On October 19, 1796, an essay appears in the Gazette of the United States in which a writer, mysteriously named “Phocion,” slyly attacks presidential candidate Thomas Jefferson. Phocion turned out to be former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. The essay typified the nasty, personal nature of political attacks in late 18th-century America.
When the article appeared, Jefferson was running against then-Vice President John Adams, in an acrimonious campaign. The highly influential Hamilton, also a Federalist, supported Adams over Jefferson, one of Hamilton’s political rivals since the two men served together in George Washington’s first cabinet. According to Hamilton biographer Ron Chernow, Hamilton wrote 25 essays under the name Phocion for the Gazette between October 15 and November 24, lambasting Jefferson and Jeffersonian republicanism. On October 19, Hamilton went further, accusing Jefferson of carrying on an affair with one of his enslaved workers.
READ MORE: The Scandal That Ruined Alexander Hamilton’s Chances of Becoming President
This would not be the last time such allegations would appear in print. In 1792, publisher James Callendar—then a supporter of Jefferson’s whose paper was secretly funded by Jefferson and his Republican allies–published a report of Alexander Hamilton’s adulterous affair with a colleague’s wife, to which Hamilton later confessed. However, in 1802, when then-President Jefferson snubbed Callendar’s request for a political appointment, Callendar retaliated with an expose on Jefferson’s “concubine.” He is believed to have been referring to Sally Hemings, who was part black and also the likely half-sister of Jefferson’s deceased wife, Martha. Further, the article alleged that Sally’s son, John, bore a “striking…resemblance to those of the President himself.” Jefferson chose not to respond to the allegations.
Rumors that the widowed Jefferson had an affair with one of his enslaved workers persist to this day and have spawned years of scholarly and scientific research regarding his and Hemings’ alleged progeny. In 2000, a research report issued by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation used DNA test results, original documents, oral histories, and statistical analysis of the historical record to conclude that Thomas Jefferson was probably the father of Sally Hemings’s son Eston and likely her other children.
Sarah "Sally" Hemings (c. 1773 – 1835) was a multiracial woman enslaved by President Thomas Jefferson. Multiple lines of evidence, including modern DNA analyses, indicate that Jefferson had a long-term sexual relationship with Hemings, and historians now broadly agree that he was the father of her six children.  Hemings was a half-sister of Jefferson's wife, Martha Jefferson ( née Wayles). Four of Hemings' children survived into adulthood.  Hemings died in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 1835. 
The historical question of whether Jefferson was the father of Hemings' children is the subject of the Jefferson–Hemings controversy. Following renewed historical analysis in the late 20th century, and a 1998 DNA study (completed in 1999 and published as a report in 2000)  that found a match between the Jefferson male line and a descendant of Hemings' youngest son, Eston Hemings, the Monticello Foundation asserted that Jefferson fathered Eston and likely her other five children as well.  However, there are some who disagree.  In 2018, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation of Monticello announced its plans to have an exhibit titled Life of Sally Hemings, and affirmed that it was treating as a settled issue that Jefferson was the father of her known children.  The exhibit opened in June 2018. 
Thomas Jefferson was born into the planter class of a "slave society," as defined by the historian Ira Berlin, in which slavery was the main means of labor production.  He was the son of Peter Jefferson, a prominent slaveholder and land speculator in Virginia, and Jane Randolph, granddaughter of English and Scots gentry.  When Jefferson was 24, he inherited 5,000 acres (20 km 2 ) of land, 52 enslaved individuals, livestock, his father's notable library, and a gristmill.   In 1768, Thomas Jefferson began construction of a neoclassical mansion known as Monticello, which overlooked the hamlet of his former home in Shadwell.  As an attorney, Jefferson represented people of color as well as whites. In 1770, he defended a young mulatto male slave in a freedom suit, on the grounds that his mother was white and freeborn. By the colony's law of partus sequitur ventrum, that the child took the status of the mother, the man should never have been enslaved. He lost the suit.  In 1772, Jefferson represented George Manly, the son of a free woman of color, who sued for freedom after having been held as an indentured servant three years past the expiration of his term. (The Virginia colony at the time bound illegitimate mixed-race children of free women as indentured servants: until age 31 for males, with a shorter term for females.)  Once freed, Manly worked for Jefferson at Monticello for wages.  In 1773, the year after Jefferson married the young widow Martha Wayles Skelton, her father died. She and Jefferson inherited his estate, including 11,000 acres, 135 enslaved individuals, and £4,000 of debt. With this inheritance, Jefferson became deeply involved with interracial families and financial burden. As a widower, his father-in-law John Wayles had taken his mulatto slave Betty Hemings as a concubine and had six children with her during his last 12 years. 
These additional forced laborers made Jefferson the second-largest slaveholder in Albemarle County. In addition, he held nearly 16,000 acres of land in Virginia. He sold some people to pay off the debt of Wayles' estate.  From this time on, Jefferson took on the duties of owning and supervising his large chattel estate, primarily at Monticello, although he also developed other plantations in the colony. Slavery supported the life of the planter class in Virginia. 
In collaboration with Monticello, now the major public history site on Jefferson, the Smithsonian opened an exhibit, Slavery at Jefferson's Monticello: The Paradox of Liberty, (January – October 2012) at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. It covered Jefferson as a slaveholder and the roughly 600 enslaved people who lived at Monticello over the decades, with a focus on six enslaved families and their descendants. It was the first national exhibit on the Mall to address these issues. In February 2012, Monticello opened a related new outdoor exhibition, Landscape of Slavery: Mulberry Row at Monticello, which "brings to life the stories of the scores of people—enslaved and free—who lived and worked on Jefferson's 5,000 acre plantation." 
Shortly after ending his law practice in 1774, Jefferson wrote A Summary View of the Rights of British America, which was submitted to the First Continental Congress. In it, he argued Americans were entitled to all the rights of British citizens, and denounced King George for wrongfully usurping local authority in the colonies. In regard to slavery, Jefferson wrote "The abolition of domestic slavery is the great object of desire in those colonies, where it was unhappily introduced in their infant state. But previous to the enfranchisement of the slaves we have, it is necessary to exclude all further importations from Africa yet our repeated attempts to effect this by prohibitions, and by imposing duties which might amount to a prohibition, have been hitherto defeated by his majesty's negative: Thus preferring the immediate advantages of a few African corsairs to the lasting interests of the American states, and to the rights of human nature, deeply wounded by this infamous practice." 
In 1775, Thomas Jefferson joined the Continental Congress as a delegate from Virginia when he and others in Virginia began to rebel against the Royal Governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore. Trying to reassert British authority over the area, Dunmore issued a Proclamation in November 1775 that offered freedom to slaves who abandoned their Patriot masters and joined the British.  Dunmore's action led to a mass exodus of tens of thousands of forced laborers from plantations across the South during the war years some of the people Jefferson held as slaves also took off as runaways. 
The colonists opposed Dunmore's action as an attempt to incite a massive slave rebellion. In 1776, when Jefferson co-authored the Declaration of Independence, he referred to the Lord Governor when he wrote, "He has excited domestic insurrections among us," though the institution of slavery itself was never mentioned by name at any point in the document.   In the original draft of the Declaration, Jefferson inserted a clause condemning George III for forcing the slave trade onto the American colonies and inciting enslaved African Americans to "rise in arms" against their masters:
He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where Men should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain this execrable commerce. And that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people on whom he has obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed against the Liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.
The Continental Congress, however, due to Southern opposition, forced Jefferson to delete the clause in the final draft of the Declaration.      Jefferson did manage to make a general criticism against slavery by maintaining "all men are created equal."  Jefferson did not directly condemn domestic slavery as such in the Declaration, as Jefferson himself was a slaveowner. According to Finkelman, "The colonists, for the most part, had been willing and eager purchasers of slaves."  Researcher William D. Richardson proposed that Thomas Jefferson's use of "MEN" in capital letters would be a repudiation of those who may believe that the Declaration was not including slaves with the word "Mankind" 
That same year, Jefferson submitted a draft for the new Virginia Constitution containing the phrase “No person hereafter coming into this country shall be held within the same in slavery under any pretext whatever.” His proposal was not adopted. 
In 1778 with Jefferson's leadership and probably authorship, the Virginia General Assembly banned importing people to be used as slaves into Virginia. It was one of the first jurisdictions in the world to ban the slave trade, and all other states except South Carolina eventually followed prior to the Congress banning the trade in 1807.   
As governor of Virginia for two years during the Revolution, Jefferson signed a bill to promote military enlistment by giving white men land, "a healthy sound Negro. or £60 in gold or silver."  As was customary, he brought some of the household workers he held in slavery, including Mary Hemings, to serve in the governor's mansion in Richmond. Facing a British invasion in January 1781, Jefferson and the Assembly members fled the capital and moved the government to Charlottesville, leaving the workers enslaved by Jefferson behind. Hemings and other enslaved people were taken by the British as prisoners of war they were later released in exchange for captured British soldiers. In 2009, the Daughters of the Revolution (DAR) honored Mary Hemings as a Patriot, making her female descendants eligible for membership in the heritage society. 
In June 1781, the British arrived at Monticello. Jefferson had escaped before their arrival and gone with his family to his plantation of Poplar Forest to the southwest in Bedford County most of those he held as slaves stayed at Monticello to help protect his valuables. The British did not loot or take prisoners there.  By contrast, Lord Cornwallis and his troops occupied and looted another planation owned by Jefferson, Elkhill in Goochland County, Virginia, northwest of Richmond. Of the 30 enslaved people they took as prisoners, Jefferson later claimed that at least 27 had died of disease in their camp. 
While claiming since the 1770s to support gradual emancipation, as a member of the Virginia General Assembly Jefferson declined to support a law to ask that, saying the people were not ready. After the United States gained independence, in 1782 the Virginia General Assembly repealed the slave law of 1723 and made it easier for slaveholders to manumit slaves. Unlike some of his planter contemporaries, such as Robert Carter III, who freed nearly 500 people held slaves in his lifetime, or George Washington, who freed all the enslaved people he legally owned, in his will of 1799, Jefferson formally freed only two people during his life, in 1793 and 1794.   Virginia did not require freed people to leave the state until 1806.  From 1782 to 1810, as numerous slaveholders freed enslaved people, the proportion of free blacks in Virginia increased dramatically from less than 1% to 7.2% of blacks. 
Some historians have claimed that, as a Representative to the Continental Congress, Thomas Jefferson wrote an amendment or bill that would abolish slavery. But according to Finkelman, "he never did propose this plan" and "Jefferson refused to propose either a gradual emancipation scheme or a bill to allow individual masters to free their slaves."  He refused to add gradual emancipation as an amendment when others asked him to he said, "better that this should be kept back."  In 1785, Jefferson wrote to one of his colleagues that black people were mentally inferior to white people, claiming the entire race was incapable of producing a single poet. 
On March 1, 1784, in defiance of southern slave society, Jefferson submitted to the Continental Congress the Report of a Plan of Government for the Western Territory.  "The provision would have prohibited slavery in *all* new states carved out of the western territories ceded to the national government established under the Articles of Confederation."  Slavery would have been prohibited extensively in both the North and South territories, including what would become Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee.  His 1784 Ordinance would have prohibited slavery completely by 1800 in all territories, but was rejected by the Congress by one vote due to an absent representative from New Jersey.  However, on April 23 Congress accepted Jefferson's 1784 Ordinance without prohibiting slavery in all the territories. Jefferson said that southern representatives defeated his original proposal. Jefferson was only able to obtain one southern delegate to vote for the prohibition of slavery in all territories.  The Library of Congress notes, "The Ordinance of 1784 marks the high point of Jefferson's opposition to slavery, which is more muted thereafter."   In 1786, Jefferson bitterly remarked "The voice of a single individual of the state which was divided, or of one of those which were of the negative, would have prevented this abominable crime from spreading itself over the new country. Thus we see the fate of millions unborn hanging on the tongue of one man, & heaven was silent in that awful moment!"  Jefferson's Ordinance of 1784 did influence the Ordinance of 1787, that prohibited slavery in the Northwest Territory. 
In 1785, Jefferson published his first book, Notes on the State of Virginia. In it, he argued that blacks were inferior to whites and this inferiority could not be explained by their condition of slavery. Jefferson stated emancipation and colonization away from America would be the best policy on how to treat blacks and added a warning about the potential for slave revolutions in the future: "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference! The almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest." 
From the 1770s on, Jefferson wrote of supporting gradual emancipation, based on slaves being educated, freed after 18 for women and 21 for men (later he changed this to age 45, when their masters had a return on investment), and transported for resettlement to Africa. All of his life, he supported the concept of colonization of Africa by American freedmen. The historian Peter S. Onuf suggested that, after having children with his slave Sally Hemings, Jefferson may have supported colonization because of concerns for his unacknowledged "shadow family."  In addition, Onuf asserts that Jefferson believed at this point that slavery was "equal to tyranny." 
The historian David Brion Davis states that in the years after 1785 and Jefferson's return from Paris, the most notable thing about his position on slavery was his "immense silence."  Davis believes that, in addition to having internal conflicts about slavery, Jefferson wanted to keep his personal situation private for this reason, he chose to back away from working to end or ameliorate slavery. 
As US Secretary of State, Jefferson issued in 1795, with President Washington's authorization, $40,000 in emergency relief and 1,000 weapons to French slave owners in Saint-Domingue (modern-day Haiti) in order to suppress a slave rebellion. President Washington gave the slave owners in Saint Domingue (Haiti) $400,000 as repayment for loans the French had granted to the Americans during the American Revolutionary War. 
On September 15, 1800, Virginia governor James Monroe sent a letter to Jefferson, informing him of a narrowly averted slave rebellion by Gabriel Prosser. Ten of the conspirators had already been executed, and Monroe asked Jefferson's advice on what to do with the remaining ones.  Jefferson sent a reply on September 20, urging Monroe to deport the remaining rebels rather than execute them. Most notably, Jefferson's letter implied that the rebels had some justification for their rebellion in seeking freedom, stating "The other states & the world at large will for ever condemn us if we indulge a principle of revenge, or go one step beyond absolute necessity. They cannot lose sight of the rights of the two parties, & the object of the unsuccessful one.".  By the time Monroe received Jefferson's letter, twenty of the conspirators had been executed. Seven more would be executed after Monroe received the letter on September 22, including Prosser himself, but an additional 50 defendants charged for the failed rebellion would be acquitted, pardoned, or have their sentences commuted. 
In 1800, Jefferson was elected as President of the United States over Adams. He won more electoral votes than Adams, aided by southern power. The Constitution provided for the counting of slaves as 3/5ths of their total population, to be added to a state's total population for purposes of apportionment and the electoral college. States with large slave populations, therefore, gained greater representation even though the number of voting citizens was smaller than that of other states. It was only due to this population advantage that Jefferson won the election.  
Moved slaves to White House Edit
Jefferson brought slaves from Monticello to work at the White House. [a] He brought Edith Hern Fossett and Fanny Hern to Washington, D.C. in 1802 and they learned to cook French cuisine at the President's House by Honoré Julien. Edith was 15 years old and Fanny was 18.   Margaret Bayard Smith remarked of the French fare, "The excellence and superior skill of his [Jefferson’s] French cook was acknowledged by all who frequented his table, for never before had such dinners been given in the President’s House".  Edith and Fanny were the only slaves from Monticello to regularly live in Washington.  They did not receive a wage, but earned a two-dollar gratuity each month.  They worked in Washington for nearly seven years and Edith gave birth to three children while at the President's House, James, Maria, and a child who did not survive to adulthood. Fanny had one child there. Their children were kept with them at the President's House. 
