New book disputes claim Jefferson fathered children of slave Hemings

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A committee formed by the Jefferson foundation concluded in 2000 that the weight of evidence suggested Jefferson was most likely the father of Eston, and perhaps the father of all six of Hemings‘ children recorded at Monticello.

The Heritage Society fought back with its own commission, which issued its report in 2001 disputing the conclusions. The 400-page book being released Thursday is the commission’s final product, complete with footnotes and references to rebut the other side’s claims.

Among their evidence:

• Claims that the relationship between Hemings and Jefferson started in Paris are unlikely because she was living with his daughters at their boarding school across the city at the time.

• The “Jefferson family” DNA used in the 1998 test came from descendants of his uncle, which the scholars said means any one of two dozen Jefferson men living in Virginia at the time Eston was conceived could have been the father.

• The 1802 rumors centered on Thomas Woodson, who was said to have been one of Hemings‘ children. But tests of three Woodson descendants failed to show a link to Jefferson family DNA. Also, no documentation supports claims he was Hemings‘ child.

• Oral tradition from Eston Hemings’ family initially said he was not the son of the president, but rather of an “uncle” — which the scholars think is a reference to Randolph Jefferson, the president’s brother, who would have been referred to as “uncle” by Jefferson’s daughters.

Of the 13 scholars on the panel, one, Paul A. Rahe, a history professor at Hillsdale College, dissented from the conclusions.

Among the dozen others, their belief in Jefferson’s parentage ranged from “serious skepticism” to a belief that the paternity argument is “almost certainly false.”

In announcing the book’s release, Mr. Turner said he is challenging scholars on the other side of the issue to debate the matter publicly. The scholars will hold a news conference Thursday at the National Press Club to discuss the book.

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