Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

Chat room spy irks descendants - woman says she wanted Hemings kin out of Jefferson reunion
Associated Press ^ | May 3, 2003 | Associated Press Staff

Posted on 05/03/2003 7:49:53 AM PDT by MeekOneGOP

Chat room spy irks descendants

Woman says she wanted Hemings kin out of Jefferson reunion


Associated Press

ROANOKE, Va. – Relatives of reputed Thomas Jefferson mistress Sally Hemings say their Internet chat group was infiltrated by the head of the Jefferson family association, who pretended to be a 67-year-old black woman.

But Nat Abeles says the real spy was his wife, who admitted to the subterfuge to help in her husband's efforts to keep the slave descendants out of the annual Jefferson reunion this weekend.

"This started out as a prank," said Paulie Abeles of Washington D.C., who participated for eight months in the Yahoo! message board created for Hemings family members.

"It might have been somewhat unethical. It might have been childish ... but I really think I was working in the best interest of the majority of the family members to make the reunion a calm and civilized gathering."

The admission has rankled members of both families on the eve of the family's annual reunion at Jefferson's hilltop estate in Charlottesville.

Even though the Hemings clan was formally excluded from membership last year, some members of the Jefferson family Monticello Association continue to invite slave descendants to accompany them at the group's annual cocktail party and cemetery visit.

David Works, who claims to be a sixth-generation grandson of the union of Jefferson and Hemings, said he has asked federal authorities to investigate the matter.

'This is serious'

"This isn't a fraternity house panty raid – this is serious," said Mr. Works, who supervised the Internet group and traced messages to Ms. Abeles' computer.

Ms. Abeles said she was curious in August when she found out the Hemings family was communicating through an Internet group, but she thought her name would have made it difficult to be included.

So Cassandra Mays-Lewis was born. In her Yahoo! profile, Ms. Abeles made Cassandra a descendant of Jefferson's blacksmith and slave Joe Fossett, describing herself as having an interest in black genealogy. In her messages, she played the part of an elderly woman, stricken with emphysema, thanking Mr. Works for his "kind attentions to an old woman."

Ms. Abeles said she never told her husband about Cassandra until a few days ago when Mr. Works discovered she was a fake. Instead, Ms. Abeles said she informed her husband of the Hemingses' conversations by having Cassandra send him e-mails.

"The information itself was quite valuable," Mr. Abeles said. "They were planning on all kinds of ways to get people in and trying to trick people into making inappropriate comments."

Lucian Truscott IV, a Jefferson descendant who believes the Hemings family should be recognized, said it is clear from the Internet messages that the real impostor was Mr. Abeles, not his wife.

"He's using his wife as a human shield," said Mr. Truscott, who usually invites the Hemings family to come to the reunion en masse.

Rules, what rules?

Mr. Truscott said that when the Hemings family started discussing the reunion on the Yahoo! site about three months ago, Mr. Abeles promptly told the Jefferson family they were only allowed to bring two guests each.

When Mr. Truscott tried to accommodate the few dozen Hemingses by getting invitations from other Jefferson family members, including some who weren't planning on attending the event, Mr. Abeles countered by telling association members they had to be present to bring guests.

Then Mr. Truscott thought of using junior members – teenagers planning on attending the event with their parents – to sponsor the Hemings family. Again, Mr. Abeles said that only full members were allowed to bring guests.

"Every time we'd think of a way to get the Hemingses there, he'd come up with a new rule," Mr. Works said.

Hemings descendant Jill Sim said she finds the whole thing insulting.

"It really was a stupid thing to do," said Ms. Sim, 33, a writer who lives outside Charlottesville. "Because you have the president of the association, who could have asked to join the list. ... It feels like a mockery."

Ms. Sim, who says she is descended from a Sally Hemings sibling, finds some poetic justice in the fact that, if only for a few days in cyberspace, a Hemings descendant was president of the Monticello Association.

"It's a wonderful twist of fate," she said. "It's very surreal."

Online at:

TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Culture/Society; Front Page News; News/Current Events; US: Texas; US: Virginia
KEYWORDS: chatroom; monticello; sallyhemings; slavery; thomasjefferson; virginia
Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first previous 1-2021-29 last
This year may be last for Jefferson-Hemings reunion

Associated Press Writer May 04, 2003

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) _ Under a steady drizzle, Michele Cooley waited by the roadside as a crowd of Thomas Jefferson descendants filed into shuttles and drove to the family's hilltop estate.

Cooley, a descendant of Jefferson's reputed slave mistress Sally Hemings, also came for the annual reunion, but this year the Hemingses were told they needed to be escorted by a willing Jefferson family member.

