A lot of people find it really important to refute the story that Thomas Jefferson fathered children by Sally Hemings, complete with creepy racist vibe, like Assault on a Founding Father:
I am a lineal descendant of Thomas Jefferson, and as such I feel compelled to respond to the ongoing attempt to ruin his reputation and smear his memory in the public eye. A certain coalition of interests has made a concerted effort to foster the tale of a relationship between Jefferson and Sally Hemings, a woman who was a slave on his estate at Monticello. […]
Americans owe a huge debt to Mr. Jefferson’s genius, particularly in terms of our concepts of individual freedom. Those who seek to defile his memory also seek to undermine the concepts he taught us. Certainly the contributions of minorities to the founding and development of this country must be acknowledged and advanced, but not by deception and deliberate tampering with the facts. To accept the Sally Hemings myth as truth is to question the validity of everything Jefferson ever said or wrote. This accusation against him is contrary to everything we know about him, and we know much from his journals, his massive correspondence, and his professional writings.
After all, if anything’s a hallmark of Jefferson’s words and deeds about slavery, it’s the consistency.
I have found that the likelihood of someone believing the Jefferson-Hemings story is directly proportionate to how little they know about him. I attribute ignorance of this and so many other subjects to the massive dumbing-down of Americans, which we can see all around us.
Like those Jefferson know-nothings over at the Thomas Jefferson Foundation who concluded:
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.
Research Report on the Jefferson-Hemings Controversy: A Critical Analysis says of that report:
However, an examination of this report and the methodology used in preparing it, shows it to be an unprofessional, unscientific accumulation of bias and prejudice, and an offense to the memory of the great man that this foundation was chartered to memorialize. One would expect the Foundation at least to give Thomas Jefferson the benefit of the doubt in the face of the many scurrilous attacks that have been made on his character over the years, for which there is not one shred of direct evidence. […] There was a deliberate attempt to select and mold the evidence to fit a pre-selected theory and to avoid anything that might resemble genuine balance. […] The result is a fabricated tissue of hearsay and assumptions, in which gossip and self-serving, handed-down family stories are granted the equivalence of facts and direct testimony.
Their idea of genuine balance:
Shortly before her death, Martha [Randolph, one of Thomas Jefferson’s daughters — Zed] called her two sons, Thomas Jefferson Randolph and George Wythe Randolph, to her bedside and told them of Mr. Jefferson’s innocence of the charges of fathering children by a female slave, citing her reasons, and asking them always to defend the character of their illustrious grandfather. One of the important things to recognize here is that Martha THOUGHT that Thomas Jefferson was not the father of Sally’s children, and since she had lived at Monticello much of the time when Jefferson was there, and was on the closest terms with him, she was in a position to know from her own knowledge and observation whether there was likely a relationship going on or not. […]
There is one story included in the Foundation’s report that provides good behavioristic evidence that also contradicts the report’s findings. The report states, “There is only one known account of the subject [i.e., a connection to Sally Hemings] being raised in Jefferson’s presence. As Jefferson’s Randolph granddaughters told biographer Henry S. Randall, Jefferson’s daughter Martha Randolph, roused to indignation by Irish poet Thomas Moore’s couplet linking her father with a slave, thrust the offending poem in front of him one day at Monticello. Jefferson’s only response was a ‘hearty, clear laugh.’”
Proponents of an affair say that Martha knew what was going on, but she was “in denial.” But if she were really in denial, she would hardly have angrily presented the poem to Jefferson. Instead, reality would have clashed with her hidden refusal to accept it, and she would more likely have angrily thrown the poem in the trash and blotted it from her mind. But then, having presented the poem to Jefferson, if he were really guilty, he would surely not have laughed (unless he had the character of Al Capone, which he obviously did not), but would have blanched at having his private affairs publicly ridiculed and especially being faced with it directly by his own beloved daughter. But instead he laughed, and his laughing indicates to us that he thought the whole thing utterly absurd. Rather than indicating that there was an affair, and that Jefferson and his daughter both refused to face up to it, this incident clearly indicates to anyone with a sensitivity to human nature that neither Jefferson nor his daughter really believed with any part of their minds that this story was true.
Nope, there’s no selecting evidence to fit a pre-selected theory, or treating self-serving, handed-down family stories as evidence to be had there.
In today’s America, a race hoax industry manned by black activists and their white benefactors in the media, politics, and academia produces one outrage after another, with the aim of denigrating white heroes, elevating often obscure blacks, making black racists rich and powerful, and waging race war.
So it is with the smear invented in 1802, and in recent years conscripted anew to sully the name of arguably the most brilliant of all of America’s Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826). The Jefferson-Hemings Hoax claims, without any evidence, that the third president, renaissance man, and author of the Declaration of Independence fathered the children of slave Sally Hemings (1773-1835). Hoaxers seek to drag Jefferson through the mud, expropriate his legacy on behalf of Hemings’ descendants, and supplant scholarship with Afrocentric propaganda. The perpetrators of the Jefferson-Hemings hoax seek, without firing a single shot, to rob the American people of their patrimony.
