IV. Research Findings and Implications

Report of the Research Committee
on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings

Thomas Jefferson Foundation
January 2000

 

IV. Research Findings and Implications

The following statements in bold type, taken from the documentary and oral history record, are considered uncontested historical or scientific facts. When viewed and interpreted in combination, these facts form the basis for our current understanding of the Jefferson-Hemings relationship. The commentary paragraphs explain the committee's interpretation of the facts. Supporting information can be found in cited Appendices.

 

  1. The DNA of Eston Hemings's descendant matched that of Field Jefferson's descendants. (Appendix A, Appendix B, and Appendix J)

    This result, now part of the historical record, provides scientific support for the statements of Madison Hemings and Israel Jefferson. While there is a scientific possibility that Randolph Jefferson (Jefferson's brother), one of his sons, or one of Field Jefferson's grandsons, was the father of Eston Hemings, the preponderance of known historical evidence indicates that Thomas Jefferson was his father. Randolph Jefferson and his sons are not known to have been at Monticello at the time of Eston Hemings's conception, nor has anyone, until 1998, ever before publicly suggested them as possible fathers. Field Jefferson's grandsons are unlikely candidates because of their distance from Monticello.

     

  2. The DNA of John Carr's descendants did not match that of Eston Hemings's descendant. (Appendix A and Appendix B)

    Jefferson's grandchildren Thomas Jefferson Randolph and Ellen Coolidge said that Jefferson's Carr nephews were the fathers of the children of Sally Hemings and her sister. The DNA study contradicts these statements in the case of Sally Hemings's last child, Eston. See No. 4 below for reasons to apply this conclusion to Hemings's other known children.

     

  3. The DNA of Field Jefferson's descendants did not match that of Thomas C. Woodson's descendants. (Appendix K)

    The DNA evidence indicates that, despite an enduring oral tradition in the Woodson family, Thomas Jefferson was not the father of Thomas C. Woodson. No documents have yet been found to support the belief that Woodson was Sally Hemings's first child, born soon after her return from France.

     

  4. Sally Hemings's birth patterns match Thomas Jefferson's Monticello visitation patterns. (Appendix I)

    The committee analyzed the timing of Jefferson's well-documented visits to Monticello and the births of Sally Hemings's children. According to this analysis, the observed correlation between Jefferson's presence at Monticello and the conception windows for Hemings's known children is far more likely if Jefferson or someone with an identical pattern of presence at and absence from Monticello was the father. There is no documentary evidence suggesting that Sally Hemings was away from Monticello when Jefferson was there during her conception windows.

     

  5. Several people close to Jefferson or the Monticello community believed he was the father of Sally Hemings's children. (Appendix F)

    Numerous sources document the prevailing belief in the neighborhood of Monticello that Jefferson had children by Sally Hemings. Of particular note are the views of John Hartwell Cocke, Jefferson's friend and frequent visitor to Monticello, and former Monticello slave Israel Gillette Jefferson. Cocke referred to Jefferson's "notorious example" when writing in his diary about the prevalence in Virginia of "masters with slave families" and Israel Jefferson confirmed Madison Hemings's claim of Jefferson paternity.

     

  6. Madison Hemings stated in 1873 that he and his siblings (Beverly, Harriet, and Eston) were Thomas Jefferson's children. (Appendix E)

    While the DNA results bear only on the paternity of Eston Hemings, the documents and birth patterns suggest a long-term relationship, which produced the children whose names appear in Jefferson's records. Even the statements of those who accounted for the paternity of Sally Hemings's children differently (Thomas Jefferson Randolph, Ellen Randolph Coolidge, and Edmund Bacon) never implied that Hemings's children had different fathers. Full-sibling relationships are further supported by the closeness of the family, as evidenced by documentation of siblings living together and naming children after each other. As mentioned in No. 3 above, there is no documentary evidence that Thomas C. Woodson was Sally Hemings's son.

     

  7. Sally Hemings's children had unique access to freedom. (Appendix H)

    Jefferson gave freedom to no other nuclear slave family. No other Monticello slaves achieved their freedom before the age of thirty-one (except for Critta Hemings's son James, who ran away). Harriet Hemings was the only enslaved woman freed in Jefferson's lifetime, and she was freed when she was twenty-one years of age. The liberation of Sally Hemings's children cannot be wholly attributed to Jefferson's practice-as reported by his granddaughter Ellen Coolidge-of granting freedom to those light enough to pass for white or skilled enough to make their way as freed people, since there were other Monticello slaves, as light-skinned or as skilled, who were not freed.

     

  8. The history of descent from Jefferson was passed down among Madison Hemings descendants. (Appendix G)

    Despite a climate of hostility and denial, Madison Hemings's descendants carefully passed their family history of descent from Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson from generation to generation, often at important moments associated with rites of passage, family pride, or American history. Eston Hemings's descendants lived as white people and did not acknowledge Sally Hemings in their oral histories, in order to sever their connection with African Americans. They did, however, pass on the family tradition that they were related to Thomas Jefferson, but through one of his relatives. No descendants of Beverly and Harriet Hemings are known. For further information, see Lucia Stanton and Dianne Swann-Wright, "Bonds of Memory: Identity and the Hemings Family," Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson: History, Memory, and Civic Culture, ed. Jan Ellen Lewis and Peter S. Onuf (Charlottesville, 1999).

     

  9. Sally Hemings's children bore a striking resemblance to Thomas Jefferson. (Appendix F)

    Thomas Jefferson Randolph told Henry S. Randall in the 1850s of the close resemblance of Sally Hemings's children to Thomas Jefferson. It was evidently their very light skin and pronounced resemblance to Jefferson that led to local talk of Jefferson's paternity. Eston Hemings, in Ohio in the 1840s, was noted as bearing a "striking" resemblance to Jefferson.

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