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Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: A Brief Account

Years after his wife’s death, Thomas Jefferson fathered at least six of Sally Hemings’s children. Four survived to adulthood and are mentioned in Jefferson’s plantation records:  Beverly, Harriet, Madison, and Eston Hemings.  Sally Hemings worked for two and a half years (1787-89) in Paris as a domestic servant and maid in Jefferson’s household.  While in Paris, where she was free, she negotiated with Jefferson to return to enslavement at Monticello in exchange for “extraordinary privileges” for herself and freedom for her unborn children.  Decades later, Jefferson freed all of Sally Hemings’s children – Beverly and Harriet left Monticello in the early 1820s; Madison and Eston were freed in his will and left Monticello in 1826. Jefferson did not grant freedom to any other enslaved family unit.

The claim that Thomas Jefferson fathered children with Sally Hemings, a enslaved woman at Monticello, entered the public arena during Jefferson's first term as president, and it has remained a subject of discussion and disagreement for two centuries. Based on documentary, scientific, statistical, and oral history evidence,  the Thomas Jefferson Foundation (TJF) Research Committee Report on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings (January 2000) remains the most comprehensive analysis of this historical topic.

Historical Background

Detail from Callender's 1802 piece on Jefferson and Sally HemingsIn September 1802, political journalist James T. Callender, a disaffected former ally of Jefferson, wrote in a Richmond newspaper that Jefferson had for many years "kept, as his concubine, one of his own slaves." "Her name is Sally," Callender continued, adding that Jefferson had "several children" by her.

Although there had been rumors of a sexual relationship between Jefferson and an enslaved woman before 1802, Callender's article spread the story widely. It was taken up by Jefferson's Federalist opponents and was published in many newspapers during the remainder of Jefferson's presidency.

Jefferson's policy was to offer no public response to personal attacks, and he apparently made no explicit public or private comment on this question (although a private letter of 1805 has been interpreted by some individuals as a denial of the story). Sally Hemings left no known accounts.

Jefferson's daughter Martha Jefferson Randolph privately denied the published reports. Two of her children, Ellen Randolph Coolidge and Thomas Jefferson Randolph, maintained many years later that such a liaison was not possible, on both moral and practical grounds. They also stated that Jefferson's nephews Peter and Samuel Carr were the fathers of the light-skinned Monticello slaves some thought to be Jefferson's children because they resembled him.

The Jefferson-Hemings story was sustained through the 19th century by Northern abolitionists, British critics of American democracy, and others. Its vitality among the American population at large was recorded by European travelers of the time. Through the 20th century, some historians accepted the possibility of a Jefferson-Hemings connection and a few gave it credence, but most Jefferson scholars found the case for such a relationship unpersuasive.

Over the years, however, belief in a Thomas Jefferson-Sally Hemings relationship was perpetuated in private. Two of her children—Madison and Eston—indicated that Jefferson was their father, and this belief has been perpetuated in the oral histories of generations of their descendants as an important family truth.

DNA Evidence and Response

The November 5, 1998 issue of Nature included the findings of the DNA on male-line Jefferson and Hemings desecendants.The results of DNA tests conducted by Dr. Eugene Foster and a team of geneticists in 1998 challenged the view that the Jefferson-Hemings relationship could be neither refuted nor substantiated. The study--which tested Y-chromosomal DNA samples from male-line descendants of Field Jefferson (Thomas Jefferson's uncle), John Carr (grandfather of Jefferson's Carr nephews), Eston Hemings, and Thomas Woodson--indicated a genetic link between the Jefferson and Hemings descendants. The results of the study established that an individual carrying the male Jefferson Y chromosome fathered Eston Hemings (born 1808), the last known child born to Sally Hemings. There were approximately 25 adult male Jeffersons who carried this chromosome living in Virginia at that time, and a few of them are known to have visited Monticello. The study's authors, however, said "the simplest and most probable" conclusion was that Thomas Jefferson had fathered Eston Hemings.

The DNA testing found no genetic link between the Hemings and Carr descendants, refuting Jefferson’s grandchildren’s assertion that his Carr nephews fathered Sally Hemings’s children.

Additionally, the DNA study found no link between the descendants of Field Jefferson and Thomas Woodson (1790-1879), whose family members have long held that he was the first son of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. Madison Hemings, Sally's second-youngest son, said in 1873 that his mother had been pregnant with Jefferson's child (who, he said, lived "but a short time") when she returned from France in 1789. There is no indication in Jefferson's records of a child born to Hemings before 1795, and there are no known documents to support that Thomas Woodson was Hemings's first child.

Shortly after the DNA test results were released in November 1998, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation formed a research committee consisting of nine members of the foundation staff, including four with Ph.D.s. In January 2000, the committee reported that the weight of all known evidence—from the DNA study, original documents, written and oral historical accounts, and statistical data—indicated a high probability that Thomas Jefferson was the father of Eston Hemings, and that he was likely the father of all six of Sally Hemings's children listed in Monticello records—Harriet (born 1795; died in infancy); Beverly (born 1798); an unnamed daughter (born 1799; died in infancy); Harriet (born 1801); Madison (born 1805); and Eston (born 1808).

Since then, a committee commissioned by the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society, after reviewing essentially the same material, reached different conclusions, namely that Sally Hemings was only a minor figure in Thomas Jefferson's life and that it is very unlikely he fathered any of her children. This committee also suggested in its report, issued in April 2001 and revised in 2011, that Jefferson's younger brother Randolph (1755-1815) was more likely the father of at least some of Sally Hemings's children.

