Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings (Part 3) A Tale of Two Studies

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Robert L. Pyles, MD | Potomac Tea Party

In the efforts of the Progressive Left to destroy the legacy and monumental contributions of Thomas Jefferson, a centerpiece has been the focus on his presumed relationship with Sally Hemings, a slave at Monticello. The charge goes that Jefferson had a long-term relationship with Sally Hemings, and had six children with her. In spite of the fact that there is very little evidence to support this rather dubious hypothesis, the tours at Monticello and the University of Virginia state this as a fact. As it turns out, this is probably not at all true.

The Left Spins Another Yarn to Trash the Founders –

A Tale of Two Studies

 (Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3)  (Appendix I) (Appendix II) 

For more than two hundred years, the story of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings has tantalized historians and the general public alike.  However, in recent years, the issue has taken on a new sense of urgency, as politicians, especially those on the political Left, have tried to resurrect the old rumors.   The intent is to depict Jefferson as a sexually exploitative slave master, in an effort to destroy his reputation and legacy. 

That would be bad enough, but the goal is not simply to rewrite history.  It is to undercut and dismantle everything Jefferson did, with a special bullseye on the Declaration of Independence.
A similar effort is taking place with all of our historic heroes and shrines.  James Madison’s home is under special attack, in an effort to depict our Constitution as an outmoded document written by elderly white slave-owners.  Needless to say, these assaults threaten the very bedrock of our Republic, which, of course, is the whole point.
While the viciousness of these attacks are new, the questions about the relationship (if any) between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings are not.  There have been two, rather extensive and serious studies done on this issue in the past.
The first such study was commissioned by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello, and was published in January 2000. The members were drawn from the staff at Monticello, and included 4 PhD’s, an MD, an architect, and several interpreters.
Relying a great deal on Hemings family oral history and similar information, they concluded that it was highly likely that all six of Sally Hemings’ children were sired by Thomas Jefferson.
To be fair, one could imagine that a study group drawn entirely from the Monticello staff might well have a sense of loyalty and a bias, conscious and otherwise, to confirm what was already felt to be true.
For a more complete analysis of this study, see Appendix I.
However, also in the year 2000, “a small band of Jefferson admirers” doubted the study, and commissioned a completely independent study.  They assembled a group of scholars with truly stunning expertise and reputations. They include heads of departments in history, government, political science, etc., at various prestigious universities.
Analyzing every possible scrap of information, they concluded, in no uncertain terms, that a relationship between Thomas Jefferson was extremely unlikely, and that, indeed, there was virtually no information to support it.
As the reader can tell, I was very impressed with the group, and with the very serious manner in which they analyzed the data, with the quality of their reasoning, and with the inexorable nature of their conclusions.  I could not imagine a more thorough and complete report.
I was also Impressed by the fact that, working completely independently, I came up with exactly the same conclusions, based on exactly the same grounds.
So one would think that this would settle the issue, once and for all. But no!  This second report has been completely ignored by both Monticello and the University of Virginia.
See Appendix II for details.

A Closer Look at “The Official Position and Statement of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation


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This statement by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation certainly makes for interesting reading.  It mainly appears to be an exercise in creative writing.   They seem to have started with the conclusion they wanted to reach, and marshalled “evidence” accordingly.
There is a single lonely fact in the entire report, and even that fact is presented in a biased manner.  The one fact is the DNA report that indicates a genetic match between the Jefferson line and the line of Sally Hemings. 
What is not even mentioned (discussed earlier in this report), is the much more likely possibility that the Jefferson DNA came from the brother of Thomas, Randolph Jefferson, who was known to consort with the female slaves, and Thomas was not.
The second semi-fact presented is the statistical study of Thomas Jefferson possibly being present at Monticello when Sally Hemings got pregnant.  The fatal flaw in this reasoning has also been discussed earlier in this paper. Once again, a similar study on the presence of Randolph Jefferson (even though he lived only twenty miles away and was a frequent visitor at Monticello) has not only not been done, but seems to have been specifically avoided.
The usual argument about why Jefferson freed the children of Sally Hemings and no others is presented as evidence, as many have done.  The much more obvious explanation of Jefferson’s action, as discussed in the above text, is completely ignored.
The entire remainder of the argument presented by the Jefferson Foundation rests on the premise of accepting the mythology and lore of the Hemings family as factual reality. The problem with that is that there is not a shred of objective evidence to support it.
One can certainly understand why the Hemings family would have evolved such a desirable family narrative.  How much more appealing would it be, for example, to think that you are a descendant of one of the Founding Fathers of this country,  rather than his alcoholic brother.
It is also true that a number of successful popular books have been written, attesting to the reality of the Hemings family story. There are also several novels, and at least one movie-“Sally Hemings-an American Love Story”-“Bound by Slavery, Freed by Love”, goes the tag line!
One might even say, given all the literature, the movie, the tours at Monticello and the University of Virginia, that the Hemings-Jefferson story is something of a cottage industry, with many people having a vested interest in maintaining it.
The problem with all of this is that it is probably not true. However, a lot of people don’t want to hear that!  It is certainly clear that the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, for example, does not want to take into account any research or writing that does not agree with their preferred narrative and conclusion.
What is missing from all of this is testimony from the two people who are most likely to know what did and did not happen.
Thomas Jefferson himself chose to never comment publicly on the few accusations that occurred during his lifetime, promulgated mainly by a bitter political enemy, as described above.  His only known comment was made to a few close friends, where he completely denied any involvement with Sally Hemings.  Instead, he said that his only transgression was a serious flirtation with Maria Cosgrove, also described above.
That then leaves our next main witness, Sally Hemings herself.  As far as anyone has ever reported, Sally Hemings never claimed any involvement with Thomas Jefferson.  She seems to have never breathed a word about it to anyone, not even her children. No evidence has ever surfaced-no letters, no gifts, no involvement of Jefferson with her children, no stories of filial devotion, nothing.  In addition, there has been no testimony from the hundreds of people who lived at Monticello, nothing from the endless stream of illustrious guests.  In short, zero from anyone to suggest such a relationship. 
As an example of the kind of thing one might expect to hear, Edmund Bacon, a long time supervisor at Monticello, did report a man, obviously not Thomas Jefferson, coming in and out of Sally Hemings’ bedroom.
Bottom line-is it reasonable to think that Thomas Jefferson (who was constantly in the public eye) and Sally Hemings could have had a thirty-year relationship, that produced six children, and no one, including they themselves, would have ever said a word about it to anyone?
What seems to have happened in the Hemings family is that, having no information from Sally Hemings herself, later generations filled in the void, and essentially “made up” an acceptable and desirable mythology, which everyone came to believe.
Much more likely, as a number of researchers and writers on the other side of the question have asserted, is that Sally Hemings was a very minor figure in the life of Thomas Jefferson.
So now, let us take a look at a few of the most prominent writers and researchers on that side of the issue.  Far and away, the most monumental and authoritative study that has ever been done on this matter was entitled “The Jefferson-Hemings Controversy-Report of the Scholars Commission” (2001 and 2011).   This Report is described in detail in Appendix II.  In that report, thirteen extremely prestigious scholars concluded that Thomas Jefferson did not have a sexual relationship with Sally Hemings and did not have any children with her.
Almost as important as this study itself is the fact that the Thomas Jefferson Foundation completely ignored this really wonderful study, in reaching their own opposite conclusion. Robert F. Turner (of U.Va.), the Chair of this study, himself expressed amazement at the fact that this study had been completely ignored by the Foundation.  
Along the same line, William G. Hyland Jr. wrote a very impressive book entitled “In Defense of Thomas Jefferson-The Sally Hemings Sex Scandal”, in which he came to the same conclusion-namely, that this relationship never happened.  The interesting thing about this presentation is that the author is a trial lawyer.  He sets it up in the form of people on the stand, presenting pro and con evidence, to conclude that Jefferson was innocent of all charges.
There are a number of other books and presentations on this side of the issue, which I won’t go into further, but I hope, at this point, the issue is clear to the reader. 
The final bottom line is that the Thomas Jefferson Foundation has completely ignored the Scholars Study, the Hyland testimony, and all other data and writing attesting to the probable fact that the Thomas Jefferson-Sally Hemings relationship never occurred, and exists only in the fevered imaginations of those who want it to be true. 
One important question, certainly, is WHY.  Why would the Thomas Jefferson Foundation go to such lengths to completely avoid the much more likely conclusion, and embrace the much less likely one?  I am certainly not holding everyone to blame here, because there are probably many, like the students at U. Va., who were well-intentioned, but ill-informed.
However, one motive could certainly be financial (a much more appealing story), but a political motive is much more likely and compelling.
So the real question is-WHO CARES?  So what if some people want to indulge their romantic fantasies, or even make some extra money off of tours and books that are essentially, selling sex?
Certainly, if that were all there was to it, it would not be all that important.  The problem is that there is a very dark side what is going on here.
The unfortunate fact is that this attempt to destroy Thomas Jefferson’s reputation, character, and most important, his achievements, is part of a large and coordinated effort to destroy the very foundations of our country. 
There are similar attacks going on in Williamsburg, at Montpelier (the home of James Madison), and many other historical sites.  Madison, considered to be the primary author of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, is being attacked, as are many of the other Founding Fathers, on the basis of being a slave-owner, completely without any historical context.  Historical statues are being pulled down, our young students are being taught that our country is irretrievably racist, etc.
One particularly unfortunate consequence is that the student tours at the University of Virginia are understandably basing their tour information on the Report of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.  The tours are presenting as fact the false information about Jefferson having children with Sally Hemings, and also misleading information about Jefferson’s attitudes about slavery and Native Americans. There is very little information presented about Jefferson’s major contributions to the freedom and liberty of our country.  As might be expected, many tour-goers are very turned off about attending the University.
For Jefferson and Madison, the aim is to impeach their character in every possible way, the ultimate goal being to destroy the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, to be replaced with a Socialist ideology.  
Those two documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and Bill of Rights, are, without any exaggeration, two of the three most important political documents (the third being the Magna Carta-1215) in man’s struggle for freedom and liberty.  We lose them, we lose the life blood of this country.  
All of this by way of saying, the vindication and protection of Thomas Jefferson is part and parcel of the protection of our Country. As strange as it might seem, the monumental figure of Thomas Jefferson, has one more crucial service to perform for our Nation.  I think he would be pleased!

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views the Virginia Christian Alliance

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