Did Mr Jefferson Do It?

It has become part of the Received Wisdom that Thomas Jefferson fathered many children with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings, based on a genetic study about ten years ago. The genetic studies were much less definite than the urban legends that grew up about them — Jefferson has no (other?) direct descendants, and all the genetic information could tell anyone is that Jefferson was one of a good couple dozen men who were candidates — and two or three of them were thorough reprobates. But the genetics, along with a bunch of circumstantial evidence, were added up to conclude that Jefferson was probably the father of at least some of Hemings’ children.


Or maybe not.

In a book due out Thursday, eminent scholars say it’s unlikely that Thomas Jefferson fathered Sally Hemings‘ children, disputing a decade’s worth of conventional wisdom that the author of the Declaration of Independence sired offspring with one of his slaves.

The debate has ensnared historians for years, and many thought the issue was settled when DNA testing in the late 1990s confirmed that aJefferson male fathered Hemings‘ youngest son, Eston. But, with one lone dissenter, the panel of 13 scholars doubted the claim and said the evidence points instead to Jefferson’s brother Randolph as the father.

The scholars also disputed accounts that said Hemings‘ children received special treatment from Jefferson, which some saw as evidence of a special bond between the third president and Hemings.


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