Skip to comments.A Family Get-Together of Historic Proportions (Thomas Jefferson & Sally Hemings?)
Posted on 07/14/2003 10:33:43 AM PDT by presidio9
When they were young, their parents told them they were related to a famous man, a slave owner who became president. They called it a family secret, since outsiders would never believe that black children could be descendants of a president.
But some did talk about that distant ancestor, Thomas Jefferson, and were laughed at or called liars by friends and even teachers. No one is calling them liars anymore.
Nearly five years after DNA testing provided compelling some argue overwhelming evidence that Jefferson fathered at least one child with a young slave named Sally Hemings, about 150 of her family's descendants gathered this weekend for their first reunion on the grounds of Jefferson's hilltop plantation, Monticello.
They came in a rainbow of shades: some dark-skinned, some light brown, some as white as a Mayflower descendant. But they behaved as one would expect long-lost cousins to behave, hugging and kissing and sharing stories about children, jobs, golf and family trees.
Just after daybreak this morning, they gathered under a pale blue sky before what is believed to be one of Monticello's slave graveyards to pay tribute to their clan's matriarchs, Sally and her mother, Elizabeth Hemings.
"They were pieces of an American puzzle who didn't quite fit in," said the Rev. Timothy Hughes, a descendant of one of Elizabeth Hemings's daughters, Betty.
Then they moved to a hallowed spot that, before today, had been closed to most of them: the Jefferson family cemetery. They posed for photos, laid flowers on tombstones and gently touched the simple stone obelisk above the third president's grave.
"This today, while not a revolution, is a great reconciliation," said Gregory Cooley, a Virginia lawyer descended from Thomas C. Woodson, who is thought by many to be Sally's first son.
But beneath the uplifting veneer of this weekend's reunion lies an increasingly rancorous battle between the Hemings clan and some of Jefferson's descendants over who can claim the Jefferson birthright. At its heart, the fight is a metaphor for Americans' deeply conflicted views on race, family and Jefferson himself.
On one side, many of the Hemingses have argued for an all-inclusive definition of family that would encompass the offspring of all seven of Sally's children. Some have argued that the group should be expanded to include all the descendants of Elizabeth Hemings as well.
The DNA test concluded that there was strong evidence that a Jefferson male, probably Thomas himself, fathered one of Sally's sons, Eston. The Thomas Jefferson Foundation, the nonprofit organization that runs Monticello, issued a report in 2000 saying that the DNA results, combined with other historical evidence, indicated "a high probability" that Jefferson fathered Eston, and possibly five of Sally's other children.
That conclusion has been endorsed by the National Genealogical Society and a number of prominent Jefferson scholars, many of whom had rejected the Hemingses' claim before.
"Prior to the DNA, I'd say the case against Jefferson didn't reach beyond reasonable doubt," said the historian Joseph J. Ellis, the author of a Jefferson biography, "American Sphinx." "Jefferson is now regarded by most serious scholars as having clearly had a sexual relationship with Sally Hemings."
But the Monticello Association, which operates the Jefferson cemetery and represents descendants of Thomas Jefferson and his wife, Martha, has not accepted the DNA findings as conclusive. And the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society, which includes some of Jefferson's descendants, commissioned its own panel, which concluded in 2001 that Jefferson's younger brother, Randolph, was more likely to have been the father of Sally's children.
"The reason we don't think Jefferson did this is that his reputation meant everything to him, and he would not have risked it on a young slave woman," said Nathaniel Abeles, president of the Monticello Association. "He had everything to lose and nothing to gain, especially when there were plenty of other available women at that time."
The fight between the groups has at times taken on the orchestrated nastiness of a political campaign.
Led by Mr. Abeles, the association set a limit on guests to this year's association meeting in Monticello, held in May, after he learned that Hemings family members were conspiring with sympathetic association members to send a large contingent.
The Hemings group later discovered that Mr. Abeles's wife, Paulie, had monitored their plotting by joining their Yahoo e-mail group, posing as a 67-year-old black woman named Cassandra Lewis. Mrs. Abeles has admitted to the ruse, claiming she was monitoring the Hemings group's efforts to infiltrate and perhaps disrupt the association's meeting.
"We found out about a lot of things that people were trying to do to get around rules for our meetings," Mr. Abeles said in a telephone interview.
The dispute has clearly created bitter divisions within the once sleepy association. During today's service at Monticello's slave graveyard, Susan Hutchison, a descendant of Martha Randolph, Jefferson's daughter, read a statement apologizing to the Hemings family for the association's exclusive policies and expressing "deep regret" that Jefferson owned slaves.
"Our lives have been enriched by our relationship with you," she said.
Many people at the reunion said they were not interested in joining the Monticello Association. All they want, they said, is recognition that Jefferson was the father of at least one line of Hemings offspring.
"I think he's lucky to have been related to us," Patti Jo Harding, 51, a descendant of Sally's son Madison, said of Jefferson. "To see what Sally did, she must have been a great woman."
Madison Hemings and his siblings were so light-skinned that they were able to blend into white communities. Many of their descendants did the same, leaving their slave ancestry behind.