Haitian independence Edit
After Toussaint Louverture had become governor general of Saint-Domingue following a slave revolt, in 1801 Jefferson supported French plans to take back the island.  He agreed to loan France $300,000 "for relief of whites on the island."  Jefferson wanted to alleviate the fears of southern slave owners, who feared a similar rebellion in their territory.  Prior to his election, Jefferson wrote of the revolution, "If something is not done and soon, we shall be the murderers of our own children." 
By 1802, when Jefferson learned that France was planning to re-establish its empire in the western hemisphere, including taking the Louisiana territory and New Orleans from the Spanish, he declared the neutrality of the US in the Caribbean conflict.  While refusing credit or other assistance to the French, he allowed contraband goods and arms to reach Haiti and, thus, indirectly supported the Haitian Revolution.  This was to further US interests in Louisiana. 
That year and once the Haitians declared independence in 1804, President Jefferson had to deal with strong hostility to the new nation by his southern-dominated Congress. He shared planters' fears that the success of Haiti would encourage similar slave rebellions and widespread violence in the South. Historian Tim Matthewson noted that Jefferson faced a Congress "hostile to Haiti", and that he "acquiesced in southern policy, the embargo of trade and nonrecognition, the defense of slavery internally and the denigration of Haiti abroad."  Jefferson discouraged emigration by American free blacks to the new nation.  European nations also refused to recognize Haiti when the new nation declared independence in 1804.    In his short biography of Jefferson in 2005, Christopher Hitchens noted the president was "counterrevolutionary" in his treatment of Haiti and its revolution. 
Jefferson expressed ambivalence about Haiti. During his presidency, he thought sending free blacks and contentious slaves to Haiti might be a solution to some of the United States' problems. He hoped that "Haiti would eventually demonstrate the viability of black self-government and the industriousness of African American work habits, thereby justifying freeing and deporting the slaves" to that island.  This was one of his solutions for separating the populations. In 1824, book peddler Samuel Whitcomb, Jr. visited Jefferson in Monticello, and they happened to talk about Haiti. This was on the eve of the greatest emigration of U.S. Blacks to the island-nation. Jefferson told Whitcomb that he had never seen Blacks do well in governing themselves, and thought they would not do it without the help of Whites. 
Virginia emancipation law modified Edit
In 1806, with concern developing over the rise in the number of free blacks, the Virginia General Assembly modified the 1782 slave law to discourage free blacks from living in the state. It permitted re-enslavement of freedmen who remained in the state for more than 12 months. This forced newly freed blacks to leave enslaved kin behind. As slaveholders had to petition the legislature directly to gain permission for manumitted freedmen to stay in the state, there was a decline in manumissions after this date.  
Ended international slave trade Edit
In 1806, Jefferson denounced the international slave trade and called for a law to make it a crime. He told Congress in his 1806 annual message, such a law was needed to "withdraw the citizens of the United States from all further participation in those violations of human rights . which the morality, the reputation, and the best interests of our country have long been eager to proscribe." Congress complied and on March 2, 1807, Jefferson signed the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves into law it took effect 1 January 1808 and made it a federal crime to import or export slaves from abroad. 
By 1808, every state but South Carolina had followed Virginia's lead from the 1780s in banning importation of slaves. By 1808, with the growth of the domestic slave population enabling development of a large internal slave trade, slaveholders did not mount much resistance to the new law, presumably because the authority of Congress to enact such legislation was expressly authorized by the Constitution,  and was fully anticipated during the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Jefferson did not lead the campaign to prohibit the importation of slaves.  Historian John Chester Miller rated Jefferson's two major presidential achievements as the Louisiana Purchase and the abolition of the international slave trade. 
In 1819, Jefferson strongly opposed a Missouri statehood application amendment that banned domestic slave importation and freed slaves at the age of 25 believing it would destroy or break up the union.  By 1820, Jefferson, consistent with his lifelong view that slavery was an issue for each individual state to decide, objected to Northern meddling with Southern slavery policy. On April 22, Jefferson criticized the Missouri Compromise because it might lead to the breakup of the Union. Jefferson said slavery was a complex issue and needed to be solved by the next generation. Jefferson wrote that the Missouri Compromise was a "fire bell in the night" and "the knell of the Union". Jefferson said that he feared the Union would dissolve, stating that the "Missouri question aroused and filled me with alarm." In regard to whether the Union would remain for a long period of time Jefferson wrote, "I now doubt it much."   In 1823, in a letter to Supreme Court Justice William Johnson, Jefferson wrote “this case is not dead, it only sleepeth. the Indian chief said he did not go to war for every petty injury by itself but put it into his pouch, and when that was full, he then made war.” 
In 1798, Jefferson's friend from the Revolution, Tadeusz Kościuszko, a Polish nobleman and revolutionary, visited the United States to collect back pay from the government for his military service. He entrusted his assets to Jefferson with a will directing him to spend the American money and proceeds from his land in the U.S. to free and educate slaves, including Jefferson's, and at no cost to Jefferson. Kościuszko revised will states: "I hereby authorise my friend Thomas Jefferson to employ the whole thereof in purchasing Negroes from among his own or any others and giving them Liberty in my name." Kosciuszko died in 1817, but Jefferson never carried out the terms of the will: At age 77, he pleaded an inability to act as executor due to his advanced age  and the numerous legal complexities of the bequest—the will was contested by several family members and was tied up in the courts for years, long after Jefferson's death.  Jefferson recommended his friend John Hartwell Cocke, who also opposed slavery, as executor, but Cocke likewise declined to execute the bequest.  In 1852 the U.S. Supreme Court awarded the estate, by then worth $50,000, to Kościuszko's heirs in Poland, having ruled that the will was invalid. 
Jefferson continued to struggle with debt after serving as president. He used some of his hundreds of slaves as collateral to his creditors. This debt was due to his lavish lifestyle, long construction and changes to Monticello, imported goods, art, and lifelong issues with debt, from inheriting the debt of father-in-law John Wayles to signing two 10,000 notes late in life to assist dear friend Wilson Cary Nicholas, which proved to be his coup de grace. Yet he was merely one of numerous others who suffered crippling debt around 1820. He also incurred debt in helping support his only surviving daughter, Martha Jefferson Randolph, and her large family. She had separated from her husband, who had become abusive from alcoholism and mental illness (according to different sources), and brought her family to live at Monticello. 
In August 1814, the planter Edward Coles and Jefferson corresponded about Coles' ideas on emancipation. Jefferson urged Coles not to free his slaves, but the younger man took all his slaves to the Illinois and freed them, providing them with land for farms.  
In April 1820, Jefferson wrote to John Holmes giving his thoughts on the Missouri compromise. Concerning slavery, he said:
there is not a man on earth who would sacrifice more than I would, to relieve us from this heavy reproach [slavery] . we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.  
Jefferson may have borrowed from Suetonius, a Roman biographer, the phrase "wolf by the ears", as he held a book of his works. Jefferson characterized slavery as a dangerous animal (the wolf) that could not be contained or freed. He believed that attempts to end slavery would lead to violence.  Jefferson concluded the letter lamenting "I regret that I am now to die in the belief that the useless sacrifice of themselves, by the generation of '76. to acquire self government and happiness to their country, is to be thrown away by the unwise and unworthy passions of their sons, and that my only consolation is to be that I live not to weep over it." Following the Missouri Compromise, Jefferson largely withdrew from politics and public life, writing “with one foot in the grave, I have no right to meddle with these things.” 
In 1821, Jefferson wrote in his autobiography that he felt slavery would inevitably come to an end, though he also felt there was no hope for racial equality in America, stating "Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people [negros] are to be free. Nor is it less certain that the two races, equally free, cannot live in the same government. Nature, habit, opinion has drawn indelible lines of distinction between them." 
The U.S. Congress finally implemented colonization of freed African-American slaves by passing the Slave Trade Act of 1819 signed into law by President James Monroe. The law authorized funding to colonize the coast of Africa with freed African-American slaves. In 1824, Jefferson proposed an overall emancipation plan that would free slaves born after a certain date.  Jefferson proposed that African-American children born in America be bought by the federal government for $12.50 and that these slaves be sent to Santo Domingo.  Jefferson admitted that his plan would be liberal and may even be unconstitutional, but he suggested a constitutional amendment to allow congress to buy slaves. He also realized that separating children from slaves would have a humanitarian cost. Jefferson believed that his overall plan was worth implementing and that setting over a million slaves free was worth the financial and emotional costs. 
At his death, Jefferson was greatly in debt, in part due to his continued construction program.  The debts encumbered his estate, and his family sold 130 slaves, virtually all the members of every slave family, from Monticello to pay his creditors.   Slave families who had been well established and stable for decades were sometimes split up. Most of the sold slaves either remained in Virginia or were relocated to Ohio. 
Jefferson freed five slaves in his will, all males of the Hemings family. Those were his two natural sons, and Sally's younger half-brother John Hemings, and her nephews Joseph (Joe) Fossett and Burwell Colbert.  He gave Burwell Colbert, who had served as his butler and valet, $300 for purchasing supplies used in the trade of "painter and glazier". He gave John Hemings and Joe Fossett each an acre on his land so they could build homes for their families. His will included a petition to the state legislature to allow the freedmen to remain in Virginia to be with their families, who remained enslaved under Jefferson's heirs. 
Jefferson freed Joseph Fossett in his will, but Fossett's wife (Edith Hern Fossett) and their eight children were sold at auction. Fossett was able to get enough money to buy the freedom of his wife and two youngest children. The remainder of their ten children were sold to different slaveholders. The Fossetts worked for 23 years to purchase the freedom of their remaining children. 
Born and reared as free, not knowing that I was a slave, then suddenly, at the death of Jefferson, put upon an auction block and sold to strangers.
In 1827, the auction of 130 slaves took place at Monticello. The sale lasted for five days despite the cold weather. The slaves brought prices over 70% of their appraised value. Within three years, all of the "black" families at Monticello had been sold and dispersed. 
For two centuries the claim that Thomas Jefferson fathered children by his slave, Sally Hemings, has been a matter of discussion and disagreement. In 1802, the journalist James T. Callender, after being denied a position as postmaster by Jefferson, published allegations that Jefferson had taken Hemings as a concubine and had fathered several children with her.  John Wayles held her as a slave, and was also her father, as well as the father of Jefferson's wife Martha. Sally was three-quarters white and strikingly similar in looks and voice to Jefferson's late wife. 
In 1998, in order to establish the male DNA line, a panel of researchers conducted a Y-DNA study of living descendants of Jefferson's uncle, Field, and of a descendant of Sally's son, Eston Hemings. The results, published in the journal Nature,  showed a Y-DNA match with the male Jefferson line. In 2000, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation (TJF) assembled a team of historians whose report concluded that, together with the DNA and historic evidence, there was a high probability that Jefferson was the father of Eston and likely of all Hemings' children. W. M. Wallenborn, who worked on the Monticello report, disagreed, claiming the committee had already made up their minds before evaluating the evidence, was a "rush to judgement," and that the claims of Jefferson's paternity were unsubstantiated and politically driven. 
Since the DNA tests were made public, most biographers and historians have concluded that the widower Jefferson had a long-term relationship with Hemings.  Other scholars, including a team of professors associated with the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society, maintain that the evidence is insufficient to conclude Thomas Jefferson's paternity, and note the possibility that other Jeffersons, including Thomas's brother Randolph Jefferson and his five sons, who often fraternized with slaves, could have fathered Hemings' children.   Jefferson allowed two of Sally's children to leave Monticello without formal manumission when they came of age five other slaves, including the two remaining sons of Sally, were freed by his will upon his death. Although not legally freed, Sally left Monticello with her sons. They were counted as free whites in the 1830 census.   Madison Hemings, in an article titled, "Life Among the Lowly," in small Ohio newspaper called Pike County Republican, claimed that Jefferson was his father.  
Jefferson ran every facet of the four Monticello farms and left specific instructions to his overseers when away or traveling. Slaves in the mansion, mill, and nailery reported to one general overseer appointed by Jefferson, and he hired many overseers, some of whom were considered cruel at the time. Jefferson made meticulous periodical records on his slaves, plants and animals, and weather.   Jefferson, in his Farm Book journal, visually described in detail both the quality and quantity of purchased slave clothing and the names of all slaves who received the clothing.  In a letter written in 1811, Jefferson described his stress and apprehension in regard to difficulties in what he felt was his "duty" to procure specific desirable blankets for "those poor creatures" – his slaves. 
Some historians have noted that Jefferson maintained many slave families together on his plantations historian Bruce Fehn says this was consistent with other slave owners at the time. There were often more than one generation of family at the plantation and families were stable. Jefferson and other slaveholders shifted the "cost of reproducing the workforce to the workers' themselves". He could increase the value of his property without having to buy additional slaves.  He tried to reduce infant mortality, and wrote, "[A] woman who brings a child every two years is more profitable than the best man on the farm." 
Jefferson encouraged the enslaved at Monticello to "marry". (The enslaved could not marry legally in Virginia.) He would occasionally buy and sell slaves to keep families together. In 1815, he said that his slaves were "worth a great deal more" due to their marriages.  [ page needed ] "Married" slaves, however, had no legal protection or recognition under the law masters could separate slave "husbands" and "wives" at will. 
Thomas Jefferson recorded his strategy for employing children in his Farm Book. Until the age of 10, children served as nurses. When the plantation grew tobacco, children were at a good height to remove and kill tobacco worms from the crops.  Once he began growing wheat, fewer people were needed to maintain the crops, so Jefferson established manual trades. He stated that children "go into the ground or learn trades" When girls were 16, they began spinning and weaving textiles. Boys made nails from age 10 to 16. In 1794, Jefferson had a dozen boys working at the nailery.  The nail factory was on Mulberry Row. After it opened in 1794, for the first three years, Jefferson recorded the productivity of each child. He selected those who were most productive to be trained as artisans: blacksmiths, carpenters, and coopers. Those who performed the worst were assigned as field laborers.  While working at the nailery, boys received more food and may have received new clothes if they did a good job. 
James Hubbard was an enslaved worker in the nailery who ran away on two occasions. The first time Jefferson did not have him whipped, but on the second Jefferson reportedly ordered him severely flogged. Hubbard was likely sold after spending time in jail. Stanton says children suffered physical violence. When a 17-year-old James was sick, one overseer reportedly whipped him "three times in one day." Violence was commonplace on plantations, including Jefferson's.  According to Marguerite Hughes, Jefferson used "a severe punishment" such as whippings when runaways were captured, and he sometimes sold them to "discourage other men and women from attempting to gain their freedom."  Henry Wiencek cited within a Smithsonian Magazine article several reports of Jefferson ordering the whipping or selling of slaves as punishments for extreme misbehavior or escape. 
The Thomas Jefferson Foundation quotes Jefferson's instructions to his overseers not to whip his slaves, but noted that they often ignored his wishes during his frequent absences from home.  According to Stanton, no reliable document portrays Jefferson as directly using physical correction.  During Jefferson's time, some other slaveholders also disagreed with the practices of flogging and jailing slaves. 
Slaves had a variety of tasks: Davy Bowles was the carriage driver, including trips to take Jefferson to and from Washington D.C. or the Virginia capital. Betty Hemings, a mixed-race slave inherited from his father-in-law with her family, was the matriarch and head of the house slaves at Monticello, who were allowed limited freedom when Jefferson was away. Four of her daughters served as house slaves: Betty Brown Nance, Critta and Sally Hemings. The latter two were half-sisters to Jefferson's wife. Another house slave was Ursula, whom he had purchased separately. The general maintenance of the mansion was under the care of Hemings family members as well: the master carpenter was Betty's son John Hemings. His nephews Joe Fossett, as blacksmith, and Burwell Colbert, as Jefferson's butler and painter, also had important roles. Wormley Hughes, a grandson of Betty Hemings and gardener, was given informal freedom after Jefferson's death.  Memoirs of life at Monticello include those of Isaac Jefferson (published, 1843), Madison Hemings, and Israel Jefferson (both published, 1873). Isaac was an enslaved blacksmith who worked on Jefferson's plantation.  
The last surviving recorded interview of a former slave was with Fountain Hughes, then 101, in Baltimore, Maryland in 1949. It is available online at the Library of Congress and the World Digital Library.  Born in Charlottesville, Fountain was a descendant of Wormley Hughes and Ursula Granger his grandparents were among the house slaves owned by Jefferson at Monticello. 
In 1780, Jefferson began answering questions on the colonies asked by French minister François de Marboias. He worked on what became a book for five years, having it printed in France while he was there as U.S. minister in 1785.  The book covered subjects such as mountains, religion, climate, slavery, and race. 
Views on race Edit
In Query XIV of his Notes, Jefferson analyses the nature of Blacks. He stated that Blacks lacked forethought, intelligence, tenderness, grief, imagination, and beauty that they had poor taste, smelled bad, and were incapable of producing artistry or poetry but conceded that they were the moral equals of all others.   Jefferson believed that the bonds of love for blacks were weaker than those for whites.  Jefferson never settled on whether differences were natural or nurtural, but he stated unquestionably that his views ought to be taken cum grano salis
The opinion, that they are inferior in the faculties of reason and imagination, must be hazarded with great diffidence. To justify a general conclusion, requires many observations, even where the subject may be submitted to the Anatomical knife, to Optical glasses, to analysis by fire or by solvents. How much more then where it is a faculty, not a substance, we are examining where it eludes the research of all the senses where the conditions of its existence are various and variously combined where the effects of those which are present or absent bid defiance to calculation let me add too, as a circumstance of great tenderness, where our conclusion would degrade a whole race of men from the rank in the scale of beings which their Creator may perhaps have given them. To our reproach it must be said, that though for a century and a half we have had under our eyes the races of black and of red men, they have never yet been viewed by us as subjects of natural history. I advance it, therefore, as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind. It is not against experience to suppose that different species of the same genus, or varieties of the same species, may possess different qualifications. 
In 1808, the French abolitionist and priest Henri-Baptiste Grégoire, or Abbé Grégoire, sent President Jefferson a copy of his book, An Enquiry Concerning the Intellectual and Moral Faculties and Literature of Negroes. In his text, he responded to and challenged Jefferson's arguments of African inferiority in Notes on Virginia by citing the advanced civilizations Africans had developed as evidence of their intellectual competence.   Jefferson replied to Grégoire that the rights of African Americans should not depend on intelligence and that Africans had "respectable intelligence."  Jefferson wrote of the black race,
but whatever be their degree of talent it is no measure of their rights. Because Sir Isaac Newton was superior to others in understanding, he was not therefore lord of the person or property of others. On this subject they are gaining daily in the opinions of nations, and hopeful advances are making towards their re-establishment on an equal footing with the other colors of the human family.  
Dumas Malone, Jefferson's biographer, explained Jefferson's contemporary views on race as expressed in Notes were the "tentative judgements of a kindly and scientifically minded man". Merrill Peterson, another Jefferson biographer, claimed Jefferson's racial bias against African Americans was "a product of frivolous and tortuous reasoning. and bewildering confusion of principles." Peterson called Jefferson's racial views on African Americans "folk belief". 
In a reply (in The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 10, 22 June-31 December 1786, ed. Julian P. Boyd p. 20-29) to Jean Nicolas DeMeunier's inquiries concerning the Paris publication of his Notes On The State of Virginia (1785) Jefferson described the Southern slave plantation economy as "a species of property annexed to certain mercantile houses in London": "Virginia certainly owed two millions sterling to Great Britain at the conclusion of the [Revolutionary] war. This is to be ascribed to peculiarities in the tobacco trade. The advantages [profits] made by the British merchants on the tobaccoes consigned to them were so enormous that they spared no means of increasing those consignments. A powerful engine for this purpose was the giving good prices and credit to the planter, till they got him more immersed in debt than he could pay without selling his lands or slaves. They then reduced the prices given for his tobacco so that let his shipments be ever so great, and his demand of necessaries ever so economical, they never permitted him to clear off his debt. These debts had become hereditary from father to son for many generations, so that the planters were a species of property annexed to certain mercantile houses in London." After the Revolution this subjection of the Southern plantation economy to absentee finance, commodities brokers, import-export merchants and wholesalers continued, with the center of finance and trade shifting from London to Manhattan where, up until the Civil War, banks continued to write mortgages with slaves as collateral, and foreclose on plantations in default and operate them in their investors' interests, as discussed by Philip S. Foner. 
Support for colonization plan Edit
In his Notes Jefferson wrote of a plan he supported in 1779 in the Virginia legislature that would end slavery through the colonization of freed slaves.  This plan was widely popular among the French people in 1785 who lauded Jefferson as a philosopher. According to Jefferson, this plan required enslaved adults to continue in slavery but their children would be taken from them and trained to have a skill in the arts or sciences. These skilled women at age 18 and men at 21 would be emancipated, given arms and supplies, and sent to colonize a foreign land.  Jefferson believed that colonization was the practical alternative, while freed blacks living in a white American society would lead to a race war. 
Criticism for effects of slavery Edit
In Notes Jefferson criticized the effects slavery had on both white and African-American slave society.  He writes:
There must doubtless be an unhappy influence on the manners of our people produced by the existence of slavery among us. The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other. Our children see this, and learn to imitate it for man is an imitative animal. This quality is the germ of all education in him. From his cradle to his grave he is learning to do what he sees others do. If a parent could find no motive either in his philanthropy or his self-love, for restraining the intemperance of passion towards his slave, it should always be a sufficient one that his child is present. But generally it is not sufficient. The parent storms, the child looks on, catches the lineaments of wrath, puts on the same airs in the circle of smaller slaves, gives a loose to his worst of passions, and thus nursed, educated, and daily exercised in tyranny, cannot but be stamped by it with odious peculiarities. The man must be a prodigy who can retain his manners and morals undepraved by such circumstances. And with what execration should the statesman be loaded, who permitting one half the citizens thus to trample on the rights of the other, transforms those into despots, and these into enemies, destroys the morals of the one part, and the amor patriae of the other.
According to James W. Loewen, Jefferson's character "wrestled with slavery, even though in the end he lost." Loewen says that understanding Jefferson's relationship with slavery is significant in understanding current American social problems. 
Important 20th-century Jefferson biographers including Merrill Peterson support the view that Jefferson was strongly opposed to slavery Peterson said that Jefferson's ownership of slaves "all his adult life has placed him at odds with his moral and political principles. Yet there can be no question of his genuine hatred of slavery or, indeed, of the efforts he made to curb and eliminate it."  Peter Onuf stated that Jefferson was well known for his "opposition to slavery, most famously expressed in his . Notes on the State of Virginia."  Onuf, and his collaborator Ari Helo, inferred from Jefferson's words and actions that he was against the cohabitation of free blacks and whites.  This, they argued, is what made immediate emancipation so problematic in Jefferson's mind. As Onuf and Helo explained, Jefferson opposed the mixing of the races not because of his belief that blacks were inferior (although he did believe this) but because he feared that instantly freeing the slaves in white territory would trigger "genocidal violence". He could not imagine the blacks living in harmony with their former oppressors. Jefferson was sure that the two races would be in constant conflict. Onuf and Helo asserted that Jefferson was, consequently, a proponent of freeing the Africans through "expulsion", which he thought would have ensured the safety of both the whites and blacks. Biographer John Ferling said that Thomas Jefferson was "zealously committed to slavery's abolition". 
Starting in the early 1960s, some academics began to challenge Jefferson's position as an anti-slavery advocate having reevaluated both his actions and his words.   Paul Finkelman wrote in 1994 that earlier scholars, particularly Peterson, Dumas Malone, and Willard Randall, engaged in "exaggeration or misrepresentation" to advance their argument of Jefferson's anti-slavery position, saying "they ignore contrary evidence" and "paint a false picture" to protect Jefferson's image on slavery.  Academics including William Freehling, Winthrop Jordan. 
In 2012, author Henry Wiencek, highly critical of Jefferson, concluded that Jefferson tried to protect his legacy as a Founding Father by hiding slavery from visitors at Monticello and through his writings to abolitionists.  According to Wiencek's view Jefferson made a new frontage road to his Monticello estate to hide the overseers and slaves who worked the agriculture fields. Wiencek believed that Jefferson's "soft answers" to abolitionists were to make himself appear opposed to slavery.  Wiencek stated that Jefferson held enormous political power but "did nothing to hasten slavery's end during his terms as a diplomat, secretary of state, vice president, and twice-elected president or after his presidency." 
According to Greg Warnusz, Jefferson held typical 19th-century beliefs that blacks were inferior to whites in terms of "potential for citizenship", and he wanted them recolonized to independent Liberia and other colonies. His views of a democratic society were based on a homogeneity of working men which was the cultural normality throughout most of the world in those days. He claimed to be interested in helping both races in his proposal. He proposed gradually freeing slaves after the age of 45 (when they would have repaid their owner's investment) and resettling them in Africa. (This proposal did not acknowledge how difficult it would be for freedmen to be settled in another country and environment after age 45.) Jefferson's plan envisioned a whites-only society without any blacks. 
Concerning Jefferson and race, author Annette Gordon-Reed stated the following:
Of all the Founding Fathers, it was Thomas Jefferson for whom the issue of race loomed largest. In the roles of slaveholder, public official and family man, the relationship between blacks and whites was something he thought about, wrote about and grappled with from his cradle to his grave. 
Paul Finkelman states that Jefferson believed that Blacks lacked basic human emotions. 
According to historian Jeremy J. Tewell, although Jefferson's name had been associated with the anti-slavery cause during the early 1770s in the Virginia legislature, Jefferson viewed slavery as a "Southern way of life", similar to mainstream Greek and antiquity societies. In agreement with the Southern slave society, Jefferson believed that slavery served to protect blacks, whom he viewed as inferior or incapable of taking care of themselves. 
According to Joyce Appleby, Jefferson had opportunities to disassociate himself from slavery. In 1782, after the American Revolution, Virginia passed a law making manumission by the slave owner legal and more easily accomplished, and the manumission rate rose across the Upper South in other states as well. Northern states passed various emancipation plans. Jefferson's actions did not keep up with those of the antislavery advocates.  On September 15, 1793, Jefferson agreed in writing to free James Hemings, his mixed-race slave who had served him as chef since their time in Paris, after the slave had trained his younger brother Peter as a replacement chef. Jefferson finally freed James Hemings in February 1796. According to one historian, Jefferson's manumission was not generous he said the document "undermines any notion of benevolence."  With freedom, Hemings worked in Philadelphia and traveled to France. 
By contrast, so many other slaveholders in Virginia freed slaves in the first two decades after the Revolution that the proportion of free blacks in Virginia compared to the total black population rose from less than 1% in 1790 to 7.2% in 1810.  By then, three-quarters of the slaves in Delaware had been freed, and a high proportion of slaves in Maryland. 
Herbert Barger - 1/6/2007
The Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society (TJHS)(tjheritage.org), and it's researchers WELCOME a debate at anytime, place, media coverage, etc. This challenge has been issued to the believers in the Jefferson-Hemings fiasco but they don't come foreward. They have no one who has
first hand knowledge of all phases of this controversy. The TJHS does, and the opposition knows and fears that.
Jefferson Family Historian
Herbert Barger - 1/6/2007
For the latest excellent book on this Jefferson-Hemings controversy read Cyndi Burton's "Jefferson Vindicated". Mrs. Burton is a well respected Albermale Co., Va. genealogist who spent three years in research on this fisco. James A. Bear, Jr., Past Director, Monticello, does an excellent job in writing the foreword.
The public is being LIED to about this UNPROVEN claim that Thomas Jefferson fathered ANY slave child.
Jefferson Family Historian
Asst. to Dr. Foster with the DNA Study
Herbert Barger - 9/23/2006
An earlier post indicated that there isn't much to have a debate about and thus Professor Turner can't find anyone to come forward to debate his team. The post is deeply deceived in believing this, 13 prominent top scholars (check their names and qualifications on www.tjheritage.org) explain the issue very well.
Speaking of preconceived notions. this was exactly the approach of the Monticello Study as reported by Dr. Ken Wallenborn, an employee of Monticello at the time who along with two other senior guides resigned from there rather than report unfounded information to the public. Dr. Wallenborn speaks of this "now we have got him attitude."
Someone doing 25 years of study of Thomas Jefferson, as the poster explains, must have already figured out that Thomas Jefferson was "railroaded" at every turn to fit the beliefs of the current politically correct historical revisionists push today.
Much faith and belief in the correctness of the Samuel Wetmore/Madison Hemings Pike Co.,newspaper article has been trotted out. Please read on other posts in this string about the lies as wriien or stated by these two. It was stated about the Eston Hemings descendants belief that they descended from an "uncle". this was their prior belief to Fawn Brodie's visit. Eston Hemings NEVER reported or said that HE was a child of THOMAS Jefferson. Madiso, is the one that reported this in the Pike Co. article and we KNOW he or Wetmore were lying (see other posts on this string). Why accept anything else about this article as being true?
Jefferson Family Historian
Herbert Barger - 9/23/2006
The myth that Sally Hemings and Martha Jefferson were half sisters is NOT proven. Many people seeking to be "authorities" and politically correct writers state this without doing any research. An excellent book, "Anatomy of a Scandal: Thomas Jefferson and the Sally Story", authored by Dr. and Mrs. James F. McMurry,Jr. (available from Amazon.com or other good book outlets) gives deep study to this long rumor. There is nothing to that rumor. All the recent stories made up about this and the feel good, wooly soap opera material is fodder for readers seeking a love interest where there was NONE.
Let us use and DEMAND fact and report the accuracy of the DNA findings. Don't be fooled by "authorities" telling us otherwise. question their actual knowledge. They may own his home but they DO NOT own his legacy. WE do. That is the reason that a Second Opinion was needed when biased, slanted, underreporting and hiding of a very important Minority Report was DENIED from their report. Thus the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society was founded (www.tjheritage.org.) Read the full TJHS sponsored Scholars Commission Report as a link from this web page.
Jefferson Family Historian
Herbert Barger - 9/23/2006
Kristin, you are absolutely on to this fiasco and the deceptions. You may have read my above postings and the web pages explain it all.
The summary is that:
* The average person gets their history from the media. NEVER trust the media for the correctness of this particular story. I know. PBS Frontline and A&E Biography both taped me for their long Sally Hemings specials. result. NOT a word was shown on those programs. Wash Post was biased and inaccurate on their articles on the DNA Study and the WP Ombudsman named 8 reporters as participating in this type of reporting.
* The average person places their trust in Monticello to give accurate research results. How's this for accuracy of their reporting: Possibly one found fathered by Jefferson and possibly all. Dan Jordan, Monticello President, knows fully well only one was tested. He won't even encourage the Hemings to test another source for male DNA. they state they are happy with their oral history. The others could still be fathered by the Carr boys. BUT NOTHING provers or suggests that all were fathered by ANY Jefferson.
* Political correctness and historical revisionism is driving this lie. not research and sensible evaluation.
* 13 prominent scholars proclaimed in their official Scholars Commission Report (www.tjheritage.org) that NOTHING proves Thomas Jefferson guilty of fathering ANY slave child.
Jefferson Family Historian
* The controversy sells books, magazines, personal appearances
Kristin Harris - 9/14/2005
So, today I am doing a little more research on Thomas Jefferson and I came across a quote from a letter he wrote to Charles Thompson Ford. It is not a denial of the Sally Hemings story. It has nothing to do with it but I find the line very important. Here it is.
"An only daughter and numerous family of grandchildren, will furnish me great resources of happiness."
1808 Dec. 25 TJ to Charles Thomson Ford.
He states clearly that Martha Jefferson Randolph is his only daughter. This means that Betty Hemmings and Harriet Hemings are not his daughters. He has no reason to refer to his daughter as his only daughter. He could have simply said I have a daughter and numerous grand children, yet he doesn't. I have such a hard time with the Sally Hemings story because Thomas Jefferson showed so much affection towards his daughter and his grandchildren at the same time he apparently ignored Sally Hemings children. He gave them very little help compared to the help he gave others, even distant family members were given more attention than Hemings children. Something does not seem right to me about this story.
On a side note. The story concerning Betsy Hemmings is false as well. Betsey Hemmings went to live at Mill Brook with Maria Jefferson Eppes when she married. She died in 1857 at the age of 73.
I am not all that good with the math but the dates on her headstone indicate she would have been born sometime after August 20th 1783 to sometime before August 20th 1784. I have seen her birth year recorded as 1783 in other records. Thomas Jefferson’s wife died in 1782 and while reading his autobiography I noticed some important dates. Here is an excerpt from that work.
On the 15th. of June 1781. I had been appointed with Mr. Adams, Dr. Franklin, Mr. Jay, and Mr. Laurens a Minister plenipotentiary for negotiating peace, then expected to be effected thro' the mediation of the Empress of Russia. The same reasons obliged me still to decline and the negotiation was in fact never entered on. But, in the autumn of the next year 1782 Congress receiving assurances that a general peace would be concluded in the winter and spring, they renewed my appointment on the 13th. of Nov. of that year. I had two months before that lost the cherished companion of my life, in whose affections, unabated on both sides, I had lived the last ten years in unchequered happiness. With the public interests, the state of my mind concurred in recommending the change of scene proposed and I accepted the appointment, and left Monticello on the 19th. of Dec. 1782. for Philadelphia, where I arrived on the 27th. The Minister of France, Luzerne, offered me a passage in the Romulus frigate, which I accepting. But she was then lying a few miles below Baltimore blocked up in the ice. I remained therefore a month in Philadelphia, looking over the papers in the office of State in order to possess myself of the general state of our foreign relations, and then went to Baltimore to await the liberation of the frigate from the ice. After waiting there nearly a month, we received information that a Provisional treaty of peace had been signed by our Commissioners on the 3d. of Sept. 1782. to become absolute on the conclusion of peace between France and Great Britain. Considering my proceeding to Europe as now of no utility to the public, I returned immediately to Philadelphia to take the orders of Congress, and was excused by them from further proceeding. I therefore returned home, where I arrived on the 15th. of May, 1783.
He was not at Monticello at the appropriate time to have fathered Betsey Hemmings. I have come upon web sites claiming that he may have been the father. It needs to be pointed out that Thomas Jefferson was not the father.
Monticello Is Done Avoiding Jefferson’s Relationship With Sally Hemings
A new exhibit grapples with the reality of slavery and deals a final blow to two centuries of ignoring or covering up what amounted to an open secret.
Photographs by Gabriella Demczuk
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The room — brick-floored, plaster-walled, empty — is simple.
The life it represents was anything but.
The newly opened space at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s palatial mountaintop plantation, is presented as the living quarters of Sally Hemings, an enslaved woman who bore the founding father’s children. But it is more than an exhibit.
It’s the culmination of a 25-year effort to grapple with the reality of slavery in the home of one of liberty’s most eloquent champions. The Sally Hemings room opens to the public on Saturday, alongside a room dedicated to the oral histories of the descendants of slaves at Monticello, and the earliest kitchen at the house, where Hemings’s brother cooked.
The public opening deals a final blow to two centuries of ignoring, playing down or covering up what amounted to an open secret during Jefferson’s life: his relationship with a slave that spanned nearly four decades, from his time abroad in Paris to his death.
To make the exhibit possible, curators had to wrestle with a host of thorny questions. How to accurately portray a woman for whom no photograph exists? (The solution: casting a shadow on a wall.) How to handle the skepticism of those who remain unpersuaded by the mounting evidence that Jefferson was indeed the father of Hemings’s children? (The solution: tell the story entirely in quotes from her son Madison.)
And, thorniest of all, in an era of Black Lives Matter and #MeToo: How to describe the decades-long sexual relationship between Jefferson and Hemings? Should it be described as rape?
“We really can’t know what the dynamic was,” said Leslie Greene Bowman, president of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. “Was it rape? Was there affection? We felt we had to present a range of views, including the most painful one.”
After a DNA test in 1998, the nonprofit foundation, which owns Monticello, determined that there was a “high probability” that Jefferson fathered at least one of Hemings’s children, and that he likely fathered them all. The new exhibit asserts Jefferson’s paternity as a fact.
[Read interviews with Jefferson descendants as they reflect on the new exhibit here.]
The “Life of Sally Hemings” exhibit is perhaps the most striking example of the sea change that has taken place at Monticello, as the foundation has increasingly focused on highlighting the stories of Monticello’s slaves. The foundation has embarked on a multiyear, $35 million project aimed at restoring Monticello to the way it looked when Jefferson was alive. It rebuilt a slave cabin and workshops where slaves labored, and has hosted reunions there for the descendants of the enslaved population, including sleepovers. It removed a public bathroom installed in 1940s atop slave quarters.
And it is phasing out the popular “house tour” of the mansion, which made only minimal mention of slavery alongside Jefferson’s accomplishments, radically changing what is experienced by the more than 400,000 tourists who visit Monticello annually.
Thanks to a short description given by one of Jefferson’s grandsons, historians believe that Hemings lived in the slave quarters in the South Wing. But they aren’t sure which room. Curators decided to tell Hemings’s story in one of the rooms. Instead of making it a period room with objects that she might have possessed, they left it empty, projecting the words of her son Madison on the wall to tell her story.
The 1995 movie “Jefferson in Paris” imagined that Hemings and Jefferson loved each other. But no one knows how they really felt. Their sexual relationship is believed to have started in France, where slavery was outlawed. Hemings wanted to remain in Paris, where she could have been granted freedom, but she eventually returned to Virginia with Jefferson after he offered her extraordinary privileges and freedom for any children she might have, according to an account by Madison Hemings. Her children, who were all fair-skinned and named after Jefferson’s friends, were freed when they reached adulthood.
No portrait or photograph exists of Hemings. Even her skin tone remains a mystery, and a source of controversy. Cartoons in the 18th century, which aimed to derail Jefferson’s political career, portrayed her as dark-skinned. But her father was a white plantation owner and her mother, an enslaved woman, was of mixed race. One account described Hemings as “mighty near white.” Curators at Monticello opted not to recreate a physical image of her. Instead, they will project a woman’s shadow on a wall.
At a time when sexual abuses by powerful men have dominated the news, curators struggled for months over how to describe the relationship between Hemings and Jefferson — and in particular whether to use the word “rape” in the exhibit. The foundation held conference calls and meetings with historians, board members and descendants to discuss the question.
“There are a lot of people who believe rape is too polarizing a word,” said Niya Bates, a public historian at Monticello. “But it was a conversation that we knew we could not avoid. It’s a conversation the public is already having.”
In the end, historians opted to use the word “rape” with a question mark, knowing that some would criticize them for including the word, while others would have criticized them for leaving it out.
The question is asked on a plaque on the wall outside the Hemings exhibit titled “Sex, Power and Ownership.” It spells out the power dynamic between the two: Under Virginia law, Hemings was Jefferson’s property.
Curators acknowledged that the question could be difficult for some visitors to digest, especially schoolchildren.
“We’re still having a little heartburn” about the placement of the plaque, Ms. Bates said.
Lucia “Cinder” Stanton, a retired historian who spent 25 years collecting oral history from the descendants of slaves at Monticello, said it remains to be seen how the public will react at a time when political views have become so extreme.
“The words ‘rape’ and ‘rapist,’ what it conjures up is not a nuanced situation,” she said. “There were other relationships like theirs which were clearly love matches.”
Some couples moved to Ohio, where slavery was outlawed, she said, adding: “Jefferson wasn’t that. But he wasn’t violently accosting Sally Hemings every day for 30 years.”
At reunions of the descendants of Monticello’s slaves, the question of whether Jefferson is guilty of rape has sparked heated arguments.
“I really don’t think slaves had a choice,” said Rosemary Medley Ghoston, a retired hairdresser in Ohio who discovered in the 1980s, through genealogical research, that she was a descendant of Madison Hemings. “Maybe if it was not rape, it was a duty that she had to fulfill.”
But her distant cousin, Julius “Calvin” Jefferson, whom she met at a descendants’ event, feels differently.
“I think it was a love story,” he said, noting that Hemings was the half sister of Jefferson’s late wife, Martha, whose death had devastated him. “Did she look like Martha? I think she did.”
Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson
Even before he wrote the story linking Jefferson to Hemings, Callender had earned a notorious reputation. He had written a stinging pamphlet in1796 that accused Alexander Hamilton of corruption and adultery. Hamilton admitted to the latter but denied the former. He was ultimately exonerated of having done anything illegal. Jefferson, ironically, had encouraged Callender when his targets were Federalists, like Hamilton, and even financed some of his projects.
Callender was arrested under the Sedition Act in 1800, was fined $250, and spent almost a year in jail. After Jefferson assumed the presidency in1801, he pardoned Callender. Shortly thereafter, Callender, in need of money, pressed Jefferson for the job of postmaster in Richmond, Virginia. True to form, Callender’s request included an insinuation of blackmail if Jefferson refused. Jefferson had come to see Callender for the scamp that he really was and refused to appoint someone with such a seedy past to any federal position.
Callender took a job with the anti-Jefferson newspaper the Recorder. He revealed that Jefferson had bankrolled some of his earlier scandalous writings—a charge that Jefferson was forced to admit. Callender then hit him with the Hemings story. Callender had never visited Monticello and based his information on the fact that several of Jefferson’s slaves were light-skinned. Callender later implicated Jefferson in the seduction of a married woman. Jefferson eventually confessed to that charge but deflected the Hemings accusation by pretending it did not exist (at least in public privately he denied it). In 1802, one of Callender’s public tar-gets clubbed him over the head. A year later, Callender was found drowned . . . in two feet of water. By the time Jefferson died in 1826, few remembered the accusations, save for the occasional snide attack in the Northern abolitionist press. That changed in 1873.
Madison Hemings, the youngest son of Sally Hemings, granted abolitionist newspaperman Samuel Wetmore an interview in 1873. Madison had intimated to close family and friends that he was Jefferson’s son and disclosed this alleged relationship to Wetmore, who published it in his newspaper in Ohio. The story quickly spread across the country. Critics argued that Wetmore’s article was a mere rewrite of Callender’s original (the same word was even misspelled), and Jefferson’s grandchildren denied its accusations. For most people that again put an end to it.
Fast forward one hundred years. Fawn Brodie’s 1974 book Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History revived interest in the “affair.” Brodie sided with Madison Hemings and argued that Jefferson fathered all of Sally Hemings’ children. Historians, including Jefferson’s most important biographer, Dumas Malone, doubted the Hemings story, but the general public seemed eager to accept it. Twenty years later, lawyer Annette Gordon-Reed published Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy in an attempt to vindicate Madison Hemings. The book and modern advancements in DNA technology led to several members of the Jefferson and Hemings line having their DNA analyzed. The results showed that a “male” in Thomas Jefferson’s family was indeed a direct ancestor of the Hemings children, principally Madison Hemings, but did not conclusively prove that Thomas Jefferson was the link. A 2000 study conducted by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, however, determined that Jefferson was, unequivocally, the father of Madison Hemings and possibly Sally Hemings’ other children. Omitted from the report was the one dissenting voice on the committee, the medical doctor charged with verifying the DNA tests. Though noting that Jefferson could have been the father of Hemings’ children, he preferred to leave the question open due to the circumstantial nature of the evidence and argued that the majority of the committee had arrived at their conclusion before examining all available information. In essence, most of the committee believed the burden was to prove Jefferson innocent, not guilty.
In 2001, the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society, a group that possessed more academic clout than the Foundation, released a report that directly contradicted the Foundation’s conclusions. In the summary to their findings, the scholars stated, “With the exception of one member. . . our individual conclusions range from serious skepticism about the charge to a conviction that it is almost certainly false.”2 The scholars’ report identified various inconsistencies in both the oral and written records that the Foundation used to indict Jefferson, and argued that Madison Hemings was upset because he felt Jefferson and his family had not treated the Hemings family well.
The scholars also noted that Jefferson’s overseer, Edmund Bacon, had not only flatly denied that Jefferson had fathered any of Sally Hemings’ children, but reported that he had seen a white man—not Thomas Jefferson—leave Hemings’ bedchamber many mornings before work. The scholars pointed to Jefferson’s brother, often called “Uncle Randolph,” as the probable father of Heming’s children. Randolph Jefferson was reported to have a social relationship with the Monticello slaves and had possibly fathered other children through his own servants.
Because of the circumstantial nature of the evidence in the case, it can not be proven conclusively that Jefferson fathered any of Sally Hemings’ children. It is possible but not probable. If Jefferson were to stand trial for paternity with the current evidence in hand, an honest jury would find him “not guilty.” So should historians and so should the public.
The Dark Side of Thomas Jefferson
With five simple words in the Declaration of Independence—“all men are created equal”—Thomas Jefferson undid Aristotle’s ancient formula, which had governed human affairs until 1776: “From the hour of their birth, some men are marked out for subjection, others for rule.” In his original draft of the Declaration, in soaring, damning, fiery prose, Jefferson denounced the slave trade as an “execrable commerce . this assemblage of horrors,” a “cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life & liberties.” As historian John Chester Miller put it, “The inclusion of Jefferson’s strictures on slavery and the slave trade would have committed the United States to the abolition of slavery.”
From This Story
Conceived by Jefferson as an agrarian idyll, Monticello (seen today) “operated on carefully calibrated brutality.” (Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello, Photograph by Leonard Phillips) (Illustration by Charis Tsevis) A 1950s editor of Jefferson’s Farm Book (a ledger page) withheld a revelation that young slave boys in the nailworks were whipped. (The Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts at the Massachusetts Historical Society) Sewing tools attest to the slave labor that funded luxury and ease. (Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello) Nailmaking implements from Thomas Jefferson's nailery at Monticello. The young boys known as nailers hammered out 5,000 to 10,000 nails per day. (Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello) As a young man at Monticello, Isaac Granger (a freedman by 1847) produced a half ton of nails in six months. (Special Collections, University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, VA)
The Smithsonian Book of Presidential Trivia
That was the way it was interpreted by some of those who read it at the time as well. Massachusetts freed its slaves on the strength of the Declaration of Independence, weaving Jefferson’s language into the state constitution of 1780. The meaning of “all men” sounded equally clear, and so disturbing to the authors of the constitutions of six Southern states that they emended Jefferson’s wording. “All freemen,” they wrote in their founding documents, “are equal.” The authors of those state constitutions knew what Jefferson meant, and could not accept it. The Continental Congress ultimately struck the passage because South Carolina and Georgia, crying out for more slaves, would not abide shutting down the market.
“One cannot question the genuineness of Jefferson’s liberal dreams,” writes historian David Brion Davis. “He was one of the first statesmen in any part of the world to advocate concrete measures for restricting and eradicating Negro slavery.”
But in the 1790s, Davis continues, “the most remarkable thing about Jefferson’s stand on slavery is his immense silence.” And later, Davis finds, Jefferson’s emancipation efforts “virtually ceased.”