From the Historical Record

The following summarizes what is known about Sally Hemings and her family.

  • Sally Hemings (1773-1835) was a slave at Monticello; she lived in Paris with Jefferson and two of his daughters from 1787 to 1789; and, she had at least six children.
  • Sally Hemings's duties included being a nursemaid-companion to Thomas Jefferson's daughter Maria (ca. 1784-1787), lady's maid to daughters Martha and Maria (1787-1797), and chambermaid and seamstress (1790s-1827).
  • There are no known images of Sally Hemings and only four known descriptions of her appearance or demeanor.
  • Sally Hemings left no known written accounts. It is not known if she was literate.
  • In the few scattered references to Sally Hemings in Thomas Jefferson's records and correspondence, there is nothing to distinguish her from other members of her family.
  • Thomas Jefferson was at Monticello at the likely conception times of Sally Hemings's six known children. There are no records suggesting that she was elsewhere at these times, or records of any births at times that would exclude Jefferson paternity.
  • There are no indications in contemporary accounts by people familiar with Monticello that Sally Hemings's children had different fathers.
  • Sally Hemings's children were light-skinned, and three of them (daughter Harriet and sons Beverly and Eston) lived as members of white society as adults.
  • According to contemporary accounts, some of Sally Hemings's children strongly resembled Thomas Jefferson.
  • Thomas Jefferson freed all of Sally Hemings's children: Beverly and Harriet were allowed to leave Monticello in 1822; Madison and Eston were released in Jefferson's 1826 will. Jefferson gave freedom to no other nuclear slave family.
  • Thomas Jefferson did not free Sally Hemings. She was permitted to leave Monticello by his daughter Martha Jefferson Randolph not long after Jefferson's death in 1826, and went to live with her sons Madison and Eston in Charlottesville.
  • Several people close to Thomas Jefferson or the Monticello community believed that he was the father of Sally Hemings's children.
  • Eston Hemings changed his name to Eston Hemings Jefferson in 1852.
  • Madison Hemings stated in 1873 that he and his siblings Beverly, Harriet, and Eston were Thomas Jefferson's children.
  • The descendants of Madison Hemings who have lived as African-Americans have passed a family history of descent from Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings down through the generations.
  • Eston Hemings's descendants, who have lived as whites, have passed down a family history of being related to Thomas Jefferson. In the 1940s, family members changed this history to state that an uncle of Jefferson's, rather than Jefferson himself, was their ancestor.

According to Madison Hemings, Sally's mother Elizabeth Hemings (1735-1807) was the daughter of an African woman and an English sea captain. By Madison Hemings's and other accounts, Sally Hemings and some of her siblings were the children of John Wayles, Thomas Jefferson's father-in-law, making her the half-sister of Jefferson's wife, Martha Wayles Jefferson (1748-1782). Elizabeth Hemings and her children lived at John Wayles' plantation during his lifetime.

Questions remain about the nature of the relationship that existed between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings; whether she had a child at Monticello shortly after they returned from France in 1789; and whether there is anything to connect Jefferson, Hemings, and Thomas  Woodson.

To learn more, consult the readings, some with differing points of view, listed here.



Primary Accounts:

1847. Jefferson, Isaac. "Memoirs of a Monticello Slave." In Jefferson at Monticello, edited by James A. Bear, Jr., 1-24. Charlottesville, Va.: University Press of Virginia, 1967. See p. 4.

1858. Coolidge, Ellen Randolph. Ellen Randolph Coolidge to Joseph Coolidge, 24 October 1858. In Malone, Dumas. "Mr. Jefferson's Private Life." Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 84 (1974): 1-8.

1862. Bacon, Edmund. "Jefferson at Monticello" In Jefferson at Monticello, edited by James A. Bear, Jr., 25-117. Charlottesville, Va.: University Press of Virginia, 1967. See pp. 99-100, 102.

1868. Randall, Henry S. Henry S. Randall to James Parton, 1 June 1868. In Flower, Milton E. James Parton: the Father of Modern Biography. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1951. See pp. 236-9.

1873. Hemings, Madison. "Life Among the Lowly, No. 1." Pike County Republican, March 13, 1873. In Reed, Annette-Gordon. Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy. Charlottesville, Va.: University Press of Virginia, 1997.

1873. Jefferson, Israel. "Life Among the Lowly, No. 3." Pike County Republican, December 25, 1873. In Reed, Annette-Gordon. Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy. Charlottesville, Va.: University Press of Virginia, 1997.

Secondary Accounts:

Adair, Douglass. "The Jefferson Scandals." In Fame and the Founding Fathers, edited by Trevor Colbourn, 160-91. New York: Norton, 1974.

Bear, James A., Jr. "The Hemings Family of Monticello." Virginia Cavalcade 29, no. 2 (1979): 78-87.

Bennett, Lerone. "Thomas Jefferson's Negro Grandchildren." Ebony, November 1954, 78-80.

Brodie, Fawn M. "The Great Jefferson Taboo." American Heritage 23, no. 4 (1979): 48-57, 97-100.

---. Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History. New York: Norton, 1974.

---. "Thomas Jefferson's Unknown Grandchildren: A Study in Historical Silence." American Heritage 27, no. 6 (1976): 23-33, 94-99.

