Minority Report of the Monticello Research Committee on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings

DATE: March 23, 2000
TO: Readers of the Attached Reports
FROM: Daniel P. Jordan, President, TJF
SUBJECT: Dr. Wallenborn's Minority Report

White McKenzie (Ken) Wallenborn, M.D., was a conscientious member of the ad hoc staff committee that I appointed in late 1998 to review, comprehensively and critically, all the evidence, scientific and otherwise, relating to the relationship of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings and to report its findings and recommendations to me in a timely manner. Twice in the spring of 1999, during and after the conclusion of the work of the committee, Ken expressed some reservations to me, and I encouraged him to write up his concerns. It was my understanding at the time that he wanted his report to be for my review and consideration, not general circulation, but Ken now feels that it should be distributed more broadly -- and I agree. I subsequently learned that Ken gave a copy to the committee chairman.

For the record, Ken's concerns were reviewed and considered systematically and seriously. I believe the issues he raised are addressed in the research report of the committee, and I concur with the findings of the committee. I would encourage anyone interested in the general subject to read both reports and draw their own conclusions.

I recognize that honorable people can disagree on this subject, as indeed they have for over two hundred years. Further, we know that the historical record has gaps that perhaps can never be filled, and mysteries that may never be fully resolved. The Foundation stands ready to review any fresh evidence at any time and to reassess our understanding of the matter in light of more complete information.

In the meantime, while respecting fully Ken's opinions, I stand by the research report as circulated.

Thomas Jefferson Foundation
DNA Study Committee
Minority Report
April 12, 1999

Preface:

When Daniel P. Jordan, President of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, convened the DNA Study Committee on 12/21/98, he asked the committee to evaluate the DNA study (Eugene Foster et al) in context of all evidence, to assess the impact on historical interpretation at Monticello, and to formulate a course of action for the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. As a result, numerous meetings of the committee were held. Voluminous material was presented and studied, outside opinions were obtained, a discussion meeting was held with the African American Advisory Committee, and discussion and debate freely occurred between members of the committee. As the DNA Study Committee began to formulate its report to Mr. Jordan, certain areas of disagreement became apparent and this has prompted the preparation of a minority report. Because there were many areas of agreement among all of the committee members, these will not be included in the minority report.

 

Areas of Disagreement:

Historical Evidence

 

The DNA Study Committee majority appears to agree that the DNA study showed that Eston Hemings direct male line descendants had an identical DNA haplotype to that of Field Jefferson's direct male line descendants and that assuming that Thomas Jefferson's DNA haplotype was identical to his uncle's descendants DNA haplotype, this would prove that Thomas Jefferson was related to Eston Hemings (Sally Hemings youngest son). The DNA Study Committee agrees that this finding alone does not prove that Thomas Jefferson was the father of Eston Hemings. However the majority of the committee feels that in view of multiple strands of documentary and statistical evidence combined with the DNA findings substantiates the paternity of all the children listed under Sally Hemings name in Jefferson's Farm Book. The minority report agrees that there is significant historical evidence that would show that Thomas Jefferson could be the father of Eston Hemings but also strongly feels that there is significant historical evidence of equal statue that indicates that Thomas Jefferson was not the father of Eston Hemings (or any of Sally Hemings' children).

These events happened more or less two hundred years ago and only four or possibly five people (Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings, Randolph Jefferson, Peter Carr, and ? Samuel Carr) would have known the truth about the paternity question. Only one of them has left us direct evidence in their own words and handwriting. On July 1, 1805, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to Robert Smith, Secretary of the Navy, in which he said: "The inclosed copy of a letter to Mr. Levi Lincoln will so fully explain it's own object, that I need say nothing in that way. I communicate it to particular friends because I wish to stand with them on the ground of truth; neither better nor worse than that makes me. You will perceive that I plead guilty to one of their charges, that when young and single, I offered love to a handsome lady. I acknowledge its incorrectness. It is the only one founded on truth among all their allegations against me ... " This has to be a very straight forward denial of all the Federalist charges which included the report of a sexual liaison with Sally Hemings (that he had fathered Sally Hemings' children). Some feel that this statement is ambiguous but how can it be? Mr. Jefferson and his cabinet members Robert Smith and Levi Lincoln certainly knew all of the Federalist charges against the president. Thomas Jefferson was not known to issue falsehoods to his intimate associates. The minority report maintains that this statement by Thomas Jefferson is a significantly powerful denial.

In a letter to Dr. George Logan (Penn.) in 1816, Thomas Jefferson said "As to Federal slanders, I never wished them to be answered, but by the tenor of my life, half a century of which has been on a theater at which the public have been spectators and competent judges of it's merit. Their approbation has taught a lesson, useful to the world, that the man who fears no truths has nothing to fear from lies. I should have fancied myself half guilty had I condescended to put pen to paper in refutation of their falsehoods, or drawn to them respect by any notice of myself."

In the courtroom-like atmosphere of this committee study, the defendant has made two rather significant denials in his own words and handwriting of the Federalist charges against him. None of the others who would have had first hand knowledge of the facts have put down statements in their own handwriting and their own words.

Edmund Bacon (born March 28, 1785 near Monticello) had the title of overseer at Monticello from September 29, 1806 until about October 15, 1822 (sixteen years). Edmund Bacon was interviewed at length (several weeks) by the Rev. Hamilton Wilcox Pierson, president of Cumberland College, Princeton, WVA around 1861 or1862 at Mr. Bacon's home. Mr. Bacon recalled that he went to live with Mr. Jefferson on Dec. 27, 1800 and was with him precisely twenty years but Mr. Jefferson recorded his employment as overseer for sixteen years. Possibly Mr. Bacon had started working as early as age sixteen but was not hired as overseer until age twenty and if so would have been working at Monticello when Harriet Hemings was conceived and born. Mr. Bacon's recollections and letters from Thomas Jefferson provided a remarkable record of the years that he was at Monticello. At times his memory was not absolutely accurate on minor matters. Mr. Bacon had many observations about Mr. Jefferson including: "his skin was very clear and pure-just like he was in principle." He also commented on William C. Rives, a youngster, who would stay and play at Monticello with the other boys (most likely the Randolphs, Carrs, and Maria's son, Francis)...Willie would stay with Mr. Bacon rather than at the house (Monticello) because the other boys were too intimate with the negro women to suit him. Bacon also said "he (TJ) could not bear to have a servant whipped, no odds how much he deserved it."

Edmund Bacon also shed some light on the Sally Hemings controversy. "He freed one girl some years before he died, and there was a great deal of talk about it. She was nearly as white as anybody and very beautiful. People said he freed her because she was his own daughter. She was not his daughter, she was ___'s daughter (Rev. Pierson apparently left the name blank to ? protect that individual.). I know that. I have seen him come out of her mother's room many a morning when I was up to Monticello very early." Bacon had to be referring to Harriet Hemings. If Bacon had actually come to live at Monticello at age sixteen, on December 27, 1800 (before Th. Jefferson was inaugurated for his first term as president), he would have been working at Monticello during the time of conception and birth of Sally Hemings last three children -- Harriet, Madison, and Eston. Bacon's observations are certainly valid information and do strongly suggest that another male was having a sexual liaison with Sally Hemings.

Thomas Jefferson Randolph (1792-1875) was the oldest grandson of Thomas Jefferson and was Mr. Jefferson's farm manager and later executor of his estate. T.J. Randolph is a primary witness who was involved directly and who saw a past situation with his own eyes according to Douglas Adair.

Thomas Jefferson Randolph emphatically denied that Mr. Jefferson had commerce with Sally or any other of his female slaves. Since he "had spent a good share of his life closely about Mr. Jefferson at home and on journeys-in all sorts of circumstances," he could testify that his grandfather was in sexual matters "chaste and pure" -- indeed as "immaculate a man as God ever created." Randall as quoted in Adair's treatise said that Col. Randolph said that he "Slept within sound of his (TJ's) breathing at night." He said that "he had never seen a motion, or a look, or a circumstance which led him to suspect for an instant that there was a particle of familiarity between Mr. Jefferson and Sally Hemings than between him and the most repulsive servant in the establishment --and that no person ever at Monticello dreamed of such a thing."

Thomas Jefferson Randolph also told Randall "Mr. Jefferson had two nephews, Peter Carr and Samuel Carr whom he brought up in his own house. They were the sons of Jefferson's sister and her husband Dabney Carr...who died in 1773...Sally Hemings was the mistress of Peter and her sister Betsey (she was actually the daughter of Sally's half sister) the mistress of Samuel -and from these the progeny which resembled Mr. Jefferson. Both Hemings girls were light colored and decidedly good looking...Their connection with the Carrs was perfectly notorious at Monticello, and scarcely disguised by the latter-never disavowed by them. Samuel's proceedings were particularly open." Col. Randolph told Randall that his mother, Mrs. Gov. Randolph took the Dusky Sally stories much to heart, not long before her death she called two of them-the Colonel and George Wythe Randolph-to her. She asked the Colonel if he remembered when _____Hemings (the slave who most resembled Mr. Jefferson) was born. The Col. turned to the book containing the list of slaves and found his birthdate. Martha Jefferson Randolph directed her sons attention to the fact that Mr. Jefferson and Sally Hemings could not have met and were far distant from each other-for fifteen months prior to such a birth. Col. Randolph later while examining an old account book of Jefferson's came on the birthdate again and was able from well known circumstances to prove the fifteen months separation. T.J. Randolph never recorded those circumstances.

