Last modified on August 7, 2022, at 18:59

Jefferson–Hemings controversy

Thomas Jefferson

The Jefferson–Hemings controversy is a dispute over the nature of the relationship between Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was allegedly in a sexual relationship with Hemings while both were living in Paris, where Hemings was free and after Jefferson's wife, to whom Hemings bore a resemblance, had passed away.


The controversy has been around since the early 1800s since it was started by a man of disrepute, James T. Callender. However, the debate was amplified by a 1998 article in Nature which proclaimed DNA proof of Jefferson's fathering of children with Hemings.[1]


The journal Nature issued a retraction two months later, noting that "The title assigned to our study was misleading in that it represented only the simplest explanation of our molecular findings."[2]


Herbert Barger, the Jefferson family Genealogist, led the dispute of many of these claims. He put together exhaustive research, and searched for 18 months for the grave of William Hemings.[3] He said: "My study indicates to me that Thomas Jefferson was NOT the father of Eston or any other Hemings child. The DNA study along with historical information, indicates that Randolph is possibly the father of Eston and maybe the others."[4]

Additionally, the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society also conducted a study with a commission panel that included many historians and scholars, which concluded:

In the end, after roughly one year of examining the issues, we find the question of whether Thomas Jefferson fathered one or more children by his slave Sally Hemings to be one about which honorable people can and do disagree. However, it is our unanimous view that the allegation is by no means proven; and we find it regrettable that public confusion about the 1998 DNA testing and other evidence has misled many people into believing that the issue is closed. With the exception of one member, whose views are set forth below and in the more detailed appended dissent, our individual conclusions range from serious skepticism about the charge to a conviction that it is almost certainly untrue.[5]

Professor M. Andrew Holowchak has also argued that evidence does not support the claim that Jefferson fathered Heming's children as well.[6]


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