Appendix J: The Possible Paternity of Other Jeffersons, A Summary of Research

Report of the Research Committee
on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings

Thomas Jefferson Foundation
January 2000

Appendix J: The Possible Paternity of Other Jeffersons, A Summary of Research

A range of primary and secondary material was used to inform the conclusions of the committee. The principal sources are:

Jefferson's unpublished correspondence, in microfilm editions of Library of Congress, Massachusetts Historical Society, University of Virginia, and other repositories

Jefferson's "Summary Journal of Letters"

Field Jefferson and Randolph Jefferson files in the Monticello Research Library, which contain a great deal of genealogical information

Evelyn and Herbert Barger, compilers, "The Jefferson Family of Virginia," (1987; revised 1990)

"Memoirs of a Monticello Slave," in James A. Bear, Jr., ed., Jefferson at Monticello (Charlottesville, 1967)

F. A. Battey, History of Todd County, Kentucky (1884)

Landon C. Bell, The Old Free State: A Contribution to the History of Lunenberg County and Southside Virginia

Bernard Mayo, ed., Thomas Jefferson and His Unknown Brother (1981), which contains the surviving correspondence between the two brothers.

Two staff reports were produced using some of the above sources: Josh Rothman, "Preliminary Assessment of Jefferson-Male Alternatives to Thomas Jefferson's Fathering of Sally Hemings's Children," February 1999, and Camille Wells, "Contemporary Male Relatives of Thomas Jefferson," February 1999.

From this research it was determined that, other than Thomas Jefferson, twenty-five adult male descendants of his father Peter (1707-1757) and his uncle Field (1702-1765) lived in Virginia during the 1794-1807 period of Sally Hemings's pregnancies:

  • His brother Randolph Jefferson (1755-1815) and five of his sons
  • His first cousin John Robertson Jefferson (1743-1809) and six of his sons
  • Seven sons of Peter Field Jefferson (1735-1794), his first cousin
  • Five sons of George Jefferson (1739-1780), his first cousin

Of the nineteen descendants of Field Jefferson, all but two (George Jefferson, Jr., and John Garland Jefferson) lived over a hundred miles from Monticello in Southside Virginia and make no appearance in Thomas Jefferson's correspondence, accounts, or family recollections. These two men, plus Randolph Jefferson and his sons, were studied in more detail.

George Jefferson, Jr. (1766-1812) Commission merchant in Richmond (seventy miles from Monticello) from at least 1797 to 1812. Acted as Thomas Jefferson's commission agent. May have occasionally visited Monticello, although no reference to such visits has yet been found.

John Garland Jefferson (d. 1815) Pursued his studies in the Monticello neighborhood, with Thomas Jefferson's support, from June 1790 to some time in 1791, with occasional visits in 1792 and 1793. Married in 1800. Attorney in Amelia County (seventy miles from Monticello) from 1801.

Randolph Jefferson (1755-1815) Lived on his plantation, Snowden, about twenty miles south of Monticello in Buckingham County. First married in 1781; widowed some time between 1792 and 1807; remarried circa 1808.

A former Monticello slave, Isaac Jefferson, recalled in 1847 that Randolph Jefferson "used to come out among black people, play the fiddle and dance half the night." Since Isaac Jefferson left Monticello in 1797, his reference probably predates that year, and most likely refers to the 1780s, the period that is the subject of the majority of his recollections.

There is no surviving correspondence between the brothers from 1792 to 1807. Thomas Jefferson's two surviving letters of 1807, which express the hope that his brother would visit Monticello during his spring and late summer vacations, suggest that similar invitations were extended in the preceding years. The correspondence also suggests that Randolph Jefferson may not always have acted on these invitations. In his post-1807 letters, ill health, the poor state of the roads, and other circumstances were often cited as reasons to postpone his Monticello visits. In fact, his only recorded Monticello visits in this period were made on his own business and not at his brother's invitation.

Only four recorded visits to Monticello (in September 1802, September 1805, May 1808, and sometime in 1814) are known, none related to Sally Hemings's conceptions. In August 1807, a probable conception time for Eston Hemings, Thomas Jefferson wrote his brother that "we shall be happy to see you also" at Monticello, where Randolph's twin sister, Anna Marks, was then visiting. A search of visitors' accounts, memorandum books, and Jefferson's published and unpublished correspondence provided no indication that Randolph did, in fact, come at this time. A similar search was made of the probable conception time for Madison Hemings, without finding reference to a Randolph Jefferson visit.

Randolph Jefferson's Sons

Isham Randolph Jefferson (1781-1852) An 1884 book on Todd County, Kentucky, says that he was "reared" at Monticello; no reference to him, however, has yet been found in Thomas Jefferson's papers.

Thomas Jefferson, Jr. (1783-1876) Resident at Monticello for extended periods of schooling in 1799 and 1800, and possibly 1801.

Field Jefferson (c1785?-1808+) No documentary references found, other than Randolph Jefferson's 1808 will.

Robert Lewis Jefferson (c1787?-1808+) Carried a letter to Monticello in July or August 1807; dated July 9, it was not received by Thomas Jefferson, who arrived at Monticello August 4, until August 8. No further information found.

James Lilburne Jefferson (c1789?-1816+) No references found until 1813, when Jefferson invited him to come study at Monticello.

CONCLUSIONS:

Since there is no indication of their presence at Monticello in the 1794 to 1807 period, Field Jefferson's grandsons George Jefferson and John Garland Jefferson are unlikely candidates for fatherhood. Two of Randolph Jefferson's sons (Thomas Jefferson, Jr., and Robert Lewis Jefferson) may well have been at Monticello in the 1800 and 1807 conception periods, but they and their brothers are also unlikely fathers because of their youth and very intermittent presence. As mentioned elsewhere, no one familiar with Monticello suggested that Sally Hemings was promiscuous or that her children had multiple fathers.

A stronger case can be made for Randolph Jefferson, who may have had a more sustained presence at Monticello. He was probably encouraged to visit Monticello when Thomas Jefferson was in residence on his vacations from public life. The Isaac Jefferson reference indicates social interaction with the Monticello slaves. The dates of Randolph's widowhood also may coincide with Sally Hemings's childbearing years (the date of the death of his first wife is not certainly known).

On the other hand, no documented Randolph Jefferson visits at the time of the conception of Sally Hemings's six known children have been found. Also, it is known that, at least once in the relevant period, Randolph Jefferson visited the Monticello neighborhood in his brother's absence; none of Sally Hemings's known children were conceived in Thomas Jefferson's absence. As stated above, Isaac Jefferson's observation most likely relates to the period of Randolph Jefferson's youth.

Furthermore, there are no known references (prior to the 1998 DNA results) to Randolph Jefferson as a possible father of Sally Hemings's children. If he was a frequent visitor to Monticello, as well as a known figure in the slave quarters, it would have been more logical for Thomas Jefferson Randolph to attribute to Randolph Jefferson the striking resemblance of Sally Hemings's children to his brother Thomas. Instead, he cited Jefferson's nephews Peter and Samuel Carr, whose connection to Eston Hemings has been ruled out by genetic testing.

For these reasons, as well as the substantial evidence linking Thomas Jefferson to Sally Hemings cited elsewhere in this report, it is very unlikely that Randolph Jefferson or any Jefferson other than Thomas Jefferson was the father of her children.

 

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