 report], TJF [Thomas Jefferson Foundation] and most historians now believe that, years after his wife's death, Thomas Jefferson was the father of the six children of Sally Hemings mentioned in Jefferson's records, including Beverly, Harriet, Madison and Eston Hemings."
- Helen F. M. Leary, National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 89, No. 3, September 2001, pp. 207, 214 - 218 Quote: Leary concluded that "the chain of evidence securely fastens Sally Hemings's children to their father, Thomas Jefferson."
- Annette Gordon-Reed, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2008, pp. 555 and 616-617
- Ed. Thos. Jefferson Loony, et al. (2006). "Elijah Flecther's Account of a Visit to Monticello" May 8, 1811. Thos. Jefferson Papers, Retirement Series, Vol. 3: Princeton. p. 610.
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- Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson, and the Authority of Science
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- Foster, EA, et al.; Jobling, MA; Taylor, PG; Donnelly, P; De Knijff, P; Mieremet, R; Zerjal, T; Tyler-Smith, C (1998). "Jefferson fathered slave's last child". Nature 396 (6706): 27–28. doi:10.1038/23835. PMID 9817200.
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- "Appendix J: The Possible Paternity of Other Jeffersons, A Summary of Research". Report of the Research Committee on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. Thomas Jefferson Foundation. January 2000. Retrieved 2013-10-29.
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- Foster, EA; Jobling MA, Taylor PG, Donnelly P, de Knijff P, Mieremet R, Zerjal T, Tyler-Smith C (1998). "Jefferson fathered slave's last child". Nature 396 (6706): 27–28. doi:10.1038/23835. PMID 9817200.
- Appendix K: "Assessment of Thomas C. Woodson Connection to Sally Hemings", Report of the Research Committee on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson Foundation, January 2000, accessed April 21, 2012
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- "Conclusions", Report of the Research Committee on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, Monticello, January 2000, accessed March 9, 2011. Quote: The DNA study, combined with multiple strands of currently available documentary and statistical evidence, indicates a high probability that Thomas Jefferson fathered Eston Hemings, and that he most likely was the father of all six of Sally Hemings's children appearing in Jefferson's records. Those children are Harriet, who died in infancy; Beverly; an unnamed daughter who died in infancy; Harriet; Madison; and Eston."
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- Alexander Boulton, "The Monticello Mystery-Case Continued": reviews of The Jefferson-Hemings Myth: An American Travesty; A President in the Family: Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings and Thomas Woodson; and Free Some Day: African American Families at Monticello; in William & Mary Quarterly, Third Series, Vol. 58, No. 4, October 2001. Quote: "Past defenses of Jefferson having proven inadequate, the TJHS advocates have pieced together an alternative case that preserves the conclusions of earlier champions but introduces new "evidence" to support them. Randolph Jefferson, for example, had never seriously been considered as a possible partner of Sally Hemings until the late 20th century, when DNA evidence indicated that a Jefferson was unquestionably the father of Eston."
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- William G. Hyland, Jr., In Defense of Thomas Jefferson: The Sally Hemings Sex Scandal, Introduction, Thomas Dunne Books, June 2009, accessed January 19, 2013
- Slavery at Jefferson's Monticello: The Paradox of Liberty, January 27, 2012 – October 14, 2012, Smithsonian Institution, accessed March 23, 2012. Quote: "The [DNA] test results show a genetic link between the Jefferson and Hemings descendants: A man with the Jefferson Y chromosome fathered Eston Hemings (born 1808). While there were other adult males with the Jefferson Y chromosome living in Virginia at that time, most historians now believe that the documentary and genetic evidence, considered together, strongly support the conclusion that Jefferson was the father of Sally Hemings's children."
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- "The History of a Secret: A chronology of how the Jefferson-Hemings story was long dismissed by historians as legend, lie or worse", Jefferson's Blood, PBS Frontline, May 2000
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- Herbert Barger, Thomas Jefferson - Sally Hemings: the truth about a founding father/ "The DNA Study", n.d., Thomas Jefferson- Sally Hemings blog, articles cited on first page, 2002-2003
- "Famous DNA", International Society of Genetic Genealogy
- "Jefferson in Paris" - a James Ivory film dramatizing some episodes of the Jefferson-Hemings story.
- "Sally Hemings, An American Scandal" - a TV series written by Tina Andrews dramatizing the Jefferson-Hemings story.