"So I'm waiting," Cooley said, scanning the crowd for her sponsor. "Every year I feel so uncomfortable because you know people don't want us to be here. But I still feel victorious because my family has developed so many friendships with some of them."

Four years after DNA tests found a link between the Jefferson and Hemings families, the two groups have grown far apart, divided by Jeffersons who refuse to consider any sexual relationship between their famous patriarch and his slave, and vocal members of both families who want the Hemings clan recognized despite any definitive scientific evidence they were fathered by the third president.

In the past year, the Jefferson family's Monticello Associaiton excluded the Hemingses from membership and prohibited its members from allowing more than two Hemings guests each at the reunion.

Many Hemings family members say they're tired of all the infighting, and they've decided to plan their own Monticello reunion in July.

"We're going to have speeches and African-American dancing _ it's going to be totally different," said Julia Westerinen, a Hemings descendant who is organizing the event.

The weekend reunion was quiet this year, attended by about 80 of the Monticello Association's 800 members and a dozen of the 2,500 people who claim Hemings as an ancestor.

The rain continued to sprinkle as families huddled under umbrellas and mingled between tables of crackers and cheese. Children in sport coats still played tag on Monticello's west porch despite the rain, and cousins thrust themselves in front of TV cameras to debate their version of family history.

Thomas Beauchamp, a Jefferson descendant from St. Louis, Mo., said he was tired of having family affairs so political and it wasn't so bad that the new guest policy made it harder for the Hemings to attend.

"I'm not in this fight at all, but if there's a way to make this weekend a little easier, I'm all for it," Beauchamp said.

There was a time, in the 1970s and early 1980s, when the Jefferson cousins would just sit on the porch with a bag of chips and sandwiches they made themselves, he said.

"Why are they (the Hemingses) even coming anymore?" asked John Works Jr., a former Monticello Association president. "They have their own reunion now."

Many family members were still talking about current president Nat Abeles and his wife Paulie, who obtained email messages from a private chat group set up for the Hemings family.

Paulie Abeles said she gained access by masquerading as a 67-year-old slave descendant on her Internet profile. When Hemings family members discussed how to find enough Jefferson sponsors to get them invited to the reunion, Paulie forwarded the messages to Nat.

Nat used the information to refine the association's guest acceptance procedures in a way that made it harder for the Hemingses to come.

"That's got to be fraud of some kind," said Ginny Truscott of Seattle, a Jefferson descendant who wants to remove Nat Abeles as president.

Works said he thought the Abeles' actions were justified, given that the chat group kicked off people that its members considered threatening.

"It's not inclusive," he said. "It's discriminatory."

Steve Moyer, a Jefferson descendant from Rochester, NY, said he was on the chat group for about six months before getting kicked off. He said he was appalled by the "vicious, vindictive-type things" the Hemingses were saying about the Jeffersons.

The drama will likely continue because of the opposing personalities in the family, said Lucian Truscott IV, a Jefferson descendant who first invited the Hemings family to the reunions and continues to push for their acceptance within his family.

"Thomas Jefferson never shied from debate, and I'll tell you, we're not going to either."

Some Hemings family members said they weren't sure if they'd ever come back to the Jefferson reunion, especially if they can have their own at Monticello.

"I wasn't even sure I was going to come this year until about a month ago," said Shay Banks-Young. "I guess we'll take it day by day."

On Sunday morning, about 25 members from the two families gathered one more time, bringing daisies to the site where Jefferson's slaves were buried. Holding hands in a broad circle, they prayed together and relished their newfound cousins.

"If (Thomas Jefferson) could look down at us today, he'd say to himself, this is my family," said John Works Sr., a Jefferson descendant.
21 posted on 05/04/2003 1:57:59 PM PDT by Ligeia
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: justshutupandtakeit
There isn't enough physical evidence to prove that, or even circumstantial evidence. There *is* evidence that "Uncle"Randolf always visited Monticello when Jefferson was home, and spent a good deal of time entertaining himself with the slaves. There are contradictory (hemmings descendant) family tales of who fathered Hemming's children too.

The case for Jefferson's paternity of Hemming's children is weak and there is an equally if not more plausible Jefferson relative for her children. Until the matter is beyond dispute, they should not be considered Thomas Jefferson's direct descendants.

I don't much care one way or the other about Jefferson being the father but I do care that the evidence has been overblown as "proof" when that is absolutely NOT the case.
22 posted on 05/04/2003 1:59:52 PM PDT by SarahW
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 12 | View Replies]

To: justshutupandtakeit
But that isn't proof. The Jefferson relative visited when Jefferson each time Jefferson returned to Monticello. The familial resemblance can also be explained this way...
23 posted on 05/04/2003 2:02:55 PM PDT by SarahW
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 18 | View Replies]

To: justshutupandtakeit
Until Fawn Brodie persuaded them they were mistaken, the descendants of Eston Hemings were told that his father was not the famous president but "an uncle." Randolph Jefferson was widely known as "Uncle Randolph" at Monticello (because of his relationship to Jefferson's daughters).