Somewhere in a short span of years during the 1780s and into the early 1790s, a transformation came over Jefferson.
The very existence of slavery in the era of the American Revolution presents a paradox, and we have largely been content to leave it at that, since a paradox can offer a comforting state of moral suspended animation. Jefferson animates the paradox. And by looking closely at Monticello, we can see the process by which he rationalized an abomination to the point where an absolute moral reversal was reached and he made slavery fit into America’s national enterprise.
We can be forgiven if we interrogate Jefferson posthumously about slavery. It is not judging him by today’s standards to do so. Many people of his own time, taking Jefferson at his word and seeing him as the embodiment of the country’s highest ideals, appealed to him. When he evaded and rationalized, his admirers were frustrated and mystified it felt like praying to a stone. The Virginia abolitionist Moncure Conway, noting Jefferson’s enduring reputation as a would-be emancipator, remarked scornfully, “Never did a man achieve more fame for what he did not do.”
Thomas Jefferson’s mansion stands atop his mountain like the Platonic ideal of a house: a perfect creation existing in an ethereal realm, literally above the clouds. To reach Monticello, you must ascend what a visitor called “this steep, savage hill,” through a thick forest and swirls of mist that recede at the summit, as if by command of the master of the mountain. “If it had not been called Monticello,” said one visitor, “I would call it Olympus, and Jove its occupant.” The house that presents itself at the summit seems to contain some kind of secret wisdom encoded in its form. Seeing Monticello is like reading an old American Revolutionary manifesto—the emotions still rise. This is the architecture of the New World, brought forth by its guiding spirit.
In designing the mansion, Jefferson followed a precept laid down two centuries earlier by Palladio: “We must contrive a building in such a manner that the finest and most noble parts of it be the most exposed to public view, and the less agreeable disposed in by places, and removed from sight as much as possible.”
The mansion sits atop a long tunnel through which slaves, unseen, hurried back and forth carrying platters of food, fresh tableware, ice, beer, wine and linens, while above them 20, 30 or 40 guests sat listening to Jefferson’s dinner-table conversation. At one end of the tunnel lay the icehouse, at the other the kitchen, a hive of ceaseless activity where the enslaved cooks and their helpers produced one course after another.
During dinner Jefferson would open a panel in the side of the fireplace, insert an empty wine bottle and seconds later pull out a full bottle. We can imagine that he would delay explaining how this magic took place until an astonished guest put the question to him. The panel concealed a narrow dumbwaiter that descended to the basement. When Jefferson put an empty bottle in the compartment, a slave waiting in the basement pulled the dumbwaiter down, removed the empty, inserted a fresh bottle and sent it up to the master in a matter of seconds. Similarly, platters of hot food magically appeared on a revolving door fitted with shelves, and the used plates disappeared from sight on the same contrivance. Guests could not see or hear any of the activity, nor the links between the visible world and the invisible that magically produced Jefferson’s abundance.
Jefferson appeared every day at first light on Monticello’s long terrace, walking alone with his thoughts. From his terrace Jefferson looked out upon an industrious, well-organized enterprise of black coopers, smiths, nailmakers, a brewer, cooks professionally trained in French cuisine, a glazier, painters, millers and weavers. Black managers, slaves themselves, oversaw other slaves. A team of highly skilled artisans constructed Jefferson’s coach. The household staff ran what was essentially a mid-sized hotel, where some 16 slaves waited upon the needs of a daily horde of guests.
The plantation was a small town in everything but name, not just because of its size, but in its complexity. Skilled artisans and house slaves occupied cabins on Mulberry Row alongside hired white workers a few slaves lived in rooms in the mansion’s south dependency wing some slept where they worked. Most of Monticello’s slaves lived in clusters of cabins scattered down the mountain and on outlying farms. In his lifetime Jefferson owned more than 600 slaves. At any one time about 100 slaves lived on the mountain the highest slave population, in 1817, was 140.
Below the mansion there stood John Hemings’ cabinetmaking shop, called the joinery, along with a dairy, a stable, a small textile factory and a vast garden carved from the mountainside—the cluster of industries Jefferson launched to supply Monticello’s household and bring in cash. “To be independent for the comforts of life,” Jefferson said, “we must fabricate them ourselves.” He was speaking of America’s need to develop manufacturing, but he had learned that truth on a microscale on his plantation.
Jefferson looked down from his terrace onto a community of slaves he knew very well—an extended family and network of related families that had been in his ownership for two, three or four generations. Though there were several surnames among the slaves on the “mountaintop”—Fossett, Hern, Colbert, Gillette, Brown, Hughes—they were all Hemingses by blood, descendants of the matriarch Elizabeth “Betty” Hemings, or Hemings relatives by marriage. “A peculiar fact about his house servants was that we were all related to one another,” as a former slave recalled many years later. Jefferson’s grandson Jeff Randolph observed, “Mr. Js Mechanics and his entire household of servants. consisted of one family connection and their wives.”
For decades, archaeologists have been scouring Mulberry Row, finding mundane artifacts that testify to the way that life was lived in the workshops and cabins. They have found saw blades, a large drill bit, an ax head, blacksmith’s pincers, a wall bracket made in the joinery for a clock in the mansion, scissors, thimbles, locks and a key, and finished nails forged, cut and hammered by nail boys.
The archaeologists also found a bundle of raw nail rod—a lost measure of iron handed out to a nail boy one dawn. Why was this bundle found in the dirt, unworked, instead of forged, cut and hammered the way the boss had told them? Once, a missing bundle of rod had started a fight in the nailery that got one boy’s skull bashed in and another sold south to terrify the rest of the children—“in terrorem” were Jefferson’s words—“as if he were put out of the way by death.” Perhaps this very bundle was the cause of the fight.
Weaving slavery into a narrative about Thomas Jefferson usually presents a challenge to authors, but one writer managed to spin this vicious attack and terrible punishment of a nailery boy into a charming plantation tale. In a 1941 biography of Jefferson for “young adults” (ages 12 to 16) the author wrote: “In this beehive of industry no discord or revilings found entrance: there were no signs of discontent on the black shining faces as they worked under the direction of their master. The women sang at their tasks and the children old enough to work made nails leisurely, not too overworked for a prank now and then.”
It might seem unfair to mock the misconceptions and sappy prose of “a simpler era,” except that this book, The Way of an Eagle, and hundreds like it, shaped the attitudes of generations of readers about slavery and African-Americans. Time magazine chose it as one of the “important books” of 1941 in the children’s literature category, and it gained a second life in America’s libraries when it was reprinted in 1961 as Thomas Jefferson: Fighter for Freedom and Human Rights.
In describing what Mulberry Row looked like, William Kelso, the archaeologist who excavated it in the 1980s, writes, “There can be little doubt that a relatively shabby Main Street stood there.” Kelso notes that “throughout Jefferson’s tenure, it seems safe to conclude that the spartan Mulberry Row buildings. made a jarring impact on the Monticello landscape.”
It seems puzzling that Jefferson placed Mulberry Row, with its slave cabins and work buildings, so close to the mansion, but we are projecting the present onto the past. Today, tourists can walk freely up and down the old slave quarter. But in Jefferson’s time, guests didn’t go there, nor could they see it from the mansion or the lawn. Only one visitor left a description of Mulberry Row, and she got a glimpse of it only because she was a close friend of Jefferson’s, someone who could be counted upon to look with the right attitude. When she published her account in the Richmond Enquirer, she wrote that the cabins would appear “poor and uncomfortable” only to people of “northern feelings.”
The critical turning point in Jefferson’s thinking may well have come in 1792. As Jefferson was counting up the agricultural profits and losses of his plantation in a letter to President Washington that year, it occurred to him that there was a phenomenon he had perceived at Monticello but never actually measured. He proceeded to calculate it in a barely legible, scribbled note in the middle of a page, enclosed in brackets. What Jefferson set out clearly for the first time was that he was making a 4 percent profit every year on the birth of black children. The enslaved were yielding him a bonanza, a perpetual human dividend at compound interest. Jefferson wrote, “I allow nothing for losses by death, but, on the contrary, shall presently take credit four per cent. per annum, for their increase over and above keeping up their own numbers.” His plantation was producing inexhaustible human assets. The percentage was predictable.
In another communication from the early 1790s, Jefferson takes the 4 percent formula further and quite bluntly advances the notion that slavery presented an investment strategy for the future. He writes that an acquaintance who had suffered financial reverses “should have been invested in negroes.” He advises that if the friend’s family had any cash left, “every farthing of it [should be] laid out in land and negroes, which besides a present support bring a silent profit of from 5. to 10. per cent in this country by the increase in their value.”
The irony is that Jefferson sent his 4 percent formula to George Washington, who freed his slaves, precisely because slavery had made human beings into money, like “Cattle in the market,” and this disgusted him. Yet Jefferson was right, prescient, about the investment value of slaves. A startling statistic emerged in the 1970s, when economists taking a hardheaded look at slavery found that on the eve of the Civil War, enslaved black people, in the aggregate, formed the second most valuable capital asset in the United States. David Brion Davis sums up their findings: “In 1860, the value of Southern slaves was about three times the amount invested in manufacturing or railroads nationwide.” The only asset more valuable than the black people was the land itself. The formula Jefferson had stumbled upon became the engine not only of Monticello but of the entire slaveholding South and the Northern industries, shippers, banks, insurers and investors who weighed risk against returns and bet on slavery. The words Jefferson used—“their increase”—became magic words.
Jefferson’s 4 percent theorem threatens the comforting notion that he had no real awareness of what he was doing, that he was “stuck” with or “trapped” in slavery, an obsolete, unprofitable, burdensome legacy. The date of Jefferson’s calculation aligns with the waning of his emancipationist fervor. Jefferson began to back away from antislavery just around the time he computed the silent profit of the “peculiar institution.”
And this world was crueler than we have been led to believe. A letter has recently come to light describing how Monticello’s young black boys, “the small ones,” age 10, 11 or 12, were whipped to get them to work in Jefferson’s nail factory, whose profits paid the mansion’s grocery bills. This passage about children being lashed had been suppressed—deliberately deleted from the published record in the 1953 edition of Jefferson’s Farm Book, containing 500 pages of plantation papers. That edition of the Farm Book still serves as a standard reference for research into the way Monticello worked.
By 1789, Jefferson planned to shift away from growing tobacco at Monticello, whose cultivation he described as “a culture of infinite wretchedness.” Tobacco wore out the soil so fast that new acreage constantly had to be cleared, engrossing so much land that food could not be raised to feed the workers and requiring the farmer to purchase rations for the slaves. (In a strangely modern twist, Jefferson had taken note of the measurable climate change in the region: The Chesapeake region was unmistakably cooling and becoming inhospitable to heat-loving tobacco that would soon, he thought, become the staple of South Carolina and Georgia.) He visited farms and inspected equipment, considering a new crop, wheat, and the exciting prospect it opened before him.
The cultivation of wheat revitalized the plantation economy and reshaped the South’s agricultural landscape. Planters all over the Chesapeake region had been making the shift. (George Washington had begun raising grains some 30 years earlier because his land wore out faster than Jefferson’s did.) Jefferson continued to plant some tobacco because it remained an important cash crop, but his vision for wheat farming was rapturous: “The cultivation of wheat is the reverse [of tobacco] in every circumstance. Besides cloathing the earth with herbage, and preserving its fertility, it feeds the labourers plentifully, requires from them only a moderate toil, except in the season of harvest, raises great numbers of animals for food and service, and diffuses plenty and happiness among the whole.”
Wheat farming forced changes in the relationship between planter and slave. Tobacco was raised by gangs of slaves all doing the same repetitive, backbreaking tasks under the direct, strict supervision of overseers. Wheat required a variety of skilled laborers, and Jefferson’s ambitious plans required a retrained work force of millers, mechanics, carpenters, smiths, spinners, coopers, and plowmen and plowmen.
Jefferson still needed a cohort of “labourers in the ground” to carry out the hardest tasks, so the Monticello slave community became more segmented and hierarchical. They were all slaves, but some slaves would be better than others. The majority remained laborers above them were enslaved artisans (both male and female) above them were enslaved managers above them was the household staff. The higher you stood in the hierarchy, the better clothes and food you got you also lived literally on a higher plane, closer to the mountaintop. A small minority of slaves received pay, profit sharing or what Jefferson called “gratuities,” while the lowest workers received only the barest rations and clothing. Differences bred resentment, especially toward the elite household staff.
Planting wheat required fewer workers than tobacco, leaving a pool of field laborers available for specialized training. Jefferson embarked on a comprehensive program to modernize slavery, diversify it and industrialize it. Monticello would have a nail factory, a textile factory, a short-lived tinsmithing operation, coopering and charcoal burning. He had ambitious plans for a flour mill and a canal to provide water power for it.
Training for this new organization began in childhood. Jefferson sketched out a plan in his Farm Book: “children till 10. years old to serve as nurses. from 10. to 16. the boys make nails, the girls spin. at 16. go into the ground or learn trades.”
Tobacco required child labor (the small stature of children made them ideal workers for the distasteful task of plucking and killing tobacco worms) wheat did not, so Jefferson transferred his surplus of young workers to his nail factory (boys) and spinning and weaving operations (girls).
He launched the nailery in 1794 and supervised it personally for three years. “I now employ a dozen little boys from 10. to 16. years of age, overlooking all the details of their business myself.” He said he spent half the day counting and measuring nails. In the morning he weighed and distributed nail rod to each nailer at the end of the day he weighed the finished product and noted how much rod had been wasted.
The nailery “particularly suited me,” he wrote, “because it would employ a parcel of boys who would otherwise be idle.” Equally important, it served as a training and testing ground. All the nail boys got extra food those who did well received a new suit of clothes, and they could also expect to graduate, as it were, to training as artisans rather than going “in the ground” as common field slaves.
Some nail boys rose in the plantation hierarchy to become house servants, blacksmiths, carpenters or coopers. Wormley Hughes, a slave who became head gardener, started in the nailery, as did Burwell Colbert, who rose to become the mansion’s butler and Jefferson’s personal attendant. Isaac Granger, the son of an enslaved Monticello foreman, Great George Granger, was the most productive nailer, with a profit averaging 80 cents a day over the first six months of 1796, when he was 20 he fashioned half a ton of nails during those six months. The work was tedious in the extreme. Confined for long hours in the hot, smoky workshop, the boys hammered out 5,000 to 10,000 nails a day, producing a gross income of $2,000 in 1796. Jefferson’s competition for the nailery was the state penitentiary.
The nailers received twice the food ration of a field worker but no wages. Jefferson paid white boys (an overseer’s sons) 50 cents a day for cutting wood to feed the nailery’s fires, but this was a weekend job done “on Saturdays, when they were not in school.”
Exuberant over the success of the nailery, Jefferson wrote: “My new trade of nail-making is to me in this country what an additional title of nobility or the ensigns of a new order are in Europe.” The profit was substantial. Just months after the factory began operation, he wrote that “a nailery which I have established with my own negro boys now provides completely for the maintenance of my family.” Two months of labor by the nail boys paid the entire annual grocery bill for the white family. He wrote to a Richmond merchant, “My groceries come to between 4. and 500. Dollars a year, taken and paid for quarterly. The best resource of quarterly paiment in my power is Nails, of which I make enough every fortnight [emphasis added] to pay a quarter’s bill.”
In an 1840s memoir, Isaac Granger, by then a freedman who had taken the surname Jefferson, recalled circumstances at the nailery. Isaac, who worked there as a young man, specified the incentives that Jefferson offered to nailers: “Gave the boys in the nail factory a pound of meat a week, a dozen herrings, a quart of molasses, and peck of meal. Give them that wukked the best a suit of red or blue encouraged them mightily.” Not all the slaves felt so mightily encouraged. It was Great George Granger’s job, as foreman, to get those people to work. Without molasses and suits to offer, he had to rely on persuasion, in all its forms. For years he had been very successful—by what methods, we don’t know. But in the winter of 1798 the system ground to a halt when Granger, perhaps for the first time, refused to whip people.