Julia Westerinen of Staten Island, who organized the reunion, said she had thought for years that she was related to Jefferson's white uncle until scholars discovered that she was a descendant of Eston Hemings. She now identifies herself as black on census forms.
Her cousin Mary Jefferson contends that her mother, a working-class Italian, would not have married her father, the scion of a prominent Chicago family, had she known he was descended from slaves. Ms. Jefferson said that if her father knew he was related to Eston Hemings, he kept it a secret.
"When the DNA results came out, I was moved to tears," she said. "It's not that I was now a Jefferson. It was that I knew who my family was."
Some reunion guests said they are still trying to uncover their heritage. Thomas D. Best, a retired college professor from California, said he was convinced he was descended from Sally Hemings's daughter Harriet. He has been combing through genealogical records for years to find proof. "I don't get a lot of support from my family," he said. "My 95-year-old aunt told me, `You were born white, and you're going to stay white.' "
Asked if Jefferson's place in history had been tarnished by his affair with Sally Hemings, most guests here said no. It only showed, they said, how complex and often contradictory he was.
"I'm just happy to have learned that he had some companionship," said Marla Stevens, 51, a descendant of Martha Randolph. "It means he was a whole human being. He was loved and had the capacity to love."
As fireflies rose from Monticello's great flower-ringed lawn on Saturday night, the reunion guests gathered for a family photo. At Ms. Westerinen's prompting, some began singing, "We are family."
"Like all families, there's a few you'd like to throw away," said Cauline Yates, 49, a descendant of Elizabeth Hemings. "But if this turned out to be a big joke, I'd still have made a lot of new friends."
|The former President disembarks from his airplane after a trip back to Arkansas. Although the hoopla is less now that he is out of office, Clinton still occasionally finds himself greeted by military personnel. This is one such occasion.
He climbs down the stairs, carrying two huge pigs, one under each arm. He gets to the bottom, and nods his head in return to the soldier's salute. "Son, what do you think about these?" he says. "Nice pigs, SIR!" comes the reply. Clinton gets mildly miffed and lectures, "I'll have you know these aren't just pigs but the finest of Arkansas Razorbacks. Top notch. I got one for Hillary, and one for Chelsea. What do you think about that?"
"Nice trade, SIR!
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To say it is conclusive is ignorant and arrogant .
The facts do not support the blacks claims and so, they will just have to continue to dream of being decendants of Thomas Jefferson... instead of being descendants of his brother Randolph... who was KNOWN to have sired NUMEROUS children outside marriage.
What about George?
To a man in the 18th century, it was considered a "sad" thing not to have sired offspring to inherit all of your property and to have no male to continue YOUR NAME and LINEAGE.
My husband and I consider George Washington to be a hero and a true gentleman in the 18th century sense of the word. My husband and I have been Revolutionary re-enactors for over 25 years and have done research on all aspects of the period.
My husband has extensively researched the Washington Papers for years. My husband and others have concluded that George Washington was not a careless, lewd or frivilous man.
He insisted on civility in ALL matters.
He was not fond of the continuation of slavery and left in his Will, a provision for funds to be spent, after Martha's death, that would be used to set their slaves free and provide funds by which the former slaves could start new and free lives.
I believe that a man who would spend so much money to provide for his former slaves, in a time when that is virtually unheard of, to do so, was NOT a man who take advantage of their circumstances as slaves and abuse his position of power. I believe he respected women and children and would NOT have injured them in any way.
Thomas Jefferson's slaves were sold after his death.
If you want on (or off) of my black conservative ping list, please let me know via FREEPmail. (And no, you don't have to be black to be on the list!)
Extra warning: this is a high-volume ping list.
Betsy Ross was a proper lady and married with numerous children, as I read in one book. Did you know there is some doubt as to her ever sewing a flag for ANYBODY?
Too bad the scientific evidence doesn't actually prove that Thomas Jefferson sired any children by Sally Hemmings.
An article in the November 5, 1998, edition of Nature provides DNA evidence that Thomas Jefferson or some other male Jefferson such as Randolph, the brother of Thomas, could have been the father of one of the sons of Sally Hemings, who was a slave at Jefferson's Monticello. The technique relies on the fact that the human Y-chromosome is handed down directly from father to son and that all paternally related males will have the same Y-chromosome. Although Thomas Jefferson did not have any sons who survived to produce children, his father's brother, Field Jefferson, did have sons and it has been possible to locate 5 descendants of Field Jefferson who are in a direct male-line of descent. Thus, these individuals (descendants of Field Jefferson) should have the same Y-chromosome DNA as the Y-chromosome DNA of Thomas Jefferson and any male-line descendant of his.
The male-line descendants of two of Sally Hemmings sons were located and their Y-chromosome DNA was examined for comparison to the Y-chromosome DNA of Field Jefferson's descendants. The DNA from the five male-line descendants of Thomas Woodson, oldest son of Sally Hemings, did not match the Jefferson DNA. In fact, one of Woodson's descendants did not match well with the other four. However, the DNA from the one descendant of Eston Hemings, youngest son of Sally Hemings, did match the Jefferson DNA.
