Various printed sources claim that Thomas Jefferson was labeled by his political opponents in the election of 1800 as "a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father."

To date we have not found this quotation in any sources contemporary to the election of 1800. Its earliest known appearance in print is in a collection of New England folk tales, The Jonny-Cake Papers. First published in 1879, the stories told date in many cases back to the beginning of the nineteenth century, while others are thought to be even older.[1] The reference in question appears in the "Seventeenth Baking," in which a "most veracious stump orator from Providence" spoke expansively on the achievements of John Adams:

... the profound and fearless patriot and full-blooded Yankee, [who] exceeded in every possible respect his competitor, Tom Jefferson, for the Presidency, who, to make the best of him, was nothing but a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father, as was well known in the neighborhood where he was raised, wholly on hoe-cake (made of course-ground Southern corn), bacon, and hominy, with an occasional change of fricasseed bullfrog, for which abominable reptiles he had acquired a taste during his residence among the French in Paris, to whom there could be no question he would sell his country at the first offer made to him cash down, should he be elected to fill the Presidential chair.[2]

Dixon Wecter, in his essay "Thomas Jefferson, The Gentle Radical," discusses various portrayals of Jefferson by his political enemies, and mentions that "the Jonnycake [sic] Papers later burlesqued such caricatures."[3]

- Anna Berkes, 9/19/08


Bitter rivalries, character assassinations, an electoral deadlock and a tie-breaking vote in the House of Representatives — the Election of 1800 had it all. See what all the fuss was about »


  1. ^ Richard M. Dorson, "The Jonny-Cake Papers," in The Journal of American Folklore 58, no. 228 (1945): 104.
  2. ^ Thomas Robinson Hazard, The Jonny-Cake Papers of "Shepherd Tom," Together with Reminiscences of Narragansett Schools of Former Days (Boston: Printed for Subscribers, 1915), 232-33.
  3. ^ Dixon Wecter, "Thomas Jefferson, The Gentle Radical," in Jefferson Reader : A Treasury of Writings about Thomas Jefferson, ed. Francis Coleman Rosenberger (New York: Dutton, 1953), 329.