Onuf, Peter S., and Jan E. Lewis, eds. Sally Hemings & Thomas Jefferson: History, Memory, and Civic Culture. Charlottesville, Va.:University Press of Virginia, 1999.

Burstein, Andrew. Jefferson's Secrets: Death and Desire at Monticello. New York: Basic Books, 2005.

Burton, Cynthia H. Jefferson Vindicated: Fallacies, Omissions, and Contradictions in the Hemings Genealogical Search. Keswick, Va.: Cynthia H. Burton, 2005.

Dabney, Virginius. The Jefferson Scandals: A Rebuttal. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1981.

---. "The Monticello Scandals: History and Fiction." Virginia Cavalcade 29, no. 2 (1979): 52-61.

Ellis, Joseph J. American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson. New York: Knopf, 1997. See pp. 303-307.

French, Scot A. and Edward L. Ayers. "The Strange Career of Thomas Jefferson: Race and Slavery in American Memory, 1943-1993." In Jeffersonian Legacies, edited by Peter S. Onuf, 418-56. Charlottesville, Va.: University Press of Virginia, 1993.

Gordon-Reed, Annette. The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family. New York: Norton, 2008.

---. Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy. Charlottesville, Va.: University Press of Virginia, 1997.

Graham, Pearl M. "Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings." Journal of Negro History 46, no. 2 (1961): 89-103.

Hyland, William G., Jr. In Defense of Thomas Jefferson: The Sally Hemings Sex Scandal. New York: Thomas Dunne, 2009.

Justus, Judith. Down From the Mountain: An Oral History of the Hemings Family. Perrysburg, Ohio: Jeskurtara, 1990.

Leary, Helen F. M. "Sally Hemings's Children: A Genealogical Analysis of the Evidence." National Genealogical Society Quarterly 89, no. 3 (2001): 165-207. There are other relevant articles in this issue.

Malone, Dumas. Jefferson the President: First Term, 1801-1805. Boston: Little, Brown, 1970. See Appendix II, pp. 494-8.

Malone, Dumas, and Steven Hochman. "A Note on Evidence: The Personal History of Madison Hemings." Journal of Southern History 41 (1975): 523-8.

McMurry, Rebecca L., and James F. McMurry, Jr. Anatomy of a Scandal: Thomas Jefferson & the SALLY Story. Shippensburg, Pa.: White Mane, 2002.

Moss, Sidney P., and Carolyn Moss. "The Jefferson Miscegenation Legend in British Travel Books." Journal of the Early Republic 7, no. 3 (1987): 253-74.

Neiman, Fraser D. "Coincidence or Causal Connection? The Relationship between Thomas Jefferson's Visits to Monticello and Sally Hemings's Conceptions." William and Mary Quarterly 57, no. 1 (2000): 198-210.

Randolph, Laura B. "Thomas Jefferson's Black and White Descendants Debate His Lineage and Legacy." Ebony, July 1993, 25-29.

Turner, Robert F., ed. Jefferson-Hemings Scholars Commission Report on the Jefferson-Hemings Matter. Charlottesville, Va.: Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society, 2001. (New edition to be published in fall 2009.)

Wilson, Douglas L. "Thomas Jefferson and the Character Issue." Atlantic Monthly, November 1992, 57-74.

Woodson, Byron W. A President in the Family: Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings, and Thomas Woodson. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2001.

Woodson, Minnie Shumate. The Sable Curtain. Washington, D.C.: Stafford Lowery, 1987. See appendix.