Col. Thomas Mann Randolph, Jefferson’s son-in-law, reported to Jefferson, then living in Philadelphia as vice president, that “insubordination” had “greatly clogged” operations under Granger. A month later there was “progress,” but Granger was “absolutely wasting with care.” He was caught between his own people and Jefferson, who had rescued the family when they had been sold from the plantation of Jefferson’s father-in-law, given him a good job, allowed him to earn money and own property, and shown similar benevolence to Granger’s children. Now Jefferson had his eye on Granger’s output.
Jefferson noted curtly in a letter to Randolph that another overseer had already delivered his tobacco to the Richmond market, “where I hope George’s will soon join it.” Randolph reported back that Granger’s people had not even packed the tobacco yet, but gently urged his father-in-law to have patience with the foreman: “He is not careless. tho’ he procrastinates too much.” It seems that Randolph was trying to protect Granger from Jefferson’s wrath. George was not procrastinating he was struggling against a workforce that resisted him. But he would not beat them, and they knew it.
At length, Randolph had to admit the truth to Jefferson. Granger, he wrote, “cannot command his force.” The only recourse was the whip. Randolph reported “instances of disobedience so gross that I am obliged to interfere and have them punished myself.” Randolph would not have administered the whip personally they had professionals for that.
Most likely he called in William Page, the white overseer who ran Jefferson’s farms across the river, a man notorious for his cruelty. Throughout Jefferson’s plantation records there runs a thread of indicators—some direct, some oblique, some euphemistic—that the Monticello machine operated on carefully calibrated brutality. Some slaves would never readily submit to bondage. Some, Jefferson wrote, “require a vigour of discipline to make them do reasonable work.” That plain statement of his policy has been largely ignored in preference to Jefferson’s well-known self-exoneration: “I love industry and abhor severity.” Jefferson made that reassuring remark to a neighbor, but he might as well have been talking to himself. He hated conflict, disliked having to punish people and found ways to distance himself from the violence his system required.
Thus he went on record with a denunciation of overseers as “the most abject, degraded and unprincipled race,” men of “pride, insolence and spirit of domination.” Though he despised these brutes, they were hardhanded men who got things done and had no misgivings. He hired them, issuing orders to impose a vigor of discipline.
It was during the 1950s, when historian Edwin Betts was editing one of Colonel Randolph’s plantation reports for Jefferson’s Farm Book, that he confronted a taboo subject and made his fateful deletion. Randolph reported to Jefferson that the nailery was functioning very well because “the small ones” were being whipped. The youngsters did not take willingly to being forced to show up in the icy midwinter hour before dawn at the master’s nail forge. And so the overseer, Gabriel Lilly, was whipping them “for truancy.”
Betts decided that the image of children being beaten at Monticello had to be suppressed, omitting this document from his edition. He had an entirely different image in his head the introduction to the book declared, “Jefferson came close to creating on his own plantations the ideal rural community.” Betts couldn’t do anything about the original letter, but no one would see it, tucked away in the archives of the Massachusetts Historical Society. The full text did not emerge in print until 2005.
Betts’ omission was important in shaping the scholarly consensus that Jefferson managed his plantations with a lenient hand. Relying on Betts’ editing, the historian Jack McLaughlin noted that Lilly “resorted to the whip during Jefferson’s absence, but Jefferson put a stop to it.”
“Slavery was an evil he had to live with,” historian Merrill Peterson wrote, “and he managed it with what little dosings of humanity a diabolical system permitted.” Peterson echoed Jefferson’s complaints about the work force, alluding to “the slackness of slave labor,” and emphasized Jefferson’s benevolence: “In the management of his slaves Jefferson encouraged diligence but was instinctively too lenient to demand it. By all accounts he was a kind and generous master. His conviction of the injustice of the institution strengthened his sense of obligation toward its victims.”
Joseph Ellis observed that only “on rare occasions, and as a last resort, he ordered overseers to use the lash.” Dumas Malone stated, “Jefferson was kind to his servants to the point of indulgence, and within the framework of an institution he disliked he saw that they were well provided for. His ‘people’ were devoted to him.”
As a rule, the slaves who lived at the mountaintop, including the Hemings family and the Grangers, were treated better than slaves who worked the fields farther down the mountain. But the machine was hard to restrain.
After the violent tenures of earlier overseers, Gabriel Lilly seemed to portend a gentler reign when he arrived at Monticello in 1800. Colonel Randolph’s first report was optimistic. “All goes well,” he wrote, and “what is under Lillie admirably.” His second report about two weeks later was glowing: “Lillie goes on with great spirit and complete quiet at Mont’o.: he is so good tempered that he can get twice as much done without the smallest discontent as some with the hardest driving possible.” In addition to placing him over the laborers “in the ground” at Monticello, Jefferson put Lilly in charge of the nailery for an extra fee of 㾶 a year.
Once Lilly established himself, his good temper evidently evaporated, because Jefferson began to worry about what Lilly would do to the nailers, the promising adolescents whom Jefferson managed personally, intending to move them up the plantation ladder. He wrote to Randolph: “I forgot to ask the favor of you to speak to Lilly as to the treatment of the nailers. it would destroy their value in my estimation to degrade them in their own eyes by the whip. this therefore must not be resorted to but in extremities. as they will again be under my government, I would chuse they should retain the stimulus of character.” But in the same letter he emphasized that output must be maintained: “I hope Lilly keeps the small nailers engaged so as to supply our customers.”
Colonel Randolph immediately dispatched a reassuring but carefully worded reply: “Everything goes well at Mont’o.—the Nailers all [at] work and executing well some heavy orders. . I had given a charge of lenity respecting all: (Burwell absolutely excepted from the whip alltogether) before you wrote: none have incurred it but the small ones for truancy.” To the news that the small ones were being whipped and that “lenity” had an elastic meaning, Jefferson had no response the small ones had to be kept “engaged.”
It seems that Jefferson grew uneasy about Lilly’s regime at the nailery. Jefferson replaced him with William Stewart but kept Lilly in charge of the adult crews building his mill and canal. Under Stewart’s lenient command (greatly softened by habitual drinking), the nailery’s productivity sank. The nail boys, favored or not, had to be brought to heel. In a very unusual letter, Jefferson told his Irish master joiner, James Dinsmore, that he was bringing Lilly back to the nailery. It might seem puzzling that Jefferson would feel compelled to explain a personnel decision that had nothing to do with Dinsmore, but the nailery stood just a few steps from Dinsmore’s shop. Jefferson was preparing Dinsmore to witness scenes under Lilly’s command such as he had not seen under Stewart, and his tone was stern: “I am quite at a loss about the nailboys remaining with mr Stewart. they have long been a dead expence instead of profit to me. in truth they require a vigour of discipline to make them do reasonable work, to which he cannot bring himself. on the whole I think it will be best for them also to be removed to mr Lilly’s [control].”
The incident of horrible violence in the nailery—the attack by one nail boy against another—may shed some light on the fear Lilly instilled in the nail boys. In 1803 a nailer named Cary smashed his hammer into the skull of a fellow nailer, Brown Colbert. Seized with convulsions, Colbert went into a coma and would certainly have died had Colonel Randolph not immediately summoned a physician, who performed brain surgery. With a trephine saw, the doctor drew back the broken part of Colbert’s skull, thus relieving pressure on the brain. Amazingly, the young man survived.
Bad enough that Cary had so viciously attacked someone, but his victim was a Hemings. Jefferson angrily wrote to Randolph that “it will be necessary for me to make an example of him in terrorem to others, in order to maintain the police so rigorously necessary among the nail boys.” He ordered that Cary be sold away “so distant as never more to be heard of among us.” And he alluded to the abyss beyond the gates of Monticello into which people could be flung: “There are generally negro purchasers from Georgia passing about the state.” Randolph’s report of the incident included Cary’s motive: The boy was “irritated at some little trick from Brown, who hid part of his nailrod to teaze him.” But under Lilly’s regime this trick was not so “little.” Colbert knew the rules, and he knew very well that if Cary couldn’t find his nailrod, he would fall behind, and under Lilly that meant a beating. Hence the furious attack.
Jefferson’s daughter Martha wrote to her father that one of the slaves, a disobedient and disruptive man named John, tried to poison Lilly, perhaps hoping to kill him. John was safe from any severe punishment because he was a hired slave: If Lilly injured him, Jefferson would have to compensate his owner, so Lilly had no means to retaliate. John, evidently grasping the extent of his immunity, took every opportunity to undermine and provoke him, even “cutting up [Lilly’s] garden [and] destroying his things.”
But Lilly had his own kind of immunity. He understood his importance to Jefferson when he renegotiated his contract, so that beginning in 1804 he would no longer receive a flat fee for managing the nailery but be paid 2 percent of the gross. Productivity immediately soared. In the spring of 1804, Jefferson wrote to his supplier: “The manager of my nailery had so increased its activity as to call for a larger supply of rod. than had heretofore been necessary.”
Maintaining a high level of activity required a commensurate level of discipline. Thus, in the fall of 1804, when Lilly was informed that one of the nail boys was sick, he would have none of it. Appalled by what happened next, one of Monticello’s white workmen, a carpenter named James Oldham, informed Jefferson of “the Barbarity that [Lilly] made use of with Little Jimmy.”
Oldham reported that James Hemings, the 17-year-old son of the house servant Critta Hemings, had been sick for three nights running, so sick that Oldham feared the boy might not live. He took Hemings into his own room to keep watch over him. When he told Lilly that Hemings was seriously ill, Lilly said he would whip Jimmy into working. Oldham “begged him not to punish him,” but “this had no effect.” The “Barbarity” ensued: Lilly “whipped him three times in one day, and the boy was really not able to raise his hand to his head.”
Flogging to this degree does not persuade someone to work it disables him. But it also sends a message to the other slaves, especially those, like Jimmy, who belonged to the elite class of Hemings servants and might think they were above the authority of Gabriel Lilly. Once he recovered, Jimmy Hemings fled Monticello, joining the community of free blacks and runaways who made a living as boatmen on the James River, floating up and down between Richmond and obscure backwater villages. Contacting Hemings through Oldham, Jefferson tried to persuade him to come home, but did not set the slave catchers after him. There is no record that Jefferson made any remonstrance against Lilly, who was unrepentant about the beating and loss of a valuable slave indeed, he demanded that his salary be doubled to 𧴜. This put Jefferson in a quandary. He displayed no misgivings about the regime that Oldham characterized as “the most cruel,” but 𧴜 was more than he wanted to pay. Jefferson wrote that Lilly as an overseer “is as good a one as can be”—“certainly I can never get a man who fulfills my purposes better than he does.”
On a recent afternoon at Monticello, Fraser Neiman, the head archaeologist, led the way down the mountain into a ravine, following the trace of a road laid out by Jefferson for his carriage rides. It passed the house of Edmund Bacon, the overseer Jefferson employed from 1806 to 1822, about a mile from the mansion. When Jefferson retired from the presidency in 1809, he moved the nailery from the summit—he no longer wanted even to see it, let alone manage it—to a site downhill 100 yards from Bacon’s house. The archaeologists discovered unmistakable evidence of the shop—nails, nail rod, charcoal, coal and slag. Neiman pointed out on his map locations of the shop and Bacon’s house. “The nailery was a socially fractious place,” he said. “One suspects that’s part of the reason for getting it off the mountaintop and putting it right here next to the overseer’s house.”
About 600 feet east of Bacon’s house stood the cabin of James Hubbard, a slave who lived by himself. The archaeologists dug more than 100 test pits at this site but came up with nothing still, when they brought in metal detectors and turned up a few wrought nails, it was enough evidence to convince them that they had found the actual site of Hubbard’s house. Hubbard was 11 years old and living with his family at Poplar Forest, Jefferson’s second plantation, near Lynchburg, Virginia, in 1794, when Jefferson brought him to Monticello to work in the new nailery on the mountaintop. His assignment was a sign of Jefferson’s favor for the Hubbard family. James’ father, a skilled shoemaker, had risen to the post of foreman of labor at Poplar Forest Jefferson saw similar potential in the son. At first James performed abysmally, wasting more material than any of the other nail boys. Perhaps he was just a slow learner perhaps he hated it but he made himself better and better at the miserable work, swinging his hammer thousands of times a day, until he excelled. When Jefferson measured the nailery’s output he found that Hubbard had reached the top percent efficiency—in converting nail rod to finished nails.
A model slave, eager to improve himself, Hubbard grasped every opportunity the system offered. In his time off from the nailery, he took on additional tasks to earn cash. He sacrificed sleep to make money by burning charcoal, tending a kiln through the night. Jefferson also paid him for hauling—a position of trust because a man with a horse and permission to leave the plantation could easily escape. Through his industriousness Hubbard laid aside enough cash to purchase some fine clothes, including a hat, knee breeches and two overcoats.
Then one day in the summer of 1805, early in Jefferson’s second term as president, Hubbard vanished. For years he had patiently carried out an elaborate deception, pretending to be the loyal, hardworking slave. He had done that hard work not to soften a life in slavery but to escape it. The clothing was not for show it was a disguise.
Hubbard had been gone for many weeks when the president received a letter from the sheriff of Fairfax County. He had in custody a man named Hubbard who had confessed to being an escaped slave. In his confession Hubbard revealed the details of his escape. He had made a deal with Wilson Lilly, son of the overseer Gabriel Lilly, paying him $5 and an overcoat in exchange for false emancipation documents and a travel pass to Washington. But illiteracy was Hubbard’s downfall: He did not realize that the documents Wilson Lilly had written were not very persuasive. When Hubbard reached Fairfax County, about 100 miles north of Monticello, the sheriff stopped him, demanding to see his papers. The sheriff, who knew forgeries when he saw them and arrested Hubbard, also asked Jefferson for a reward because he had run “a great Risk” arresting “as large a fellow as he is.”
Hubbard was returned to Monticello. If he received some punishment for his escape, there is no record of it. In fact, it seems that Hubbard was forgiven and regained Jefferson’s trust within a year. The October 1806 schedule of work for the nailery shows Hubbard working with the heaviest gauge of rod with a daily output of 15 pounds of nails. That Christmas, Jefferson allowed him to travel from Monticello to Poplar Forest to see his family. Jefferson may have trusted him again, but Bacon remained wary.
One day when Bacon was trying to fill an order for nails, he found that the entire stock of eight-penny nails pounds of nails worth $50—was gone: “Of course they had been stolen.” He immediately suspected James Hubbard and confronted him, but Hubbard “denied it powerfully.” Bacon ransacked Hubbard’s cabin and “every place I could think of” but came up empty-handed. Despite the lack of evidence, Bacon remained convinced of Hubbard’s guilt. He conferred with the white manager of the nailery, Reuben Grady: “Let us drop it. He has hid them somewhere, and if we say no more about it, we shall find them.”
Walking through the woods after a heavy rain, Bacon spotted muddy tracks on the leaves on one side of the path. He followed the tracks to their end, where he found the nails buried in a large box. Immediately, he went up the mountain to inform Jefferson of the discovery and of his certainty that Hubbard was the thief. Jefferson was “very much surprised and felt very badly about it” because Hubbard “had always been a favorite servant.” Jefferson said he would question Hubbard personally the next morning when he went on his usual ride past Bacon’s house.
