V. Assessment of Possible Paternity of Other Jeffersons

Report of the Research Committee
on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings

Thomas Jefferson Foundation
January 2000

 

V. Assessment of Possible Paternity of Other Jeffersons

One reaction to the DNA study of Jefferson and Hemings descendants has been the accurate observation that the test results only prove that a Jefferson fathered the last of Sally Hemings's children -- not that Thomas Jefferson himself was the father. In order to investigate this possibility, Monticello researchers reviewed Thomas Jefferson's papers as well as Jefferson family genealogies to determine the identities and whereabouts of other male members of his family.

Sally Hemings's confirmed times of conception extend from early December of 1794 through mid-September of 1807. During these eighteen years at least twenty-five adult male descendants of Jefferson's grandfather Thomas Jefferson (1677-1731) lived in Virginia: his younger brother Randolph and five of his sons, as well as one son and eighteen grandsons of his uncle Field Jefferson. Of this total, most were living in the Southside region-over a hundred miles from Monticello -- and do not figure in Jefferson's correspondence or his memoranda.

There remained eight out of the twenty-five for whom age and proximity warranted further documentary investigation. These include Randolph Jefferson and his five sons (Isham, Thomas, Jr., Field, Robert, and Lilburne) as well as two grandsons of Field Jefferson (George and John Garland Jefferson). While each of these individuals had some interaction with Thomas Jefferson and some spent time at or in the vicinity of Monticello, most had no documented presence at Monticello during the times when Sally Hemings conceived her children. Several of them were at Monticello when Thomas Jefferson was absent (Sally Hemings is not known to have conceived in his absences). Randolph Jefferson's sons Thomas, in 1800, and Robert Lewis, in 1807, may well have been at Monticello during the conception periods of Harriet and Eston Hemings. Randolph Jefferson was invited to Monticello during the period of Eston Hemings's conception, but it is not known that he actually made the visit.

The committee concludes that convincing evidence does not exist for the hypothesis that another male Jefferson was the father of Sally Hemings's children. In almost two hundred years since the issue first became public, no other Jefferson has ever been referred to as the father; denials of Thomas Jefferson's paternity named the Carr nephews. Furthermore, evidence of the sort of sustained presence necessary to have resulted in the creation of a family of six children is entirely lacking, and even those who denied a relationship never suggested Sally Hemings's children had more than one father. Finally, the historical evidence for Thomas Jefferson's paternity of Eston Hemings and his known siblings overwhelmingly outweighs that for any other Jefferson.

See Appendix J for a more extended account of the investigation of this issue.

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