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The personality of the man who figures in the Hemings soap opera cannot be attributed to the known nature of Jefferson, and would be preposterously out of character for him.
As the author of the book, I feel Mr. Weinberg has missed several important points to be shared with his readers.
â€¢ the virulent rumor was first started by the scandal-mongering journalist James Callender, who burned for political revenge against Jefferson. Callender was described as â€œan alcoholic thug with a foul mind, obsessed with race and sex,â€ who intended to defame the public career of Jefferson.
â€¢ the one eyewitness to this sexual allegation was Edmund Bacon, Jeffersonâ€™s overseer at Monticello, who saw another man (not Jefferson) leaving Sallyâ€™s room â€˜many a morning.â€™ Bacon wrote: â€œâ€¦I have seen him come out of her motherâ€™s room many a morning when I went up to Monticello very early.â€
â€¢ Jeffersonâ€™s deteriorating health would have prevented any such sexual relationship. He was 64 at the time of the alleged affair and suffered debilitating migraine headaches which incapacitated him for weeks, as well as severe intestinal infections and rheumatoid arthritis. He complained to John Adams: â€œMy health is entirely broken down within the last eight months.â€
â€¢ Jefferson owned three different slaves named Sally, adding to the historical confusion. Yet, he never freed his supposed lover and companion of 37 years, â€˜Sally Hemingsâ€™ from her enslavement, nor mentioned her in his will.
â€¢ Randolph Jefferson, his younger brother, would have the identical Jefferson Y chromosome as his older brother, Thomas, that matched the DNA. Randolph had a reputation for socializing with Jefferson's slaves and was expected at Monticello approximately nine months before the birth of Eston Hemings, Sallyâ€™s son who was the DNA match for a â€œmale Jefferson.â€
â€¢ The DNA match was to a male son of Sallyâ€™s. Randolph had six male sons. Thomas Jefferson had all female children with his beloved wife, Martha, except for a male who died in infancy.
â€¢ Until 1976, the oral history of Estonâ€™s family held that they descended from a Jefferson "uncle." Randolph was known at Monticello as "Uncle Randolph."
â€¢ Unlike his brother, by taste and training Jefferson was raised as the perfect Virginia gentleman, a man of refinement and intellect. The personality of the man who figures in the Hemings soap opera cannot be attributed to the known nature of Jefferson, and would be preposterously out of character for him.
I too vote "case not closed." But since scientific evidence has an important special place in public discussions, it's important to sort out what science has and has not revealed about the Hemings-TJ paternity debate.
If I understand right, Mr. Weinberg believes that the 1998 DNA analysis yielded evidence about all of Sally Hemings's children. I gather he assumes that all of the kids had the same father, even though Monticello scholars aren't sure about that. In any case, the DNA lab findings showed only that someone carrying a Jefferson family DNA marker fathered Hemings's last child, her son Eston. These molecular findings say nothing whatsoever about the paternity of the other kids.
Mr. Weinberg also says that the father of all of the children could be "one of two Jefferson nephews, Peter and Samuel Carr." Maybe that's true for the children other than Eston. I wouldn't know. But the DNA findings say that no Carr fathered Eston.
Mr. Hyland's online comment repeats an apparently science-invoking statement that I've seen him make elsewhere. (Possibly I simply misunderstand what Mr. Hyland means on this point.) Noting that TJ and his wife Martha had mostly girls, whereas TJ's brother Randolph had only sons, Mr. Hyland apparently believes that this contrast points to Randolph as Eston Hemings's likely dad. Maybe it does, but that sounds like a scientific or a biostatistical claim. In over a decade of careful study of the use and misuse of scientific evidence in the Hemings-TJ debate (see TJscience.org for more), I've never seen a scientist make such a claim.
Steven T. Corneliussen
I've portrayed Thomas Jefferson professionally for almost 20 years. I love most things Jefferson!
I'm currently reading both Hyland's "In Defense of Thomas Jefferson" and Gordon-Reed's "The Hemings of Monticello."
Hyland endeavors to prove Thomas Jefferson did not father Sally Hemings' last child. Gordon-Reed simply assumes he did.
Short of DNA testing Jefferson's remains, there will be no definitive answer in this case. Given that, I much prefer Hyland's approach to Gordon-Reed's. In a disputable matter, it is far better to try making a case rather than assume it's a done deal, and you don't have to bother.
Concerning the comment above from Patrick Lee: I agree that Professor Gordon-Reed exhibits a lot of paternity certitude. Still, it seems only fair to note that the book Mr. Lee cited is her second on Hemings-TJ, and that she already engaged the paternity question in _Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy_. Thanks.
Steven T. Corneliussen
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