When Jefferson showed up the next day, Bacon had Hubbard called in. At the sight of his master, Hubbard burst into tears. Bacon wrote, “I never saw any person, white or black, feel as badly as he did when he saw his master. He was mortified and distressed beyond measure. [W]e all had confidence in him. Now his character was gone.” Hubbard tearfully begged Jefferson’s pardon “over and over again.” For a slave, burglary was a capital crime. A runaway slave who once broke into Bacon’s private storehouse and stole three pieces of bacon and a bag of cornmeal was condemned to hang in Albemarle County. The governor commuted his sentence, and the slave was “transported,” the legal term for being sold by the state to the Deep South or West Indies.
Even Bacon felt moved by Hubbard’s plea—“I felt very badly myself”— but he knew what would come next: Hubbard had to be whipped. So Bacon was astonished when Jefferson turned to him and said, “Ah, sir, we can’t punish him. He has suffered enough already.” Jefferson offered some counsel to Hubbard, “gave him a heap of good advice,” and sent him back to the nailery, where Reuben Grady was waiting, “expecting . to whip him.”
Jefferson’s magnanimity seemed to spark a conversion in Hubbard. When he got to the nailery, he told Grady he’d been seeking religion for a long time, “but I never heard anything before that sounded so, or made me feel so, as I did when master said, ‘Go, and don’t do so any more.’ ” So now he was “determined to seek religion till I find it.” Bacon said, “Sure enough, he afterwards came to me for a permit to go and be baptized.” But that, too, was deception. On his authorized absences from the plantation to attend church, Hubbard made arrangements for another escape.
During the holiday season in late 1810, Hubbard vanished again. Documents about Hubbard’s escape reveal that Jefferson’s plantations were riven with secret networks. Jefferson had at least one spy in the slave community willing to inform on fellow slaves for cash Jefferson wrote that he “engaged a trusty negro man of my own, and promised him a reward. if he could inform us so that [Hubbard] should be taken.” But the spy could not get anyone to talk. Jefferson wrote that Hubbard “has not been heard of.” But that was not true: a few people had heard of Hubbard’s movements.
Jefferson could not crack the wall of silence at Monticello, but an informer at Poplar Forest told the overseer that a boatman belonging to Colonel Randolph aided Hubbard’s escape, clandestinely ferrying him up the James River from Poplar Forest to the area around Monticello, even though white patrollers of two or three counties were hunting the fugitive. The boatman might have been part of a network that plied the Rivanna and James rivers, smuggling goods and fugitives.
Possibly, Hubbard tried to make contact with friends around Monticello possibly, he was planning to flee to the North again possibly, it was all disinformation planted by Hubbard’s friends. At some point Hubbard headed southwest, not north, across the Blue Ridge. He made his way to the town of Lexington, where he was able to live for over a year as a free man, being in possession of an impeccable manumission document.
His description appeared in the Richmond Enquirer: “a Nailor by trade, of 27 years of age, about six feet high, stout limbs and strong made, of daring demeanor, bold and harsh features, dark complexion, apt to drink freely and had even furnished himself with money and probably a free pass on a former elopement he attempted to get out of the State Northwardly . . . and probably may have taken the same direction now.”
A year after his escape Hubbard was spotted in Lexington. Before he could be captured, he took off again, heading farther west into the Allegheny Mountains, but Jefferson put a slave tracker on his trail. Cornered and clapped in irons, Hubbard was brought back to Monticello, where Jefferson made an example of him: “I had him severely flogged in the presence of his old companions, and committed to jail.” Under the lash Hubbard revealed the details of his escape and the name of an accomplice he had been able to elude capture by carrying genuine manumission papers he’d bought from a free black man in Albemarle County. The man who provided Hubbard with the papers spent six months in jail. Jefferson sold Hubbard to one of his overseers, and his final fate is not known.
Slaves lived as if in an occupied country. As Hubbard discovered, few could outrun the newspaper ads, slave patrols, vigilant sheriffs demanding papers and slave-catching bounty hunters with their guns and dogs. Hubbard was brave or desperate enough to try it twice, unmoved by the incentives Jefferson held out to cooperative, diligent, industrious slaves.
In 1817, Jefferson’s old friend, the Revolutionary War hero Thaddeus Kosciuszko, died in Switzerland. The Polish nobleman, who had arrived from Europe in 1776 to aid the Americans, left a substantial fortune to Jefferson. Kosciuszko bequeathed funds to free Jefferson’s slaves and purchase land and farming equipment for them to begin a life on their own. In the spring of 1819, Jefferson pondered what to do with the legacy. Kosciuszko had made him executor of the will, so Jefferson had a legal duty, as well as a personal obligation to his deceased friend, to carry out the terms of the document.
The terms came as no surprise to Jefferson. He had helped Kosciuszko draft the will, which states, “I hereby authorize my friend, Thomas Jefferson, to employ the whole [bequest] in purchasing Negroes from his own or any others and giving them liberty in my name.” Kosciuszko’s estate was nearly $20,000, the equivalent today of roughly $280,000. But Jefferson refused the gift, even though it would have reduced the debt hanging over Monticello, while also relieving him, in part at least, of what he himself had described in 1814 as the “moral reproach” of slavery.
If Jefferson had accepted the legacy, as much as half of it would have gone not to Jefferson but, in effect, to his slaves—to the purchase price for land, livestock, equipment and transportation to establish them in a place such as Illinois or Ohio. Moreover, the slaves most suited for immediate emancipation—smiths, coopers, carpenters, the most skilled farmers—were the very ones whom Jefferson most valued. He also shrank from any public identification with the cause of emancipation.
It had long been accepted that slaves were assets that could be seized for debt, but Jefferson turned this around when he used slaves as collateral for a very large loan he had taken out in 1796 from a Dutch banking house in order to rebuild Monticello. He pioneered the monetizing of slaves, just as he pioneered the industrialization and diversification of slavery.
Before his refusal of Kosciuszko’s legacy, as Jefferson mulled over whether to accept the bequest, he had written to one of his plantation managers: “A child raised every 2. years is of more profit then the crop of the best laboring man. in this, as in all other cases, providence has made our duties and our interests coincide perfectly. [W]ith respect therefore to our women & their children I must pray you to inculcate upon the overseers that it is not their labor, but their increase which is the first consideration with us.”
In the 1790s, as Jefferson was mortgaging his slaves to build Monticello, George Washington was trying to scrape together financing for an emancipation at Mount Vernon, which he finally ordered in his will. He proved that emancipation was not only possible, but practical, and he overturned all the Jeffersonian rationalizations. Jefferson insisted that a multiracial society with free black people was impossible, but Washington did not think so. Never did Washington suggest that blacks were inferior or that they should be exiled.
It is curious that we accept Jefferson as the moral standard of the founders’ era, not Washington. Perhaps it is because the Father of his Country left a somewhat troubling legacy: His emancipation of his slaves stands as not a tribute but a rebuke to his era, and to the prevaricators and profiteers of the future, and declares that if you claim to have principles, you must live by them.
After Jefferson’s death in 1826, the families of Jefferson’s most devoted servants were split apart. Onto the auction block went Caroline Hughes, the 9-year-old daughter of Jefferson’s gardener Wormley Hughes. One family was divided up among eight different buyers, another family among seven buyers.
Joseph Fossett, a Monticello blacksmith, was among the handful of slaves freed in Jefferson’s will, but Jefferson left Fossett’s family enslaved. In the six months between Jefferson’s death and the auction of his property, Fossett tried to strike bargains with families in Charlottesville to purchase his wife and six of his seven children. His oldest child (born, ironically, in the White House itself) had already been given to Jefferson’s grandson. Fossett found sympathetic buyers for his wife, his son Peter and two other children, but he watched the auction of three young daughters to different buyers. One of them, 17-year-old Patsy, immediately escaped from her new master, a University of Virginia official.
Joseph Fossett spent ten years at his anvil and forge earning the money to buy back his wife and children. By the late 1830s he had cash in hand to reclaim Peter, then about 21, but the owner reneged on the deal. Compelled to leave Peter in slavery and having lost three daughters, Joseph and Edith Fossett departed Charlottesville for Ohio around 1840. Years later, speaking as a free man in Ohio in 1898, Peter, who was 83, would recount that he had never forgotten the moment when he was “put up on the auction block and sold like a horse.”
I&aposm not used to reading history this polemical. Hyland&aposs a lawyer by trade, and it shows throughout his pugnacious little book. Coming out swinging, he posits that Thomas Jefferson did not have an affair with his slave Sally Hemings, which matter has been the subject of some debate. He bases his case on several points, including DNA evidence, historical accounts and inferences made from historical accounts. The case, as it turns out, is hurt more by Hyland&aposs advocacy of it than any shortcomings I'm not used to reading history this polemical. Hyland's a lawyer by trade, and it shows throughout his pugnacious little book. Coming out swinging, he posits that Thomas Jefferson did not have an affair with his slave Sally Hemings, which matter has been the subject of some debate. He bases his case on several points, including DNA evidence, historical accounts and inferences made from historical accounts. The case, as it turns out, is hurt more by Hyland's advocacy of it than any shortcomings in itself.
Hyland briskly corrals the background, the available information and his informed opinion and quickly exonerates Jefferson. In his rush to do so, however, he neglects to give the other side much of a say. This gives the somewhat unfair impression that the other side is short on facts. He works like a lawyer, and not always a friendly one: emphasizing the personal shortcomings of Jefferson's accusers, affecting histrionic incredulity at some of the more scurrilous attacks. He takes the case almost personally and that made for some weird reading in a history book.
Two important components are missing from his case: a thorough and evenhanded summation of the opposing arguments, and a historian's concern for why this matters, what it meant for American history as a whole. Those omissions don't hamper our understanding of Hyland's position, but they weaken it a bit by introducing an element of one-sidedness.
I enjoyed very much the premise of this book. I love to see a legal mind engaging passionately with issues of history, bringing contemporary academics and science to bear on the story of the past. But I thought the execution did the premise a disservice at best, this is one very narrow perspective of a larger picture. . more
In celebration of the 4th of July, I offer this essay in defense of our greatest founding father, Thomas Jefferson. I feel Mr. Jefferson’s reputation has been unfairly eviscerated by a misrepresentation of the DNA results in the Hemings controversy. The exhumation of discredited, prurient embellishments has not only deluded readers, but impoverished a fair debate. In fact, with the possible exception of the Kennedy assassination, I am unaware of any major historical controversy riddled with so m In celebration of the 4th of July, I offer this essay in defense of our greatest founding father, Thomas Jefferson. I feel Mr. Jefferson’s reputation has been unfairly eviscerated by a misrepresentation of the DNA results in the Hemings controversy. The exhumation of discredited, prurient embellishments has not only deluded readers, but impoverished a fair debate. In fact, with the possible exception of the Kennedy assassination, I am unaware of any major historical controversy riddled with so much misinformation and outright inaccuracies as the sex-oriented Sally Hemings libel.
The “Sally” story is pure fiction, possibly politics, but certainly not historical fact or science. It reflects a recycled inaccuracy that has metastasized from book to book, over two hundred years. In contrast to the blizzard of recent books spinning the controversy as a mini-series version of history, I found that layer upon layer of direct and circumstantial evidence points to a mosaic distinctly away from Jefferson. My research, evaluation, and personal interviews led me to one inevitable conclusion: the revisionist grip of historians have the wrong Jefferson--the DNA, as well as other historical evidence, matches perfectly to his younger brother, Randolph and his teen-age sons, as the true candidates for a sexual relationship with Sally.
A monopoly of books (all paternity believers) written since the DNA results have gone far beyond the evidence and transmuted conjecture into apparent fact, and in most instances, engaged in a careless misreading of the record. My new book, IN DEFENSE OF THOMAS JEFFERSON (Thomas Dunne Books, 2009), definitively destroys this myth, separating revisionist ideology from accuracy. It is historical hygiene by pen, an attempt to marshal facts, rationally dissect the evidence and prove beyond reasonable doubt that Jefferson is completely innocent of this sordid charge:
• the virulent rumor was first started by the scandal-mongering journalist James Callender, who burned for political revenge against Jefferson. Callender was described as “an alcoholic thug with a foul mind, obsessed with race and sex,” who intended to defame the public career of Jefferson.
• the one eyewitness to this sexual allegation was Edmund Bacon, Jefferson’s overseer at Monticello, who saw another man (not Jefferson) leaving Sally’s room ‘many a morning.’ Bacon wrote: “…I have seen him come out of her mother’s room many a morning when I went up to Monticello very early.”
• Jefferson’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: “My health is entirely broken down within the last eight months.”
• Jefferson owned three different slaves named Sally, adding to the historical confusion. Yet, he never freed his supposed lover and companion of 37 years, ‘Sally Hemings’ from her enslavement, nor mentioned her in his will.
• 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, Sally’s son who was the DNA match for a “male Jefferson.”
• The DNA match was to a male son of Sally’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.
• Until 1976, the oral history of Eston’s family held that they descended from a Jefferson "uncle." Randolph was known at Monticello as "Uncle Randolph."
• 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.
A Brief History Of Presidential Sex Scandals
NPR's Rachel Martin talks with commentator Cokie Roberts, who answers listener questions about the history of presidential sex scandals.
The ongoing stories about a relationship between adult film actress Stormy Daniels and Donald Trump are hardly the first allegations of sexual misconduct by a president. John F. Kennedy has long been rumored to have had many affairs while in the White House, including one with Marilyn Monroe, who famously serenaded him during a big birthday bash at Madison Square Garden.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MARILYN MONROE: (Singing) Happy birthday, Mr. President. Happy birthday to you.
MARTIN: The Stormy Daniels scandal has a lot of you out there wondering about past presidents and their sexual dalliances. And you want answers from Cokie Roberts, who joins us now.
COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel. That was quite some serenade, wasn't it?
MARTIN: Right? I mean, it's hard to listen to that and think, ah, you know, maybe they're just friends, just buddies. All right. Let's get to our first question. This concerns a couple of past presidents. Stacy Ross wants to know the following. How well-known was President Harding's affair while he was president? Did Eisenhower have an affair with his driver? What affairs were known about as they were happening in the 19th century and before? Cokie.
ROBERTS: Well, Harding made absolutely no secret of his sexual appetites, telling a group of reporters that it was a good thing he wasn't a woman because he would always be pregnant. He could just not say no. But he went to great.
ROBERTS: . Lengths to keep secret a long-running affair with his best friend's wife, Carrie Phillips. Apparently, he and the Republican National Committee paid for her silence while he was in the White House. His incredibly steamy letters to her were unsealed by the Library of Congress in 2014, 50 years after her death. Harding also had a child by another woman, but no one brought up his proclivities at all during his campaign in 1920.
MARTIN: All right, what about the rest of that question from Stacy?
ROBERTS: The first to be accused of extramarital relations was Thomas Jefferson when a newspaper published the accusation that he was having sex with the enslaved woman Sally Hemings. It took until the 20th century for that to be substantiated with DNA test, and it was a big scandal at the time. But newspapers, Rachel, would make stuff up all the time in this era. And when John Adams was running for re-election in 1800 with Charles Pinckney as his running mate, the Republican press said that Pinckney had brought home from England four women, two for him and two for Adams. And Adams said if it were true, he was cheated out of his two.
MARTIN: All right. Let's get to our next question. This is from Donna Vild from Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and she has a question about the government's response to these things.
DONNA VILD: How were they officially handled? Did all branches of the government get involved? And what did the press know?
ROBERTS: Well, there was no official handling of sex scandals until Bill Clinton's impeachment, and that was due to his lying under oath, not the sex itself. There always have been disputes about what the press knew and when it knew it in various administrations, particularly with John F. Kennedy, where some members of the press certainly knew what he was up to, and nobody wrote about it. But, you know, Rachel, it's important to remember the press was a boys club. And it really wasn't until there were many more women on the bus that the way candidates and presidents treat women was considered important. The first victim, so to speak, of that new attitude was Gary Hart.
