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Thursday, September 01, 2011

Giving Thomas Jefferson the Business: The Sally Hemings Hoax

By Nicholas Stix

December, 2003
Middle American News

In today’s America, a race hoax industry manned by black activists and their white benefactors in the media, politics, and academia produces one outrage after another, with the aim of denigrating white heroes, elevating often obscure blacks, making black racists rich and powerful, and waging race war.

So it is with the smear invented in 1802, and in recent years conscripted anew to sully the name of arguably the most brilliant of all of America's Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826). The Jefferson-Hemings Hoax claims, without any evidence, that the third president, renaissance man, and author of the Declaration of Independence fathered the children of slave Sally Hemings (1773-1835). Hoaxers seek to drag Jefferson through the mud, expropriate his legacy on behalf of Hemings' descendants, and supplant scholarship with Afrocentric propaganda. The perpetrators of the Jefferson-Hemings hoax seek, without firing a single shot, to rob the American people of their patrimony.

In July [2003], the New York Times published articles by Jefferson descendant, Lucian Truscott IV, and Times staffers James Dao and Brent Staples, insisting that “most everyone knows” (Truscott) that Jefferson had fathered some or all of Hemings’ children. Dao alleged that “compelling” DNA evidence existed, while Staples spoke of a “new reality” that vindicated the claims made for generations by “the black oral tradition.”

Truscott, Dao, and Staples all left out of their tales, that there is no evidence that Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings ever were lovers, that based on genetic evidence, any one of at least 25 men on Jefferson’s side of the family may have fathered one or more of Hemings’ children (Jefferson family historian Herbert Barger argues persuasively that Jefferson’s brother, Randolph, was Hemings’ lover.), and that the Jefferson paternity story was born as the fabrication of a disappointed office seeker (James Thomson Callender) with a history of libeling the Founding Fathers. Truscott and Staples resorted instead to insinuating that only a racist would deny the story.

The same race-baiting strategy prevails in academia, where scholar David N. Mayer observes, “…among many proponents of the Jefferson paternity claim there has emerged a truly disturbing McCarthyist-like inquisition that has cast its pall over Jefferson scholarship today. Questioning the validity of the claim has been equated with the denigration of African Americans and the denial of their rightful place in American history.”

Here’s what is known: Thomas Jefferson owned a slave named Sally Hemings. Hemings bore at least six children, but otherwise, little is known about her. During Hemings’ childbearing years, not even within the Jefferson clan, was she known as Thomas Jefferson’s lover.

In 1798, scandal-mongering newspaper editor James T. Callender, was imprisoned by President John Adams, under the Sedition Act. When Jefferson was elected president, and Callender freed, Callender demanded the job of postmaster of Richmond, Va. The demand was also a veiled threat. Although Jefferson had been Callender’s benefactor, he refused to meet the latter’s demand. Callender responded, in 1802, by loosing his libel on the world, claiming that Jefferson had a slave “concubine” named “Sally,” with whom he had fathered a child named “Tom.” (There is no evidence Hemings then had a son named Tom; her son, Thomas Eston, was not born until 1808.) Callender sought unsuccessfully to destroy Jefferson politically. In 1805, Jefferson privately denied the claim, and the myth died off.

After Jefferson’s death, propagandists periodically dug up the Callender hoax.

In 1954, racist Ebony magazine editor, Lerone Bennett Jr. (who later, in Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America, would claim that African seafarers had reached America before Europeans did), revived the hoax in an Ebony story.

In the 1970s, the myth was recycled by white “psychohistorian” Fawn Brodie, who simply projected her whimsical speculations onto the historical record.

The modern turning point in the hoax came with black law professor Annette Gordon-Reed’s 1997 book, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy. Gordon-Reed uncritically accepted certain black oral traditions, heaped abuse on leading Jefferson biographers, and misrepresented the contents of an 1858 letter by Jefferson’s granddaughter, Ellen Randolph Coolidge, to her husband, in which Coolidge had denied the possibility of a Jefferson-Hemings liaison.

Bryan Craig, research librarian at the Jefferson Library, at Monticello, Jefferson’s estate, faxed this reporter a photocopy of the original Coolidge letter.

The letter actually said, "His [Jefferson’s] apartments had no private entrance not perfectly accessible and visible to all the household. No female domestic ever entered his chambers except at hours when he was known not to be there and none could have entered without being exposed to the public gaze."

In Prof. Gordon-Reed’s hands, the second sentence changed, as if by magic, to "No female domestic ever entered his chambers except at hours when he was known not to be in the public gaze."

Gordon-Reed’s changes turned the letter’s meaning on its head, supporting claims that Jefferson could have had secret trysts with Hemings. Either Gordon-Reed committed one of the most dramatic copying errors in the annals of academia, or one of the most egregious acts of academic fraud of the past generation.

Ironically, it was Prof. Gordon-Reed, who politely, promptly, directed me to the Jefferson Library, where I obtained a copy of the original Coolidge letter. After I e-mailed her three times about the discrepancy, Prof. Gordon-Reed finally responded, “As to the discrepancy, there was an error in transcription in my book. It was corrected for future printings.”

In January, 2000, a panel of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation (TJMF, since renamed the Thomas Jefferson Foundation), which owns Jefferson’s Monticello home, released its Monticello report claiming there was a “strong likelihood” that Jefferson had fathered ALL of Hemings’ children.

