The AP should run a correction to this story that appeared in today’s morning newspaper and in countless other papers around the country. The assertion that Hemings gave birth to children fathered by Thomas Jefferson is almost certainly bogus. Fathered by “a” Jefferson? Perhaps.
According to an authoritative 2012 Wall Street Journal column by Robert F. Turner, a professor at the University of Virginia and editor of “The Jefferson-Hemings Controversy: Report of the Scholars Commission,” 1998 DNA tests did not use genetic material from Thomas Jefferson, but rather suggest that one of more than two dozen Jefferson males may have fathered Hemings’ youngest son, Eston. Turner wrote that there may have been at least seven Jefferson men, including Thomas Jefferson, at Monticello when Eston was conceived in 1807.
“Allegations that the ‘oral history’ of Sally’s descendants identified the president as the father of all of Sally’s children are also incorrect,” Turner wrote. “Eston’s descendants repeatedly acknowledged — before and after the DNA tests — that as children they were told they were not descendants of Thomas Jefferson but rather of an ‘uncle.’”
The most likely candidate, according to Turner, is Jefferson’s younger brother, known at Monticello as “Uncle Randolph.” Randolph, who it was said would “come out among black people, play the fiddle and dance half the night,” was invited to visit Monticello just weeks before Eston’s likely conception.
Turner points out that the first allegations of President Jefferson fathering a child with Hemings’ was published in the Richmond Recorder in September 1802, noting that Hemings’ eldest child was named “Tom.” After Jefferson’s death, a former slave named Thomas Woodson claimed he was that “Tom,” but DNA tests of descendants of Woodson’s disproved this.
That Richmond newspaper story was written by the notorious slanderer James Callender, who was imprisoned under the Sedition Act during John Adams’ term as second president. He admitted writing lies about Adams to get Jefferson elected. In fact he shouted as much in front of the White House when he demanded that Jefferson grant him the job of postmaster of Richmond, Va. The newspaper story apparently was his revenge.
Thomas Jefferson, third president of U.S. (WSJ pix via Getty Images)