MARTIN: Gary Hart, former presidential candidate whose campaign was famously derailed by a sex scandal. Commentator Cokie Roberts. You can ask Cokie your questions about how politics and government work by emailing us at [email protected], or you can tweet us your question with the hashtag #AskCokie. Cokie, thanks so much.
ROBERTS: Good to talk to you, Rachel.
(SOUNDBITE OF KAMASI WASHINGTON'S "DESIRE")
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New book exonerates Jefferson in DNA controversy
The belief that Thomas Jefferson had an affair and fathered a child (or children) with slave Sally Hemings -- and that such an allegation was proven by DNA testing -- has become so pervasive in American popular culture that it is not only widely accepted but taught to students as historical fact. "In Defense Of Thomas Jefferson,” by William G. Hyland Jr., has just been published by St. Martins Press. In this startling and revelatory new book, William G. Hyland Jr. shows not only that the evidence against Jefferson is lacking, but that in fact he is entirely innocent of the charge of having sexual relations with Hemings.
For over two hundred years, Thomas Jefferson has been accused of a sexual relationship with Hemings, one of his slaves. According to DNA interpretive results conducted in 1998, it is now widely accepted that Jefferson fathered one or more of Sally’s children. Are the accusations true? And if so, could they be proved in a court of law?
Not only do the authors conclude that the charges are false, but for the first time ever the reader is introduced to the President's younger brother, Randolph Jefferson, as the DNA match for Sally’s children. Along with the most thorough examination of the Hemings controversy to date, new discoveries and details are revealed exonerating Jefferson from this old political scandal.
Did Jefferson Sleep With His Slave?
On November 30, the New York Times published an op-ed piece by a law professor named Paul Finkelman, who calls Thomas Jefferson “a creepy, brutal hypocrite” because he owned slaves. Prof. Finkelman also takes it for granted that Jefferson had children with his slave Sally Hemings. Jared Taylor has written a response to Prof. Finkelman here.
What follows is a review of an unjustly neglected book that strongly defends the third President against the charge that he slept with his slave.
William G. Hyland, In Defense of Thomas Jefferson: The Sally Hemings Sex Scandal, Thomas Dunne Books, 2009, 292 pp., $26.95.
Nearly every American “knows” that Thomas Jefferson had several children with his slave, Sally Hemings. Nearly everyone “knows” that this has been confirmed by DNA evidence. Lefties even claim that Jefferson raped his slave. In fact, no one “knows” any of this the evidence for a Hemings affair is unconvincing. If it were not for the ferocious joy the Left takes in believing the worst of the Founding Fathers, the allegations of an affair at Monticello would be a historical footnote.
William Hyland, a practicing lawyer and board member of the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society, has written an important book that summarizes the evidence on both sides and argues convincingly that Jefferson was not the father of Sally’s children and probably never slept with her. His book is a welcome antidote to the mountains of nonsense that paint the third president as a lecherous old miscegenator.
It was a contemporary of Jefferson’s, a transplanted Scotsman named James Callender, who first spread the accusations about Sally. Callender was a journalist and propagandist who had written so insultingly about British politicians and even the crown that he abandoned his wife and child and escaped to the United States in 1793, one step ahead of the sedition police. He practiced the same vituperative brand of journalism in America, and was convicted in 1800 under the Sedition Act for attacks on President John Adams. Jefferson, who opposed the Federalist sedition laws, defended Callender, and pardoned him on becoming president in 1801. However, when Callender sought the position of postmaster general of Richmond, Virginia, Jefferson found him unfit for office and turned him down.
Callender turned on his benefactor, and in 1802 started writing about Jefferson’s sex life. He claimed Jefferson had sired a son with “dusky Sally,” a “wooly-headed concubine,” who was part of his “Congo harem.” Callender wrote that Sally was a “slut common as the pavement,” who was “romping with half a dozen black fellows,” and had serviced “fifteen or thirty gallants of all colours.” Federalist newspapers opposed to Jefferson’s policies circulated these stories with some effect, and Callender may have been right to claim that he had done more harm to Jefferson’s reputation in five months than all his other critics had done in ten years.
Callender never claimed to have met “dusky Sally” or any of her children, nor did he ever explain how he got his information. Naturally, many people thought he made it up. John Adams — whom Callender called a “hideous hermaphroditical character who has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman” — wrote of him: “I believe nothing Callender said. … I would not convict a dog of killing sheep upon the testimony of two such witnesses.” Abigail Adams called him “a libeler whom you could not but detest and despise.” James Madison distrusted him, writing that “it is impossible to reason concerning a man, whose imagination and passions have been so fermented.” In 1803, Callender drowned in two or three feet of water in the James River, reportedly too drunk to fish himself out.
The only other source for the Jefferson paternity allegations is a sketchy set of claims made by Hemings’ descendants. In 1872, 37 years after Sally’s death and 46 years after Jefferson’s, one of Sally’s younger sons, Madison Hemings, gave an interview to a newspaper editor named S. F. Wetmore, in which he claimed that Jefferson was the father of all six of Sally’s known children. The interview, which is presented as a verbatim transcription, is in flowery language that seems entirely out of keeping with the vocabulary of an ex-slave, and closely follows the Callender version, even including the mistaken spelling of Jefferson’s father-in-law’s name that Callender used in his own account. Mr. Hyland notes that there is no other record of Madison ever having claimed to be descended from Jefferson. Wetmore had a political interest in besmirching Jefferson’s reputation and may well have sought Madison out and encouraged him to claim he had an illustrious father.
The other paternity claim was by Thomas Woodson, a somewhat mysterious black who claimed to be the son that resulted when Jefferson impregnated Sally when she was only 15 or so. This is a particularly improbable claim, since Jefferson kept detailed records of all births to his slaves, and there is no record of a child named Thomas or of a birth to Sally at about that time. Woodson’s claim has also been disproven by DNA evidence, but this has not stopped his descendants from claiming to this day that Jefferson was the father.
In the late 1990s, DNA testing was carried out to see if the paternity of the Hemings children could be proven. The study was based on the fact that the Y chromosome, carried by all men, is passed intact along the male line, and is detectably different in different families. If Jefferson had fathered Sally’s children, the male-line descendents of her sons would have the Jefferson Y chromosome.
Male-line descendants of the dubious Thomas Woodson and of Sally’s last child, Eston Hemings, agreed to be tested. Interestingly, the descendants of Madison Hemings, the son who gave the Wetmore interview, refused to be tested. The results were announced with great fanfare in the November 5, 1998 issue of the British magazine Nature. First, as noted above, Thomas Woodson’s claim was bogus: There was no Jefferson Y in his male line.
It was the other finding that got all the attention: Eston Hemings carried the Jefferson Y chromosome. On the strength of this, Nature titled its article “Jefferson Fathered Slave’s Last Child,” but the editors knew this was deceptive. They knew that all male-line Jeffersons, including Thomas’s brothers and their sons, carried the Jefferson Y and were equally likely, from a genetic point of view, to be the father. It was only deep into the article — farther than journalists were likely to go — that Nature conceded this. Subtleties like this, of course, mean nothing to crazed lefties, who have cackled with joy ever since at the idea that Monticello was a miscegenist love-nest.
In fact, there were no fewer than 26 Jefferson men of reproductive age living in Virginia at the time of Eston’s conception, who could theoretically have been the father. As we will see, Thomas is not the most likely candidate.
There are a few other circumstantial arguments that can be made in favor of the love-nest claim. One is that Sally was reportedly light-skinned and attractive. She came to Jefferson as part of his wife’s property, and there were even rumors that his wife’s father was Sally’s father. If that were true, it would mean Sally was Jefferson’s wife’s half-sister.
Another argument is that Jefferson seldom freed slaves, yet he freed Madison and Eston Hemings in his will. Jefferson’s policy was to free slaves who he thought could support themselves, and the Hemings men had learned trades. One would also note that Jefferson did not free Sally, either during his life or in his will.
Finally, it appears that Jefferson was at Monticello at the times when Sally’s children were conceived. However, Monticello was Jefferson’s home, and it stands to reason he was there often. Also, no one knows where Sally was most of the time, and there are notes that indicate she was sometimes living away from Monticello.
So much for the case for paternity. What are the opposing arguments?
First, despite the lefty derision they evoke, there are Jefferson’s views and character. He detested miscegenation, which he considered bad for both races. He also was greatly disturbed by slavery, and abhorred the sexual power masters held over female slaves. These well-publicized views add to the lefties’ glee: They can call Jefferson a hypocrite. However, he was probably the most self-controlled of all American presidents. His motto of conduct was, “When tempted to do anything in secret, ask yourself if you would do it in public if you would not, be sure it is wrong.” To a remarkable extent, he lived by this standard.
The most lurid tale of fornication — and one Callender promoted — is that Jefferson took up with Sally while he was in Paris as Minister to France, and the 1995 movie Jefferson in Paris is full of amorous sport. This is deliberate provocation. Jefferson lost his wife Martha shortly before leaving for Paris, and was devastated by the loss. He promised on her deathbed that he would never remarry, and left for Paris by himself. Later he sent for his children, and someone in his household chose Sally — only 14 at the time — to be a maid for his nine-year-old daughter Mary. Along with Jefferson’s 15-year-old daughter Martha, the girls traveled to Paris and stopped on the way in London, where they met Abigail Adams. Mrs. Adams wrote that Sally was more child than adult and therefore not a good choice for a maid. Jefferson’s daughters, along with Sally, probably boarded at their school rather than under Jefferson’s roof. Wherever they were living, it is unlikely that Jefferson was carrying on an affair with a 14-year-old slave girl under the noses of his daughters. All the evidence suggests that he was not a very sexual man, and there is no real record that he ever took a lover after his wife’s death.
The charge that Jefferson fathered Eston — the son who did carry the Jefferson Y chromosome — is implausible for different reasons. Eston was born in 1808 and would have been conceived while Jefferson was in his second term. The Callender accusations had been circulating since 1802 and had been repeated with some damaging effect by Jefferson’s enemies. Is it likely that Jefferson would risk justifying those accusations while still in office?
Furthermore, Jefferson would have been 64 at the time of Eston’s conception, and his letters from that period are full of complaints about migraine headaches, arthritis, and intestinal infections. Jefferson lived another 19 years after that but his health was poor. Moreover, after retiring from the presidency in 1809, Jefferson moved back permanently to Monticello, where he would have access to Sally at any time, yet Eston was her last child. In the very unlikely case that Jefferson, as a sickly, often-absent, 64-year-old Chief Executive had fathered Eston, he would presumably have had more children with Sally after he retired. Mr. Hyland notes that Sally survived Jefferson by nine years, but there is no record of her ever claiming that the president was her lover.
As for Madison Hemings, whose descendants refused DNA testing, his conception would have occurred in April 1805. Again, Jefferson was still president and therefore unlikely to do anything to justify accusations of miscegenation. He was present at Monticello for several weeks that month during the final illness and funeral of his daughter Mary. He was grief-stricken by her death, and the house was full of guests and mourners. Would Jefferson have been sporting with a slave concubine at such a time?
As she grew older, Jefferson’s eldest daughter Martha became the de facto mistress of Monticello. Her father always liked to have her and her seven children close, and she would have been at Monticello when Sally’s later children were conceived. She was familiar with everything that happened on the plantation and always vehemently denied the remotest possibility of any kind of impropriety between her father and any slave woman.
Martha, Jefferson’s daughter, was in a position to know.
Jefferson himself never explicitly denied the Sally rumors, but during his career he faced many accusations, and adopted the policy of not dignifying them with replies. Late in life, however, he did write that of all the many scurrilous things said about him only one was true: that when he was a young bachelor he had made improper advances to the wife of an acquaintance, John Walker. This is an implicit denial of the Sally affair.
Finally, there is the account of a contemporary eye-witness, Jefferson’s plantation overseer, Edmund Bacon. Bacon probably knew better than anyone what went on at Monticello. In an account of his years as Jefferson’s overseer he briefly mentioned the paternity allegations but denied them. He wrote that instead of Jefferson he saw — and here the name is rubbed out of the original manuscript — someone else leaving Sally’s quarters “many a morning” when Bacon “went up to Monticello very early.” His account is difficult to dismiss.
The likely suspect
Who, then, fathered Eston? Like many careful scholars, Mr. Hyland has a prime suspect: the president’s younger brother, Randolph.
Randolph lived only 20 miles away, was often at Monticello, and was probably there at the right time. There still exists a letter from the president inviting Randolph for a visit that would have taken place exactly nine months before Eston was born. At that time he would have been a 51-year-old widower, a far more likely father than the older and ailing president.
Years later, a former Jefferson slave, Isaac, wrote an account of life in the slave quarters. Of Randolph, he wrote, “Old Master’s brother, Mass Randall, was a mighty simple man: used to come out among black people, play the fiddle and dance half the night” — circumstances that could easily lead to dalliance. Isaac’s account says nothing about Thomas taking an interest in slave women, and he was never known to spend his leisure time with slaves.
It is worth noting that at the time of Eston’s conception Randolph had four sons, ages 18 to 26, who would also have carried the Jefferson Y. There is no record of their presence at Monticello at that time, but given the fraternizing habits of their father, it seems unlikely that they always held themselves aloof from slaves either.
Randolph remarried after Eston’s birth and had several sons, so it is clear that he was potent. His new wife is said to have been a domineering woman who did not often let him go back to Monticello. Perhaps she did not want him near Sally.
Finally, the Eston family tradition was that he was descended from a Jefferson “uncle.” Eston would have been of Jefferson’s children’s generation, all of whom referred to Randolph as “Uncle.” This tradition fits the view that the younger brother rather than Thomas was the father.
There are suspected fathers of the other Hemings children. One of Jefferson’s sisters married a man who died at age 30, leaving two sons, Sam and Peter Carr. Jefferson was very fond of the Carr brothers and treated them like his own children. Peter later admitted that both he and Sam had slept with Sally, adding that “the old gentleman had to bear the blame” for their misbehavior. Jefferson’s oldest grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, believed that Jefferson was so indulgent towards the Carr brothers that he would never have suspected them of fornication.
There are a few other arguments and counterarguments to be made on the paternity question, and Mr. Hyland summarizes them well. It should be clear, however, that the case against Jefferson is hardly air-tight, and one would think that the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, which runs Monticello, would defend the president. Not so. The foundation drew up a committee to look into the allegations and appointed a woman named Dianne Swann-Wright to head it. She is black, and a specialist in slave oral traditions. Not surprisingly, she chose to believe the slave accounts. As one white committee member later complained, Miss Swann-Wright and at least one other member clearly reached their conclusions before they examined the evidence. Guides at Monticello are instructed to say that Jefferson was the father, and the foundation web site says all six of Sally’s known children “are now believed to have been Thomas Jefferson’s.”
Mr. Hyland notes that aside from the fashion for mocking dead white men, the foundation may have another reason for kicking Jefferson’s corpse: money. Promoting Monticello as a secret sex nest is good for business. In the years before the controversy, Monticello was getting about $2 million in contributions every year. After the DNA test, contributions jumped to more than $10 million a year — a sad commentary on how Americans approach their own history.
Journalists and academics took reckless joy in writing Jefferson off as a miscegenating hypocrite. There could be no greater contrast to the exquisite sensitivity with which they protect Martin Luther King, Jr. American newspapers would not mention his record of flagrant plagiarism until the British broke the story, and they have largely kept mum on King’s well-documented philanderings and Communist associations. Some day, whites will be able to look at the past without seeing it through a haze of guilt. Mr. Hyland’s book is an important step in that direction.