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Donald M. Scott's picture
Thanks for this balanced view of things. As a scholar, and writer, who's researched Jefferson and his colleagues for years, I find the whole Hemmings story to be highly suspect. As a juror on a murder trial, which attempted to use dna evidence to convict someone without success, I know DNA must be taken with a large grain of salt. As far as Paris goes - he was famously head-over-heels in love with Maria Cosway, who was married to a homosexual man, and spent much of his spare time worrying and writing about that. It's not likely he'd have had the time for Sally Hemmings - who, after all, was in her early teens and probably no competition for Cosway. Based on my research, and the jury experience, I believe Jefferson could not be indicted, let alone convicted of a love affair with a slave.
mindranger Don
scector's picture
I suggest you all READ and verify David Barton's book - The Jefferson Lies. Of course Monticello doesn't and won't carry this book in it's gift shop. Unfortunately, this subject and controversy is analogous to "global warming" (oops, "climate change") in that only the left gets heard or published. The opposite opinions are always excluded or shouted down. I challenged the tour guide on my LAST tour of Monticello. Hopefully, it woke some people up to do their research. As much as I love the Founding Fathers (and yes, they were not perfect, just human), and Early American history, I personally and my company have not supported and will continue to not support Monticello, Colonial Williamsburg or any other historical venue that chooses to present only one side. Monticello especially is obsessed with slavery. As with American education, the left has also taken control of our American historical sites. The Jefferson Lies - David Barton. Also, read the british Scientific Journal, Nature, January, 1999. One of it's letters pointed out that it overstated the evidence of jefferson's paternity. Also, The Jefferson - Hemmings cControversy by Robert F. Turner. He was part of the study by The Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society that released a report in April of 2001 pretty much debunking the notion that Jefferson is the father. Jefferson unfortunately is the easiest and most visibly famous scapegoat. I purport that most of these proponets of him being the father have for some reason a facination with slavery and are somewhat anti-founding fathers.
ericwestman60's picture
A sensibly written and very much on the mark comment! It is very sad to me that a certain faction gains all their reactive traction from false/negative writings and narratives; clouding the true interest of the foundation of our great nation.
John P. Crowder's picture
As a source of reliable information, The Jefferson Lies, by the pseudo-historian Christian Dominionist David Barton, is not to be trusted. Barton's book was published by the respectable religious publishing house, Thomas Nelson, which subsequently withdrew the book after learning that it contained contained unacceptable errors. Those errors were initially identified not by "the left," but by scholars at a conservative Christian college. Thus there is nothing remarkable about the Monticello gift shop's decision not to include this book among its offerings for sale. Yes, do read that dissenting letter in Nature, January 1999, but do not neglect to read the peer-reviewed article to which that letter refers.
shay's picture
Actually Betty Hemings sent Sally hemings to Paris as an opportunity to learn as well as be with her brother James and become a freed slave. In monticello they weren't free but in Paris they actually got paid for their services and wasn't considered slaves. James wanted to stay and only agreed to go back if Sally wanted to go and if Jefferson signed a paper allowing him to leave when he felt like it. Sally only came back because she was in love with Thomas Jefferson and was with child which her mother didn't approve her. Betty didn't want Sally to return to Monticello or impregnated by Jefferson. Although Jefferson did let James go with no question asked Sally was still considered a slave but a salve with benefits. Her children although Jefferson did give them freedom in his will it was actually unnecessary because two of his children left and the last two left before his will went into effect because of their pale skin and eye color they could pass as white so if he choose to free them or not it was irrelevant.
BrendaBallScott's picture
Hello all. I recently found a connection to Thomas Jefferson's sister Mary Jefferson Bolling via DNA. Has anyone else tested and found a link?
jww047's picture
A 14-year-old slave was not his "mistress." This wasn't an affair. He raped her, over and over again, just as all the colonists did to their female slaves.
pinklinks's picture
I'm not justifying what Jefferson did, but rape is a legal term. In that time, slaves were not considered people but property and had no rights whatsoever. Slave owners could do whatever they wished with their 'property', so this didn't really seem morally wrong, especially in this time period. Also, I don't know about raping her "over and over again."
Alexander Hamilton
Dave2Ga's picture
Consider this very real possibility: When Maria was sent to Paris she was to be accompanied by an older slave woman. When Maria arrived in England on her way to France Abigail Adams was shocked to see that she was accompanied by Sally. The excuse given was that the older woman had "gotten sick." What was the best deal in slavery? Being the favored mistress of the master! And who was Sally's mother - Betty Hemmings, the reputed mistress of Jefferson's father in law. What do you suppose Betty said to Sally? How about - "You are now old enough to marry. You can marry a field hand or you can become master's mistress. If you become his mistress you protect all of the family. Go to Paris, become his mistress, and come back and protect the rest of us. I have found a ham to give the woman who will 'get sick.'" And the plan worked. Sally went to Paris, became his mistress, and then refused to go home and would only do so if Jefferson promised to free their children. He agreed. However, when he wrote his will about 6 weeks before he died he freed no one. But 2 days later he added a codicil freeing the two remaining children, etc. Wonder what the conversations were like between those events? All in all a very human story that is probably far more complicated than we will ever know.
Maria's picture
Could you please direct me to a source that says Eston Hemings Jefferson claimed to be the son of TJ, as you say, in the mid-1800s? For Madison Hemings, we have the famous post Civil War/Wetmore newspaper article. But I could find nothing that refers to Eston himself claiming to be a son of TJ. ~Thank you!
Maria McLendon
APGifts's picture
. Please Note -- Sarah ("Sally") Hemings was NOT a 'Black' person! . .
PraiseDrummer's picture