An investigator who believed the Jefferson-Hemings story half-a-century ago reported that Hemings descendants had told her that Randolph fathered children by his own slaves. The book Memoirs of a Monticello Slave, by former Monticello blacksmith Isaac Jefferson, reported that when Randolph visited Monticello he would spend his nights playing his fiddle and dancing "half the night" with Monticello slaves. The timing of the birth of Hemmings children also coincided with a time when Uncle Randolph was between wives.

24 posted on 05/04/2003 2:07:40 PM PDT by SarahW
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 18 | View Replies]

To: SarahW
Sorry but I don't buy it. There are two Uncles which the Jefferson family tried to pin these births on. But since no birth ever occurred without TJ being availbable for fathering and the children were treated exceptionally well the Uncle link does not hold up for me.

And the births were over a twenty year span, I believe. Women in the Hemmings had a history of long-term linkages with one man and I believe Sally did that as well.

It is not likely that she would have been cavorting with Uncle at slave dances either from what I have read of her.

Fawn Brodie is not the only source of this linkage either and much information is available from the interviews done in the 1870s or 80s with one of Sally's sons. Brodie's book is a good one though and more than likely correct in its essence.

It should also be noted that these children were all quite successful and respected in their communities when they didn't "pass for white" and become anonymous like the girl. That sounds more like TJ than the shiftless ne'er do well uncles.

There is an interesting book about this by a black lady lawyer whose name I forget. I'll try and find it.

You are right that there will likely never be any definitive proof one way or the other and it is not that important. It is a fascinating means of reviewing a long lost society and its human stories.

I am not a Jefferson fan but not for this reason. Actually, I believe the affair shows a lot of positive features J. had. If true, it is a tragedy. Imagine a long-term Love which can never be revealed or acknowledged. How hard that would be.
25 posted on 05/05/2003 8:30:58 AM PDT by justshutupandtakeit (RATS will use any means to denigrate George Bush's Victory.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 24 | View Replies]

To: justshutupandtakeit
He wasn't an actual uncle, and it's only RANDOLF JEFFERSON, him specifically, that remains as a serious candidate for paternity of Hemmings children.

When Jefferson returned, so did Uncle Randolf. He has the appropriate tail-male DNA. He *played the violin* - spent much time "fiddling" down by the slave quarters. He is known to have fathered children by his own slaves.

The oral tradition of some Hemmings descendants is that a Jefferson *Uncle* (Randolf Jefferson was referred to as "Uncle" Randolf)was their forebear, not Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson's preferential freeing of Hemmings children could have as much to do with their physical traits as the possibility he sired any of them. They would have looked nearly white. They wouldn't look like african slaves. The chances of them suceeding as free persons in the wider world was higher. They were certainly related to his wife and his own children!

Randolph Jefferson is as likely, if not more likely, father to Hemmings children as Jefferson is. Until he is eliminated, it is highly irresponsible to claim that the facts "prove" Jefferson's paternity. It's not even close.

I have no vested interest one way or another...but truth is truth. Another perfectly plausible father exists in History.
26 posted on 05/05/2003 9:03:44 AM PDT by SarahW
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 25 | View Replies]

To: SarahW
From my reading into this that "plausibility" is not very plausible.

There were other white slaves at Monticello who were not freed either prior to or after J's death. "Appearance" as a reason to free them appears to be an insufficient explanation of the freeing of Hemmings family.

Another claim is that Peter Jefferson was the father.

Annette Gordon-Reed Thomas Jefferson An American Controversy is the book I referenced earlier. It does a good job of examining the various possiblities.
27 posted on 05/05/2003 10:41:44 AM PDT by justshutupandtakeit (RATS will use any means to denigrate George Bush's Victory.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 26 | View Replies]

To: justshutupandtakeit
It's at least as plausible, if not more so, than Thomas Jefferson. He was there at the right times, he showed inclination for taking advantage of slaves in that way, he has the right DNA, and is even implicated in the earliest oral histories of Hemmings descendants.

Until he specifically is ruled out, no one can claim it is proved Hemmings line is directly descended from Thomas Jefferson.
28 posted on 05/05/2003 11:37:58 AM PDT by SarahW
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 27 | View Replies]

To: SarahW
No one will ever be able to prove it one way or another.
29 posted on 05/05/2003 12:14:48 PM PDT by justshutupandtakeit (RATS will use any means to denigrate George Bush's Victory.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 28 | View Replies]

Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first previous 1-2021-29 last

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794 is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson