Historians: Thomas Jefferson Did Not Father Children by Hemings

Historians: Thomas Jefferson Did Not Father Children by Hemings

A new book reignites the Jefferson–Hemings paternity debate, and a group of historians claim that Thomas Jefferson is not the father.

Published September 1, 2011

A new book released Thursday is said to contain critical evidence that proves Thomas Jefferson did not father children by his slave, Sally Hemings, contrary to the findings of previous historical study.

The Jefferson-Hemings Controversy contains research from 2001 that was commissioned by the Heritage Society to challenge research conducted by a Jefferson Foundation committee that concluded the founding father had, in fact, fathered several children by Hemings.

The stunning findings of the Jefferson Foundation committee were the subject of The Hemingses of Monticello, 2008 book by Black law professor Annette Gordon-Reed, who chronicled the intricacies of the bonds between the Jefferson and Hemings families, and garnered a National Book Award in 2008 and a Pulitzer Prize in 2009.

The Hertitage Society maintains that their research has uncovered critical pieces of evidence that make Jefferson’s paternity of Hemings’ children nearly impossible.

One piece of this evidence is the DNA test, performed in 1998, which proved Jefferson was the father of Hemings’ son Eston. According to the new book, the authors say that because the DNA sample was taken from an uncle of Jefferson and not the former president himself, Eston’s father could have been any one of two dozen Jefferson men living in Virginia at the time.

Throughout the years, descendants of Hemings have maintained that they are relatives of Jefferson and do not intend to be left out of historical accounts of his legacy.

"My mother knew her great-great-grandmother. She was the daughter to Madison Hemings. She knew who she was. No one's got to tell me who we are,” Shay Banks-Young, a Hemings descendant, told CBS in 2009.

The book is sure to reignite a long-standing debate as strong opinions exist on both sides over whether one of American history’s most revered figures fathered children by a woman that was simultaneously his mistress and his property.

(Photo: Courtesy of Carolina Academic Press)

Written by Naeesa Aziz


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