To all those that argue over Sally Hemmings and Thomas Jefferson. Those saying no to the liason, and those that say it existed really need to look deeply at the history, both oral and what "little bit" of written history there is. This is what is written and proven. Sally (SARAH) was the daughter of Elizabeth Hemmings, who was known by written history to have had a sexual relationship with John Wayles, Jefferson's father in-law. This would make Jefferson's wife the half sister of Sally. More than one source says that Martha (his wife) made him promise not to re-marry, probably because of her life with step-mothers and not wanting her children to endure such a life. When Jefferson was in France, Sally accompanied Patsy, Jefferson's daughter to France when Sally was around 14. She spent three years there with her primary friend being her brother James. She could have asked the French Government to become free and left, but she didn't. In that period, it would have been approved. Conjecture says that she learned a great deal in France. Sometime in those years, she and Mr. Jefferson are supposed to have become more than Master/Slave. For all of those that think this strange, remember that the age of consent for "white" girls at the time was 10. Mr. Jefferson persuaded her return to Virginia, even promising to release all of her future children at age 21. HE KEPT THIS PROMISE! Sally was pregnant at the time they came back to Monticello. Since she was a slave in the home of Jefferson in France, it is doubtful she ran around at 15-17 looking for someone to have sex with, especially since for most of the time, she didn't even know the language. This leaves Jefferson. It is written that she was beautiful, probably had a resemblance to Martha, very importantly, had her mannerisms, having been part of his wife's inner-sanctum since her birth. With all that said, here is the truth of everything. In looking at the man that was Thomas Jefferson, one needs to walk in his shoes. He lost his wife to childbirth. It was written that “he was morose for months.” In Sally, he may have found something he lost. We will never know. However, it makes no difference as to who he was. His place in the founding our nation remains unchanged. His granddaughters adored him and called him “Grand Papa.” His service to our new country was invaluable. He was the “notoriety” of the neighborhood when he was home from Washington City and really got tired of being the center of attention. Let me put it this way. We may never know the WHOLE truth of the Hemmings/Jefferson connection. I propose this. None of you lived during his time, went through his trials and hardships. None of you can even attempt to imagine Sally's feelings, why she made the decisions that we know about, and know enough about her opportunities to know why she made the choices she did. Let's address the dignity of each, the stations they lived in life, and realize that we will NEVER really get it. Those are my thoughts. The loneliness of Jefferson, the uncertainty of a young enslaved woman's life, may have made the match more possible or less possible. WHO KNOWS?
Reader of backg...
cwollerton's picture
Maria, The sequence starts in the mid-1800s with Eston Hemings Jefferson stating that was Jefferson's son after moving to Wisconsin. Madison Hemings also made the claims. It's later -- in the 1940s -- that his descendants start saying they were descended from an uncle.
Maria's picture
Isn't the sequence of Eston's family history reversed in your last bullet? Your last bullet states: "Eston Hemings's descendants, who have lived as whites, have passed down a family history of being related to Thomas Jefferson. In the 1940s, family members changed this history to state that an uncle of Jefferson's, rather than Jefferson himself, was their ancestor." Didn't the original, contemporaneous oral history state that the family had descended from an uncle or relative of Thomas Jefferson, and not Thomas Jefferson himself? And then later (in the 20th century) the family was convinced by others (strangers) to change their own history to claim Thomas Jefferson himself as their ancestor? You have this sequence listed in reverse. It is significant that the original story was descent from an uncle or relative, but not from Thomas himself.
Maria McLendon
Ohioan's picture
Having read the very balanced narrative of, I am bound to say I simply don't know. Those with strong reason to want it be one way or another are the ones most sure of themselves.
vangyfranklin's picture
The ownership of humans is no new discovery. In fact, that many of us are in denial regarding the continual mistreatment of humans by other humans is astonishing. Every race and ethnic group has determined itself better than another and therefore tend to keep the 'lesser than us' or the "conquered" as 'slaves' or controlled in some sort of servitude. All members of the human race who have come before us and owned humans may lessen the sting to those may be 'shocked'. Slavery was a socially acceptable and an important social construct that built great nations that evolved into improved societies. The moral and social norms that existed at the time of "our "Founding Fathers" were fortunately not the ones we try to uphold today. In may ways, we have achieved in the present, was because they grappled with the contradictions they wrote down. All of the men who were created equal were the "men" as defined in those times. Subsequently, many of them were the 'men' in charge" and the 'owners.' Everyone else was in some way 'owned' or certainly not 'free' according to our current standards. Some men succeeded by their own merit and achieved success in different ways and perhaps with the help of others. In that sense, Alexander Hamilton was a keen contrast to Thomas Jefferson. George Washington's Cabinet demonstrated that variety of personal heritage with Secretary of Treasury Hamilton (born out of wedlock, orphaned in the West Indies, lawyer, banker and military officer) Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson (Virginia planter, lawyer, governor, diplomat, intellectual, died in debt) , Secretary of War, Henry Knox (abandoned by his destitute Boston father, bookstore owner, manufacturer of artillery,aide-de-camp to General George Washington in the Continental Army) and Attorney General Edmund Randolph (from a very successful Virginia plantation owning family, lawyer and career politician). Whether Jefferson or one of his relatives sired Sally Hemings child or children only reflects that the behavior was acceptable for that time. Jefferson was a conflicted man of his time, a great man in that hew held high ideals and a flawed man because he could not achieve all of them in his personal and public life before his death. Just think of how long and how many of us it took us to change our times over the world and over the centuries. Still working at it!
vangyfranklin (not verified)
Tony Naples's picture
There seems to be evidence on both sides, but no proof either way that Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings were intimate. Rather than entertain a detailed argument forming one opinion or another, I would simply say, there is no proof, only circumstantial evidence. Consequently, I may accept the possibility, but choose to conclude, based on lack of proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Jefferson did not father the children of Sally Hemmings.
Tony Naples
colorblind's picture
