Whether Jefferson and his slave, Sally Hemings, had a long-term affair and the paternity of her six children has remained a controversial to the present day. The passage below is a truncated excerpt from Monticello.org that based on their investigation and DNA testing concludes that Jefferson was the probable father of some, if not all, of the children. The link to the full report that includes a rebuttal to the report is provided at the end of the excerpt.
“The claim that Thomas Jefferson fathered children with Sally Hemings, a slave at Monticello, entered the public arena during Jefferson’s first term as president, and it has remained a subject of discussion and disagreement for two centuries.” (Break)
“Although there had been rumors of a sexual relationship between Jefferson and a slave before 1802, Callender’s article spread the story widely. It was taken up by Jefferson’s Federalist opponents and was published in many newspapers during the remainder of Jefferson’s presidency. (Break)
“Over the years, however, belief in a Thomas Jefferson-Sally Hemings relationship was perpetuated in private. Two of her children – Madison and Eston – indicated that Jefferson was their father, and this belief has been relayed through generations of their descendants as an important family truth.
The results of the study established that an individual carrying the male Jefferson Y chromosome fathered Eston Hemings (born 1808), the last known child born to Sally Hemings. There were approximately 25 adult male Jeffersons who carried this chromosome living in Virginia at that time, and a few of them are known to have visited Monticello. The study’s authors, however, said “the simplest and most probable” conclusion was that Thomas Jefferson had fathered Eston Hemings.” (Break)
“The DNA testing also found no genetic link between the Hemings and Carr descendants. Shortly after the DNA test results were released in November 1998, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation formed a research committee consisting of nine members of the foundation staff, including four with Ph.D.s. In January 2000, the committee reported its finding that the weight of all known evidence – from the DNA study, original documents, written and oral historical accounts, and statistical data – indicated a high probability that Thomas Jefferson was the father of Eston Hemings, and that he was perhaps the father of all six of Sally Hemings’ children listed in Monticello records – Harriet (born 1795; died in infancy); Beverly (born 1798); an unnamed daughter (born 1799; died in infancy); Harriet (born 1801); Madison (born 1805); and Eston (born 1808).
Thomas Jefferson was at Monticello at the likely conception times of Sally Hemings’ six known children. There are no records suggesting that she was elsewhere at these times, or records of any births at times that would exclude Jefferson paternity.
There are no indications in contemporary accounts by people familiar with Monticello that Sally Hemings’ children had different fathers. Sally Hemings’ children were light-skinned, and three of them (daughter Harriet and sons Beverly and Eston) lived as members of white society as adults. According to contemporary accounts, some of Sally Hemings’ children strongly resembled Thomas Jefferson.
Thomas Jefferson freed all of Sally Hemings’ children: Beverly and Harriet were allowed to leave Monticello in 1822; Madison and Eston were released in Jefferson’s 1826 will. Jefferson gave freedom to no other nuclear slave family. Thomas Jefferson did not free Sally Hemings. She was permitted to leave Monticello by his daughter Martha Jefferson Randolph not long after Jefferson’s death in 1826, and went to live with her sons Madison and Eston in Charlottesville.” (Large break)
“Although the relationship between Jefferson and Sally Hemings has been for many years, and will surely continue to be, a subject of intense interest to historians and the public, the evidence is not definitive, and the complete story may never be known. The Foundation encourages its visitors and patrons, based on what evidence does exist, to make up their own minds as to the true nature of the relationship.”
Read the full account of the Thomas Jefferson/Sally Hemings controversy at:
Tomorrow: Jefferson on Jenner’s SmallpoxVaccine Rita Bay