Now if those circumstances confirming the fifteen months separation between Mr. Jefferson and Sally Hemings before the birth of _____ Hemings who most resembled Mr. Jefferson--and this by most accounts would be Eston Hemings--this would dramatically change the thinking in regards to the DNA studies...Thomas Jefferson would not be the father of Eston. Another Jefferson DNA Haplotype carrier would be the father of Eston and the stories about Peter Carr and Sally Hemings would probably indicate Peter as the father of Sally's other four children. Intensive research by outstanding historical investigators may be able to uncover this answer.

The Monte Carlo Simulation:

This is an interesting simulation to determine the probability that the timing of Th. Jefferson's known visits to Monticello were related to the conception dates of Sally Hemings five children (the study used six children but the significant evidence indicates only five children) as opposed to the null hypothesis that they were unrelated. According to the results obtained, there is only a 1% chance that Sally Hemings's conceptions are coincidental to TJ's presence at Monticello. Based on the Monte Carlo Evaluation, the fact that all 6 conceptions occur during TJ's visits is 100 times more likely if TJ or someone with the same pattern of presence and absence at Monticello is the father.

Comments from the minority:

Statistics can be misleading. The basis for the numbers used in calculating statistical results have to be proven as true representations. In this simulation, two of the three proofs necessary are probably reliable...conception dates and timing of Mr. Jefferson's visits to Monticello. The third proof cannot be proven...Sally Hemings presence at Monticello is not accurately recorded and her presence or absence cannot be proven as also coinciding with Mr. Jefferson's presence.

A good example would be that if Martha Jefferson's message to her sons that Mr. Jefferson was not in the presence of Sally Hemings for fifteen months prior to the birth of Eston (assuming that she was referring to Eston), the odds that were one hundred to one that TJ was the father would be meaningless.

Also because it is impossible to determine the timing of the presence or absence of other males with the Jefferson DNA haplotype at Monticello, you have no way to compare the probability of their being the father of Sally Hemings children with the probability that Mr. Thomas Jefferson was the father. This evidence just is not there for vital comparison studies.

Wetmore's "Memoirs of Madison Hemings":

The minority feels that Madison was telling the truth as he remembered it in his interview by Mr. Wetmore. However it appears that Mr. Wetmore might have harmed his case because of the use of journalistic license. Mr. Madison Hemings admittedly had no formal education but in the memoirs, Mr. Wetmore has Madison using an amazing vocabulary and grammar, and having a remarkable knowledge of history. All of this was remembered some thirty five or forty years after he was at Monticello. Wetmore's use of direct quotes instead of paraphrasing would have helped make the memoirs more believable. As far as the minority can tell, Wetmore's handwritten notes covering his interview have not been found and as a result it is hard to tell when the words were Madison's or Wetmore's.

Summary:

The results of the DNA studies enhance the possibility that Thomas Jefferson was the father of one of Sally Hemings children, Eston Hemings, but the findings do not prove that Thomas Jefferson was the father of Eston. This is a very important difference.

There is historical evidence of more or less equal statue on both sides of this issue that prevent a definitive answer as to Thomas Jefferson's paternity of Sally Hemings' son Eston Hemings or for that matter the other four of her children. In fairness to the descendants of Sally Hemings and the descendants of Thomas Jefferson and Martha Wayle Jefferson, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation should continue to encourage in depth historical research in hopes that accurate answers to very sensitive questions may be found.

In regards to the historical interpretation of Thomas Jefferson and his family, Monticello, and slavery at Monticello, The Thomas Jefferson Foundation should continue to present a properly weighted historical interpretation to visitors. As new historical evidence is found, it should continue to be incorporated into interpretive presentations. However, historical accuracy should never be overwhelmed by political correctness, for if it is, history becomes meaningless. Construction of historically inaccurate buildings on the mountaintop at Monticello would detract from the historically accurate picture that the Thomas Jefferson Foundation is trying to portray.

In summary, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation should continue to seek the truth. If the truth is not known, it should be so stated. The minority feels that it would be improper to accept that portion of the DNA Study Committee's report that says "the DNA study when combined with the multiple strands of documentary and statistical evidence, substantiates Thomas Jefferson's paternity of all the children listed under Sally Hemings name in Jefferson's Farm Book." The historical evidence is not substantial enough to confirm nor for that matter to refute his paternity of any of the children of Sally Hemings. The DNA studies certainly enhance the possibility but to repeat, do not prove Thomas Jefferson's paternity. These events happened almost two hundred year ago and there were four (?five) people who might have known the truth about this issue. Only one of them has answered in his own handwriting and words. Thomas Jefferson denied all the allegations except for the "Walker" affair which he admitted.

Respectfully Submitted,
White McKenzie Wallenborn, M.D.
Author of the Minority Report

For a response to these arguments, please see Response to the Minority Report, Prepared by Lucia C. Stanton, Shannon Senior Research Historian of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, April 2000.

 

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