My God! It's amazing how centuries later this topic creates such emotion, such dislike and denial among caucasians. Learn your history Americans. The truth is whatever type of President he was, Jefferson was a hypocrite, like thousands of white men at that time and some in our time who used Sally Hemmings and helpless black women for their own selfish and egotistical purposes. What do you expect from people who kept people as property? When he and his ilk said 'all men are created equal', Jefferson did not mean all humans, he meant all white men... not women, not blacks. Like Strom Thurmond, the infamous US lawmaker, who oozed and embraced racism and segregation and battled against civil rights 'for black people' WHILE he raped black women, (these liaisons were not romantic), AND FATHERED BLACK CHILDREN. His quote: "all the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, into our schools, our churches and our places of recreation and amusement." Imagine that!! The truth always comes to light as it did for him. You should not try to rewrite and twist history to soothe your consciences and dress up the truth to appear like something else. Back then, ALL white men did it. Jefferson was no different.
colorblind (not verified)
0gravity's picture
I woukd advise you to take a little of your own advise and learn a little history. You are very assumptive of Jefferson's relationship with Ms Hemings and so sure of the fact that 'ALL white men did it. I would not try to say that Jefferson was not invlolved with Ms Hemings but to say unequivocally that he was is a little stretch, ironically in the comment section spelling out that there isa in fact no proof. You again jump to conclusions regarding his 'all men are created equal' without knowing your own history. Jefferson's first draft of thr Declaration of Indepence did in fact have a denunciation of slavery, one of the only changes the continental congress !ade was it's removal. The first act in Jefferson's political life was to introduce a bill while in the Virginia legislature tomake it legal for a someone to emancipate their slaves. (You of course knowing history know all of this) Jefferson also attempted to have a bill passed that would outlaw slavery in any new states that joined the union, this was overturned by a single vote and likely would have prevented the civil war. Of course being scholarly and knowing all things in American history this is all old news to you. I would not try to convince you Jefferson was not without flaws but clearly you are great at jumping to convenient conclusions that support your own narrative.
slimmodel's picture
Why after two hundred years we are still talking about this? It is because Jefferson was famous and he should have known better. He raped a 15 year old girl and takes her back to Virginia to cover up the crime. He then puts her up as his common law wife and proceeds to have eight children by her. He is a hypocrite for having relations with a black woman who could not say no. If he was totally against slavery as he professes he would have done everything in his power as President to get rid of it. But he benefited from this evil enterprise from its beginning to end. It is so sad that a man in his position kept a woman in bondage did nothing for her or their offspring but made false claims as if slavery was wrong but liked having sex with a black woman. His black children suffered the most. I can not look at him the same way. He is not a hero to me or the Black community.
sjb's picture
I understand that she was not black, or at least had no appearance of being black. If someone makes a mistake that negates anything good they did?
KJP's picture
Yes, she was black. Her Mother was an African - owned by Jefferson's father-in-law.
midnighoil1713's picture
Allegations that the "oral history" of Sally's descendants identified the president as the father of all of Sally's children are also incorrect. Eston's descendants repeatedly acknowledged—before and after the DNA tests—that as children they were told they were not descendants of Thomas Jefferson but rather of an "uncle." A more plausible candidate is Thomas Jefferson's younger brother, known at Monticello as "Uncle Randolph." Posted from: Please update the site and your tours appropriately
cwollerton's picture
The last bullet point under "From the Historical Record" addresses this: "Eston Hemings's descendants, who have lived as whites, have passed down a family history of being related to Thomas Jefferson. In the 1940s, family members changed this history to state that an uncle of Jefferson's, rather than Jefferson himself, was their ancestor."
MollyAnn's picture
Chad, I have a student that would like to learn more on this topic. You are very knowledgeable, would you ever consider connecting with my class over Skype or video conferencing equipment? You can respond at Thank you!
victoria.jefferson1's picture
Personally I don't care for a many opinions in this matter as it happens to be about my family history. Plenty of slave owners fathered house slaves children; however, not all slave owners gave whole entire familys their freedom either! Arnold is a prime example of a political figure having relations with the help and resulting in a child and that's in this day and age! With all due respect Thomas Jefferson was an excellent President none the less.I respect the fact he kept his promise to his wife but that didn't mean he would not ever touch another woman, let alone one whom was as attractive as Sally Hemmings was said to be; in addition she did lived most of her life with him; although he was her master doesn't mean he wasn't capable of developing a genuwine affection or attraction to her that is basic human nature. One thing about DNA daughter cells are almost exact replicas of one another it's call mitosis and meiosis I and II Biology 101 people! Anyhow have a awesome day. Oh and Barry FYI coloured people are AFRICAN AMERICANS now !
Victoria She'an...
Mel Palmer's picture
it is safe to say that thomas jefferson probably fathered children with martha. it wasn't uncommon in that day. he was a man like another man. so many beautiful slave women around. the important thing is that the man was private and complex. history is fluid.
jww047's picture
Which he raped. Though I guess that does make him a regular white man.
sjb's picture
Where do we find evidence he raped anyone? Is this just an assumption?
Barry's picture
I visited Montecello in 2011 and listened to a young coloured lady explain the story of Sally Hemmings and whilst she was talking and got to the part about Jefferson being the father of her children several white families left! They did have children with them and may have left for that reason but it seemed more likely to me that they did not wish to hear the story. Is it true? Most probably it is, simply on the basis that it was extremely common at that time. Equally slavery was a worldwide phenomenon at that time and is was only the spread of knowledge about it that caused it to be abolished in most of the civilised world. It was later of course that it was abolished in America but at the time of Jefferson the French revolution, an anti slavery revolt of sorts, and (later) Wilberforce in England was active in ending slavery worldwide. Probably one of the most decisive moments in the abolition of slavery was the battle of Trafalgar in 1805 which made the Royal Navy dominant enough to enforce the abolition of transportation when it was passed by Parliament. Jefferson was no worse than any other great man of his day, Napoleon and Wellington? Just the same and the phrase "born on the wrong side of the blanket" refers to illegitimate children. Where we go wrong is where we try to deify men and women from history and deny the truth or most probable truth of any historical incident. We should be content with what they did both good and bad, but we should not judge 'bad' by today's standards but rather by the standards of the time in question. The real shocking thing is that Jefferson wrote "all men are created equal" but he did not say "all men and women are created equal" as that was not in their common thought, and nor was all men of all races.
