The Sally Hemings Fiction
The release in November, 1998, of DNA evidence tying one of Sally Hemings’ children to a Jefferson father, and the subsequent report by the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation has led to a widespread perception both within the academic community and among the public that science has conclusively proven that Thomas Jefferson fathered one or more children by his slave, Sally Hemings.
The Jefferson-Hemings Scholars Commission, consisting of thirteen distinguished academics from across the nation, independently examined all of the evidence for and against Thomas Jefferson’s paternity of one or more of Sally Hemings’ children. Working without compensation at the request of the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society, the scholars concluded 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.” With but a single mild dissent their views “ranged from serious skepticism about the charge to a conviction that it is almost certainly untrue.” A summary of the scholars’ findings is below. Prof. Robert F. Turner, the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society and the Carolina Academic Press have granted permission to download, copy and distribute this summary with proper attribution and no alterations.
Perhaps the most authoritative refutation of the Sally Hemings fiction comes from President Jefferson himself. With his own hand in a July 1, 1805 letter to Secretary of the Navy, Robert Smith, Thomas Jefferson wrote; “You will percieve that I plead guilty to one of their charges that when young & single I offered love to a handsome lady [Mrs. Walker]. I acknolege its
incorrectness: it is the only one founded in truth among all their allegations against me.” Among the allegations, “not founded in truth” was the Hemings allegation. The opposition Federalist party vigorously repeated the politically-motivated Sally accusation at every opportunity during and following the 1804 election campaign to no avail. Jefferson was re-elected by a landslide.