- The Washington Times - Friday, May 3, 2002

A record number of descendants of Thomas Jefferson are scheduled to meet this weekend at Monticello to decide whether to let the kin of Jefferson's slave, Sally Hemings, into the family organization.
Some of the Hemingses have claimed for years that the third president and author of the Declaration of Independence is also their founding father and have demanded membership into the the Monticello Association, the Jefferson family group that is open to those who can prove lineal descent.
The association will consider three options: let the Hemingses in, deny them membership or offer them a consolation, such as the creation of their own cemetery at Monticello, the Jeffersons' 6,000-acre ancestral home near Charlottesville. A Jefferson family committee proposed the last option last month, calling for the creation of an umbrella group for the slaves and others who built Monticello and enabled Jefferson to accomplish his great deeds.
Creating a separate cemetery for the descedants of Jefferson's slaves and artisans would require the agreement of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which owns and runs the bulk of the plantation. Jefferson's heirs own only a half-acre family cemetery plot at Monticello.
"I'd say 95 percent of my family agree there's insufficient evidence that Thomas Jefferson sired any of Sally Hemings' children," says John H. Works Jr., a former association president who is leading a campaign to persuade its 700-plus members to vote against admission. "Until the Hemingses come up with better evidence, it is only proper to deny them membership."
More than 70 Jefferson descendants are expected to attend the annual meeting. About 40 met last year.
The Hemingses' claim for admission was bolstered in 1998, after retired pathologist Eugene Foster concluded that Jefferson probably had sired at least one of Hemings' children after analyzing DNA samples from both families.
A 2000 report by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation (formerly the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation) concluded that Jefferson likely fathered Hemings' last child, Eston, as well as her other five children. But the report, prepared by a doctoral candidate, was widely criticized and dismissed for its shoddy scholarship, improbable assumptions and tampered documents.
A 13-member panel of history professors, convened by the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society to examine the Hemingses' evidence, last year concluded that the evidence is not sufficient to support the Hemingses' claim. The panel noted that 25 Jefferson males with similar DNA were in Virginia at the time of Eston's conception and could have sired him.
"The commission agrees unanimously that the allegation is by no means proven, and we find it regrettable that public confusion about the 1998 DNA testing and other evidence has misled many people," the panel said in the summary of its report, which ran more than 500 pages.
Moreover, the scholars with only one dissenter said their conclusions "range from serious skepticism about the charge to a conviction that it is almost certainly false." Their report implicated Jefferson's younger brother, Randolph, or one of Randolph's sons as the likely progenitor of the Hemings family.
Since the report's release, the scholarly consensus has shifted from Jefferson's paternity. A proposed panel debate this year at the American Political Science Association Convention on the Jefferson-Hemings issue was scrapped for lack of pro-Hemings scholars.
Mr. Works, who heads the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society, says the only reason the association would not vote to deny the Hemingses admission would be if members bend to "outside pressure from those who depict us as racists, though this isn't even a black-white issue. It's about being precise."

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