sjb's picture
I thought it was established that Sally looked like TJ's wife - white skinned, gray eyes, brown hair.
KJP's picture
When you have a black mother and a white father, are you considered white? No, you are not. She had white features because she had a white father. Do you not realize that "black" people come in all shades and hues...primarily because of these types of interactions during slavery.
dvandercreek's picture
Well said, Patty49er. The real question is "should it even matter?" No. it should not. However, the old saying "in a hundred years from now, nobody is going to care anyway" should read "in a hundred years from now, let it rest, for God sake".
1678401109@facebook's picture
I did not expect that he would pull the same idiotic move like Alexander Hamilton did by publishing it in the newspaper.Gentlemen did not do that of course his friends defended him that is how it was done. This last result of the DNA tests has devastating results for those who claim that Thomas Jefferson began a 38-year affair with Sally Hemings in 1787 when Sally accompanied his daughter to Paris. According to Annette Gordon-Reed in her recent book, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, Sally was pregnant with her son, Thomas (Hemings) Woodson, when she returned with Jefferson and his daughters in 1789, and the child was born shortly after her arrival back in the States. But the DNA tests prove conclusively that this child was NOT fathered by Jefferson! Moreover, according to Ms. Gordon-Reed, Sally did not want to leave Paris and return to the U. S. with Jefferson! In the article reporting on the DNA test results from the Nov. 5 issue of the journal Nature, page 27, is the following statement: "Four of the five male-line descendants of Thomas Woodson shared a haplotype (with one MSY1 variant) that was not similar to the Y chromosome of Field Jefferson but was characteristic of Europeans. The fifth Woodson descendant had an entirely different haplotype, most often seen in sub-Saharan Africans, which indicates illegitimacy in the line after individual W42 [i.e., after the 4th generation]." Therefore, the DNA tests do indeed prove conclusively that Jefferson did NOT father Sally's child born after her return from France, and that this child's Y chromosome was unquestionably of the EUROPEAN, not the African variety. In fact, the DNA tests prove this more surely than they do that Sally's son, Eston, was fathered by Thomas Jefferson, since any of about twelve or more descendants of Field Jefferson could have been the father and have provided Eston with the Jeffersonian Y chromosome. It takes very little insight to figure out from these facts what was actually going on. Having a child by another man, and resisting the return to the U.S. with one's reputed "lover," is hardly suggestive of the beginning of a love affair. Rather, it is reasonable to infer from this evidence that Sally had an affair in France, but not with Thomas Jefferson. She had an affair with someone who lived there, and she wanted to stay there with her new-found lover. It should also be noted that after Sally returned to Monticello and gave birth to her first child, there was a period of more than five years before she gave birth to her second child. If, indeed, she and Thomas Jefferson were having a love affair that began in France, this absence of births at the beginning of the alleged affair, and a recommencement at a much later date, would be quite puzzling and without explanation. Rather than an affair with Jefferson, it suggests that the affair was with someone in France that Sally had left behind when she returned to the United States, and that the absence of births was because her lover was no longer present. According to Gordon-Reed, Thomas Jefferson was only able to persuade Sally to return with him by promising her that her child would be granted freedom when the child reached age twenty-one. This evidence, and its clear implications that there was no "affair" between Sally and TJ, has been completely ignored. William Safire even made the ridiculous statement in a syndicated column that the much maligned James Callender, the muck-raker who started the accusations in 1802, was wrong then, but was actually right, because DNA indicates Jefferson was the father of a child born six years later! Without a doubt, Thomas Jefferson returning from France with a young slave girl who was pregnant, raised a lot of eyebrows. And, no doubt, these suspicions and the gossip they generated were the source of the Callender accusations. But the recent DNA evidence has demonstrated that these accusations were false. Jefferson, however, did not have the benefit of DNA tests, and almost never attempted to defend himself against gossip at any time -- certainly not in the public press. As a result, the accusations gained some level of currency, and have persisted to this day. The "Jefferson-Hemming Matter" tells us as surely as any disclosure that no small amount of what a good many who pass for "scholars" inflict on the public is not history at all but merely the most transparent political propaganda.I see that you are using your Saul Alanski text book.Calling someone racist or implying such: Is the Progressive 'get out of logic free card. I love history but it has to be based on facts not fiction or speculation. You can not claim paternity on a man who's DNA you do not have. There is no evidence.Period. For those of you who have not studied French culture at the time of Jefferson the ideas of courtly love and flirting outrageously was something everyone just did even the rotund Franklin flirted. Are you also implying there should be some type of "white guilt" associated with the slave trade of the 1600- 1800? I see no reason for it MY ancestors were involved in that trade as slaves as were many other AMERICANS.If you have IRISH ancestry you were probably in a British slave ship.The history they NEVER teach you is that only 6% of the slaves brought to America were black 2/3 of the labor were white and the slaves ships of Britain were built not for black slaves but for ridding the Isles of the accursed Irish. Most of the black slave trade went to south America and to the West Indies for the sugar trade of the Portuguese,Spanish,French and only later the Brits.See BBC SCOTLAND video Barbado'ed Before there was a Botany Bay in Australia there was Jamestown in Virginia. Google Oliver Cromwell and Irish slave trade.They stole children in Ireland and Scotland That's were we get the words spirited away and Kid Nabbed= kidnapped from.Aberdeen Scotland almost the whole town was involved in stealing children. The Irish, probably the people with the most tragic history of all, because it has been forgotten. The Irish Slave trade and genocide under Oliver Cromwell. Books : To Hell or Barbados The Irish Slaves White Cargo