The “scholars” who prepared the tendentious, 2000 Monticello report, led by Prof. Gordon-Reed’s reported friends, Dianne Swann-Wright and Lucia Stanton, could not be bothered to study the original Coolidge letter, and instead cited the false version published in Gordon-Reed’s book. Likewise, in 2000, Boston PBS station, WGBH, presented a “documentary,” Jefferson’s Blood, which perpetuated the hoax. The Monticello Report still cites the altered Coolidge letter (on p. 6, under "Primary Sources", and the PBS/WGBH web site for Jefferson’s Blood still has the phony version posted, in its entirety,, three years after it was proven to be false, a practice typical of the Jefferson-Hemings hoax industry as a whole.

While in her book, Prof. Gordon-Reed purports not to take a position on whether Jefferson and Hemings were lovers, she takes the lawyer’s tack of “Plan B” made famous by the TV show, The Practice. She attacks all of the most celebrated white biographers of Jefferson, such as Dumas Malone, while accepting at face value dubious black oral traditions. Thus does Prof. Gordon-Reed set up the reader to fall for the hoax, with the false Coolidge letter providing the knockout punch. Supportive reviewers insisted that Gordon-Reed had proved the “possibility” of such an affair, ignoring the fact that unlike fiction, history is about what DID transpire, not what COULD HAVE transpired.

The party of tenured academic hoaxers now insists that the burden of proof rests on those who deny the existence of a Jefferson-Hemings liaison, to prove a negative! And so does the politics of racism enjoy yet another triumph over the truth.

In November, 1998, Nature magazine published an article based on the research of a team of scientists led by Dr. Eugene Foster, with the dishonest title, “Jefferson Fathered Slave’s Last Child.”

Although Foster & Co. could not possibly have confirmed (as opposed to disconfirming) Jefferson’s paternity, they leaped over the evidence to Foster’s desired conclusion: “The simplest and most probable explanations for our molecular findings "are that Thomas Jefferson … was the father of Eston Hemings Jefferson [sic] …”

Foster & Co. studied DNA from male-line descendants of Thomas Jefferson’s paternal uncle, Field Jefferson (who would have the same male Y chromosome as Thomas Jefferson), and from male-line descendants of Hemings’ last son, Eston, determining that one Jefferson male was Eston’s father. But that left at least 25 Jefferson men as candidates!

(An accompanying article in Nature by liberal historians Joseph Ellis and Eric Lander, sought to exploit the hoax, to rescue the authors’ sexually compromised hero, Bill Clinton.)

Descendants of Sally Hemings' son, Madison, refused to permit Madison's son, William, to be exhumed. Such cooperation would have resulted either in Madison's being shown to be the offspring of some male-line Jefferson, or of his being genetically excluded from the Jefferson line.

But male-line descendants of slave Thomas Woodson, whose family oral tradition insists he was born to Jefferson and Hemings, were genetically excluded from the Jefferson line. (The Thomas C. Woodson Family Association has ignored the finding.) Woodson has been assumed by the hoaxers to be the slave whom James T. Callender claimed was Hemings' first child (“Tom”). Either Woodson was not Hemings' son, or Hemings was not monogamous. If the former case is true, James T. Callender was a complete and utter liar. If the latter case is true, black oral traditions and contemporary pseudo-scholarship that have claimed that Hemings carried on an almost 40-year, monogamous love affair with Thomas Jefferson are refuted, and Hemings was not involved with ANY Jefferson male in late 1780s Paris, the time and place the legend insists the affair began.

Unscrupulous journalists and professors immediately insisted that the Foster study had “proven” that Jefferson was the father of Hemings’ children. The spirit of James T. Callender was alive and well.

The other source of claims of Jefferson’s paternity is the “black oral tradition.” However, the hoaxers have ignored Hemings descendants’ mutually contradictory oral traditions, the DNA evidence, the fact that Eston Hemings never claimed to be Jefferson’s child, and scholars’ persuasive argument that the “black oral tradition” that insists on Jefferson’s paternity, is itself the bastard offspring of the Callender hoax.

Racist black professors and journalists, and their elite white allies, now insist that black oral history be given pride of place over documentary evidence. But oral history has always been the stuff of myth, and in the case of the black tradition, often racist myth. Relying on “oral history” would open the door to instant historical rewrites through contemporary black race hoaxes.

Scandalized by the TJMF’s conduct, a group of scholars formed a blue-ribbon Scholars Commission. Excepting one dissent, its members found no evidence to support the Hemings story. Dissenter Paul A. Rahe, determined that although it was for him somewhat likelier than not that Thomas Jefferson fathered Eston Hemings (1808-?), ultimately the case was inconclusive. The Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society was also formed, and in 2001 published the invaluable book, The Jefferson-Hemings Myth: An American Travesty, that is highly critical of the Foster and TJMF reports, and accompanying media and academic circus.

The Jefferson-Hemings story is a case study in the use of scholarly and journalistic fraud and racial intimidation by people for whom the written word functions solely as a weapon in a race war. The Jefferson-Hemings hoaxers seek to steal America’s history, and replace it with a counterfeit version, in order to oppress America’s white majority.

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