This lends credence to the supposition that Thomas Jefferson may have been the father of Eston Hemings. However, historian Williard S. Randall, notes, "There were 25 men within 20 miles of Monticello who were all Jeffersons and had the same Y chromosome. And 23 of them were younger than Jefferson, who was 65 years old when Eston was conceived." Randall, wrote a 1993 biography of Jefferson, titled, Thomas Jefferson: A Life. More detailed information is available. Three different authors provide some perspective on Jefferson and Hemings in The Nation. Finally, the The Jefferson-Hemings Scholars Commission concluded that Randolph Jefferson, Thomas' brother, was more likely to have fathered Eston Hemings.
Y Chromosome DNA Data on Jefferson and Hemings
In order to answer the question of whether or not Thomas Jefferson could have been the father of any of Sally Hemings' sons it is necessary to compare the Y-chromosome DNA from the living male-line descendants of Jefferson and Hemmings. Is has been possible to locate male-line descendants of two of Sally Hemings' sons, Thomas Woodson (the oldest) and Eston Hemings the (youngest), but not Madison Hemings whose male-line descendants did not survive the Civil War. Shown in the figure to the right is the lineage of the one male-line descendant (H21) of Eston Hemmings and the five male-line descendants (W55, W56, W69, W70, and W61) of Thomas Woodson whose DNA was analyzed as part of the study.
Furthermore, Thomas Jefferson did not have a son survive to reproduce so it was necessary to locate the male-line descendants of Thomas Jefferson's paternal uncle, Field Jefferson. Five such descendants (J41, J42, J47, J49, and J50) were located and their DNA was analyzed.
It was also possible to locate three male-line descendants (C27, C29, and C31) of Samuel and Peter Carr -- the sons of Thomas Jefferson's sister -- whom some consider as the possible fathers of Sally Hemings' children.
In the table below are the results of an examination of the Y-chromosome DNA of the 14 male-line descendants described above. Where an individual differs from the other members of his cohort, the allele difference is shown in bold face. The five descendants of Field Jefferson (and proxies for Thomas Jefferson) have identical Y-chromosome DNA alleles except for one microsatellite DNA from J50. This difference is most reasonably accounted for by assuming that a mutation occured.
The lone descendant of Eston Hemings has the same set of Y-chromosome DNA alleles as the descendants of Field Jefferson. This supports the claim that Thomas Jefferson could have been the father of Eston Hemings although it does not prove it since the father could have been any male who had the same Y-chromosome as Thomas Jefferson and was in the immediate vicinity of Sally Hemings nine months before the birth of Eston Hemings. In fact, historical evidence implicates Randolph Jefferson, Thomas' brother, as the more likely father of Eston Hemings. The Carr descendants have similar DNA among themselves but are clearly different from either the Jefferson or Hemings descendants.
Four of the descendants of Thomas Woodson are quite similar among themselves but different from Jefferson and Hemings although they do have similarities to the descendants of the Carr line. One of the Woodson descendants is quite different from all of the other individuals which suggests that one of the genetic ancestors was not in the direct line from Thomas Woodson.
|Bi Allelic Markers||Microsatellite STR||Mini Satellite MSY1|
|Jefferson||J41||0000001||15,12,4,11,3,9,11,10,15,13,7||(3)5, (1)14, (3)32, (4)16|
|J42||0000001||15,12,4,11,3,9,11,10,15,13,7||(3)5, (1)14, (3)32, (4)16|
|J47||0000001||15,12,4,11,3,9,11,10,15,13,7||(3)5, (1)14, (3)32, (4)16|
|J49||0000001||15,12,4,11,3,9,11,10,15,13,7||(3)5, (1)14, (3)32, (4)16|
|J50||0000001||15,12,4,11,3,9,11,10,16,13,7||(3)5, (1)14, (3)32, (4)16|
|Hemings||H21||0000001||15,12,4,11,3,9,11,10,15,13,7||(3)5, (1)14, (3)32, (4)16|
|Carr||C27||0000011||14,12,5,12,3,10,11,10,13,13,7||(1)17, (3)36, (4)21|
|C29||0000011||14,12,5,11,3,10,11,10,13,13,7||(1)17, (3)37, (4)21|
|C31||0000011||14,12,5,12,3,10,11,10,13,13,7||(1)17, (3)36, (4)21|
|Woodson||W55||0000011||14,12,5,11,3,10,11,13,13,13,7||(1)16, (3)27, (4)21|
|W56||0000011||14,12,5,11,3,10,11,13,13,13,7||(1)16, (3)27, (4)21|
|W69||0000011||14,12,5,11,3,10,11,13,13,13,7||(1)16, (3)27, (4)21|
|W70||1110001||17,12,6,11,3,11,8,10,11,14,6||(0)1, (3a)3, (1a)11,
(3a)30, (4a)14, (4)2
|W61||0000011||14,12,5,11,3,10,11,13,13,13,7||(1)16, (3)28, (4)20|