J Hill's picture
Not an easy task for staff at Monticello but it would appear they have established a balanced approach based on the information available. Obviously, a great man in the history of your nation and the entire world. In Canada, we tend to revile all revolutionaries and staunch Loyalists would say very nasty things about 'slave-raping, Indian exterminating, Frenchified, Rebels' like Jefferson. Those who vilify the man are ignoring the contributions of Jefferson in the advancement of democracy, not only in the U.S. but around the planet. Those who deify the man are ignoring the complex society he lived in and good old-fashioned human nature. Thank you for your work and dedication.
J Hill
SGW's picture
I would encourage you to update this page by posting pages 231-235 of The Real Thomas Jefferson. The book provides evidence that Sally Hemmings was the mistress of Jefferson's nephew, Peter Carr. This relationship was well known at Monticello. Carr being related to Jefferson would have familial DNA.
KJP's picture
So you are refuting the DNA evidence that excludes Carr as the father?
1678401109@facebook's picture
Then I probably would NEVER go on a tour given by you. Jefferson fought that lie while he was alive and people around him knew that was a lie as well. There is absolutely no evidence that Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings ever were lovers, that based on genetic evidence, any one of at least 25 men on Jefferson’s side of the family may have fathered one or more of Hemings’ children (Jefferson family historian Herbert Barger argues persuasively that Jefferson’s brother, Randolph, was Hemings’ lover.), and that the Jefferson paternity story was born as the fabrication of a disappointed office seeker (James Thomson Callender) with a history of libeling the Founding Fathers. Truscott and Staples resorted instead to insinuating that only a racist would deny the story. Typical. There is also a diary of man who worked for Jefferson free on line.Jefferson at Monticello: The Private Life of Thomas Jefferson From Entirely New Materials. Freeport The fact you not a historian but a liberal is showing.
patty49er's picture
Actually, Jefferson never "fought that lie." He never responded to it. He let others do the talking for him. It didn't seem to mess with his political aspirations too much. I find it interesting that you don't want to entertain the idea that Jefferson could be the father of Hemings' children when that was common practice among slaveholders. Why would Jefferson be any different than his neigthbors? He was only forty-six when his wife died, plus she made him promise not to remarry (not cool). This seems like a decent compromise and it didn't break any sort of moral code of the South. I find it interesting that people don't want to see their heroes as humans with human frailties and character flaws. I think it makes them more interesting and as a history teacher, much more interesting to teach about. Yes, those of us who teach or study history know about Callender--Jefferson lied about having financed Callender's anti-federalist pamphleteering before he was arrested. And we also know about Callender's accusations against Jefferson, which included fathering Sally's children. But imagine Jefferson's dilemma while in Paris--he already had a flirtation going on with a French woman and then there's a sweet young thing that's practically Caucasian right under his nose. What's a guy to do? I don't buy that he remained celibate for the rest of his life; that's just not realistic. So what if he fathered children with a partly black woman? Does that negate anything he's done for our country? Of course not. And since when has even THIS become a political issue? Have even issues of historical interest become topics for conservatives and liberals to argue over? How pathetic is that?
KJP's picture
I don't think Americans will ever truly be free of racism, ever.
1678401109@facebook's picture
Since history is deliberately distorted by liberal professors and facts are left out, yes it is something to argue about. Do you also teach about the Irish slave trade that preceded the black slave trade or do you leave that out? Google Oliver Cromwell and the Irish slave trade. I know not one teacher or professor ever mentioned it. I only discovered it while doing looking for Irish relatives.
665111638@facebook's picture
I have no problem believing that Jefferson fathered Sally Hemings children. I think it is possible (and likely) and wouldn't be surprised if it was ever proven (which it hasn't been and never will be) My problem is the continuing stance by many historians who speak of this as though it has been proven without a doubt and that Jefferson is certainly the father of her children. The "evidence" should be presented and when done the answer from historians to the question should be the same answer they give on thousands of historical topics...."We really don't know." Not even the DNA test that people constantly reference is 100% proof of anything. It certainly causes me to pause and lean a little towards the "Yes he did" side of things, but there is enough doubt (Randolph Jefferson is just as likely a "candidate") for me to refuse to take a stance one way or the other. It's a fascinating mystery and will be a contentious issue for the rest of human history.
SarahSQ's picture
So interesting...I also have to remind myself that upon her deathbed, Martha Jefferson made TJ promise her never to remarry--a practice that was common for widowers at the time, especially one as elligible at TJ. He obviously never did, but it is reasonable to think he would never form feelings (of any nature) for another woman? "The Hemmings of Monticello" by A. Gordon-Reed is another great source on the family and this story.
lgrim's picture
Whenever I'm giving a tour in the house, I will ask my group, "Is the name Sally Hemings familiar to you?" Inevitably, there is a mixed reaction - some nods, some startled looks ("Is she really going to talk about Sally Hemings?"), and some curious stares. Regardless, all eyes look at me a bit more intently for what's to come next. I state that most historians believe that Jefferson - years after his wife's death - was the father of his enslaved maid' many children. What most visitors want to know next is the character of that relationship. Then I have to give the hardest answer a guide anywhere must give: "We don't know." The Thomas Jefferson Foundation website has a number of primary and secondary resources to help those interested in learning more about the relationship discover what evidence exists, and how historians have used documents and scientific evidence over time to talk about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings.
Linnea Grim


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