While I consider it of historical interest, I’m not really moved or shocked by either of the premises that a Virginian widower c. 1800 had a long-term affair with a mixed-race slave, or that he didn’t. I am offended by the suggestion that its truth would disgrace Jefferson’s memory. It’s very clear that some proponents of each side really, really want one or the other to be true.
Before having examined it, I thought it was a done deal, that the evidence was conclusive, that it was only creepy racism inspiring the denialists. It turns out, though, that the evidence is very ambiguous.
The controversy began in 1802, with an accusation from James Callender, who had an axe to grind with Jefferson.
The Richmond Recorder published an article that contained the following: “It is well known that the man, whom it delighteth the people to honor, keeps and for many years has kept, as his concubine, one of his slaves. Her name is Sally. The name of her eldest son is Tom. His features are said to bear a striking though sable resemblance to those of the president himself…. By this wench Sally, our president has had several children.”
Also from that article…
In 1784 Thomas Jefferson was sent as a diplomat to France by the American colonial government. James Hemings went with him. Jefferson’s eldest daughter Martha joined him in Paris a short time later, and was enrolled in a convent school for a formal education. In 1787 Jefferson sent for his other daughter, Maria, who made the voyage from Virginia escorted by Sally Hemings, who was either fourteen or fifteen at the time. […] In the fall of 1789, Jefferson and his two daughters, as well as Sally and James Hemings, returned to America. By all accounts, Sally Hemings was visibly pregnant at the time of their homecoming to Monticello.
Except the “by all accounts” part is apparently far from true. Allegedly, the product of that pregnancy was Thomas Woodson, but from the Thomas Jefferson Society’s brief account:
Madison Hemings, Sally’s second-youngest son, said in 1873 that his mother had been pregnant with Jefferson’s child (who, he said, lived “but a short time”) when she returned from France in 1789. But there is no indication in Jefferson’s records of a child born to Hemings before 1795, and there are no known documents to support that Thomas Woodson was Hemings’ first child.
The DNA testing in 1988 compared Y-chromosomes, so it’s conclusive of patrilineage. It compared descendants of Hemings’ last child, Eston Hemings, of Jefferson’s paternal uncle, Field Jefferson (Jefferson had no surviving male children,) and of Thomas Woodson’s descendants. It established pretty conclusive proof that Eston Hemings’ father was a Jefferson. Of Hemings’ other children, two died in infancy, and two were female, and thus their descendants are not candidates for this test. Another, Madison Hemings doesn’t have a surviving male lineage, from what I can see on the Internets, but he had a son, William Hemings, who died in 1910. There are people eager to exhume the grave to seek DNA evidence, but the Hemings family is declining. And, finally, it proved as conclusively that Thomas Woodson was not descended from a Jefferson. (This pesky detail has not swayed the faith of at least some of the Woodson family.)
Also from the TJS’ brief account:
In the few scattered references to Sally Hemings in Thomas Jefferson’s records and correspondence, there is nothing to distinguish her from other members of her family.
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. […]
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.
Several people close to Thomas Jefferson or the Monticello community believed that he was the father of Sally Hemings’ children.
But Jefferson’s time in Monticello occasioned visits by other Jeffersons. Some close to Jefferson or the Monticello community believed he was not the father of Hemings’ children. And there’s no real documentation of Jefferson’s relationship with Hemings. In the Straight Dope, Cecil Adams summarizes:
It might not have been Jefferson. It could have been his brother Randolph, one of Randolph’s five sons, etc. Looking at the bigger picture: it was a plantation, lots of sexual mixing went on—who knows how the bloodlines might have gotten crossed? On the other hand: (1) it’s been documented that Hemings and Jefferson were in the same place eight or nine months prior to each known birth; (2) there’s the DNA evidence, (3) there’s the Woodson oral history, (4) there’s the Madison Hemings account; (5) Jefferson freed all the Hemings children at age 21, something he did for none of his other slaves; and (6) the Carr theory has been largely ruled out. So the simplest explanation is that TJ was the pop.
This omits that the DNA evidence clearly undermines the Woodson oral history, and this calls into question Madison Hemings’ account, which assigns Woodson’s paternity to Jefferson.
The only thing we can state with (nearly) total confidence that Eston was fathered by a Jefferson, who might have been Thomas, or Randolph, or another. Woodson’s father was not a Jefferson, and it’s highly debatable whether his mother was Hemings. We don’t know squat for certain about Hemings’ five other children.
Did Thomas Jefferson sire all of Hemings’ children? Maybe. Did he never touch her? Maybe.
But we sure know that a lot of people have a major axe to grind over this issue.