September 2, 2011

Was Thomas Jefferson the Father of Sally Hemings' Children?

It's back. The "it" is the debate over Thomas Jefferson's relationship with Sally Hemings and whether he fathered her children. At the Chronicle of Higher Education's blog Innovations, Peter Wood discusses a new publication, The Jefferson-Hemings Controversy: Report of the Scholars Commission, and its conclusions. The thirteen scholars involved have scoured the evidence, and, after one year of study, twelve conclude that "honorable people can and do disagree" about whether Mr. Jefferson fathered Ms. Hemings' children. "The allegation is by no means proven." The twelve scholarly jurors deliver their verdict: from skepticsm about Mr. Jefferson's paternity to "almost certainly" that he was not the father.

One scholar contributed a minority report. His assessment? "More likely than not."

The Jefferson-Hemings Controversy is available from Carolina Academic Press. Here from CAP's website is the abstract describing the book.

In 2000, the newly formed Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society asked a group of more than a dozen senior scholars from across the country to carefully examine all of the evidence for and against the allegations that Thomas Jefferson fathered one or more children by Sally Hemings, one of his slaves, and to issue a public report. In April 2001, after a year of study, the Scholars Commission issued the most detailed report to date on the issue.

With but a single mild dissent, the views of the distinguished panel ranged from "serious skepticism" to a conviction that the allegation was "almost certainly false." This volume, edited by Scholars Commission Chairman Robert F. Turner, includes the "Final Report"—essentially a summary of arguments and conclusions—as it was released to the press on April 12, 2001. However, several of the statements of individual views—which collectively total several hundred carefully footnoted pages and constitute the bulk of the book—have been updated and expanded to reflect new insights or evidence since the report was initially released.
(Full disclosure: I have published several titles with CAP as a contributor and/or editor).

More about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings at these sites:

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