Friday, April 10, 2009

Giving Thomas Jefferson the Business: The Sally Hemings Hoax

By Nicholas Stix

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, 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.

Originally published in the December, 2003, Middle American News.


Vanishing American said...

Thanks for posting this. I somehow missed it when it originally appeared.

This persistent slander is a personal issue for me as a Jefferson descendant, but even if I were not, I think it would bother me greatly because it's so transparently an attempt to discredit a Founding Father, and by proxy White America. As you mentioned in the piece, the Clinton defenders resurrected this canard back during the Clinton scandals in an attempt to say that 'everybody has skeletons in their closet', and I remember that during that time, some Clintonista said 'great men have great vices' or something along those lines.

Anyway, you do a thorough job of dissecting the falsehoods, but it seems as if the people who have bought this myth, along with those who spread it for political reasons, do not care about facts. It may be that this myth is so firmly ensconced in the public consciousness that it is becoming one of those things that ''everybody knows'', even though it's likely untrue.

lormarie said...

What really offends me about this article is the implication that Sally was a willing participant via the use of the term "lover." Would anyone suggest that a sexually abused Jewish woman was the lover of a nazi guard (during WW II)? I doubt it. It's equally appalling to believe that a female slave would consider her owner or any member of his family her lover.

Back to the point: You cannot possibly believe that Jefferson never sexually abused his slaves. At least not with 100% certainty. I can't even say that my personal view of Jefferson is 100% accurate. That being he was nothing more than a slave-owning pedophile. We are ALL going by assumptions based on personal biases, not facts.

Nicholas said...

Vanishing American:

"Anyway, you do a thorough job of dissecting the falsehoods, but it seems as if the people who have bought this myth, along with those who spread it for political reasons, do not care about facts."


"It may be that this myth is so firmly ensconced in the public consciousness that it is becoming one of those things that ''everybody knows'', even though it's likely untrue."

And that was exactly their purpose. Those who are indifferent or hostile towards the facts (see the next commenter) wanted to create an environment in which people who DO care about facts would be bamboozled into believing the former's fabrications.

Thanks for writing.

lormarie said...

Those who are indifferent or hostile towards the facts--Stix

I can't be hostile towards the facts simply because I can't be certain what Jefferson did over 200years ago. He's dead, she's dead so I really don't care. All I can say is if a man took it upon himself to own human beings, I won't put anything passed him...whether rape, beatings, or even killing. Who knows, he could have treated his slaves with respect but that's wishful thinking.

If it were true that he fathered Hemmings's children, would he then cease to be a hero in your mind?

As for his black descendants, I see no logical reason why they would seek official recognition. After all, that would be legitimizing what most believe to be a crime...(rape).

Anonymous said...

Thomas Jeferson is a fascinating character in American history, as Ellis shows in his book American Sphinx.
Here was a man who admired the common man, yet despiesed Hamilton and Jackson for their common roots; who protested slavery, yet owned slaves; who championed small government, yet expanded the U.S., and it's national debt more than any president before him or for years after. He was a utopian, a peaceful man who encouraged James Madison to "destroy" Alenader Hamilton politically, financially and personally, while Jefferson himself smiled to Hamilton's face. (Not such a bad thing as it seems, in fact quite smart. Hamilton was a combat veteran and skilled duelist. Attacking Hamilton face to face would be the equivilent of the weakest kid in the class challanging the toughest to a fight.) He told Washington he shared his distatste for factions (political parties) while working hard to create the first modern political party in history. In short Jefferson gave lofty vision to ourhighest and best ideals, while falling far short of the reality of any of them.

Did he have children with Sally Hemings?
I don't know, neither do you or any of the people reading this. Was he capable of doing so?
I am certain he was.

Does it matter?
I think not in the least. Either way Jefferson was the same perfect dreamer of the American imagination; and the same frail and fallible human being of reality

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid the only person at odds with the facts in this is you:

"Only four recorded visits to Monticello (in September 1802, September 1805, May 1808, and sometime in 1814) are known, none related to Sally Hemings's conceptions. In August 1807, a probable conception time for Eston Hemings, Thomas Jefferson wrote his brother that "we shall be happy to see you also" at Monticello, where Randolph's twin sister, Anna Marks, was then visiting. A search of visitors' accounts, memorandum books, and Jefferson's published and unpublished correspondence provided no indication that Randolph did, in fact, come at this time. A similar search was made of the probable conception time for Madison Hemings, without finding reference to a Randolph Jefferson visit."

Must be those "black racists" at it again. Funny how you say that, yet a ctrl+f for "black" of the front page of your blog yields 33 hits!

Anonymous said...

Wow does it bother white america that much that black american's can claim decendancy from the founder of the Declaration of Independence... The concept that the children of a slave do not have rights to their lineage is outdated as slavery itself.. and yes many "slave" women did take the place as the master's "lover" .. this wasnt aushwitz... come on people get with the program!!!!!1

Eileen Smyth (NJ) said...

I would be very interested in seeing the original Coolidge letter. Since it was faxed to you, would you please scan, post and link to it, along with the Gordon-Reed email?

(I must admit, I wonder that anyone even has to request this, since your doing so at the beginning would have been the most natural, logical, journalistic thing to do for a reporter who is working so hard to "set the record straight.")

Nicholas said...

To Eileen Smyth:

You’re kidding, right? The research librarian at the Jefferson Library faxed me the letter over six years ago. Since then, I’ve published over 300 articles. Do you think that I have nothing better to do, than keep material from over six years and 300-odd articles ago, that I used for a print magazine article ready to hand, in case Her Royal Highness, Queen Eileen Smyth, would demand to see it?

It would take me days to search for it. Are you going to pay me for my time? If so, send $500 via my PayPal button. In advance.

If you want to see the letter, get off your high horse, Queen Eileen, and do what I did. Contact the Jefferson Library! That would be “the most natural, logical” thing to do.

This isn’t a monarchy, or the welfare office.

Jacob Israel said...

It's important to understand that the original LIAR was Dianne Swann-Wright.

I will attempt to post more details here, but if all of it won't post, please see:

Jacob Israel said...

On October 25, 1858, Thomas Jefferson's granddaughter, Ellen Randolph Coolidge, wrote a letter to her husband Joseph in which she argued that the charge that Jefferson was sexually involved with Sally Hemings was false. This is a photocopy of one portion of that letter:

The handwritten letter, a photocopy of which is included in Appendix E of the TJMF Report, is not particularly difficult to read. The following is the passage in question, with the mistranscribed portion in bold face and underlined:

"His 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 the transcription of this letter that appears in Appendix E of Professor Annette Gordon-Reed's book, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings (see page 259), this key sentence was altered in such a way as to totally reverse the clear meaning of the original:

"No female domestic ever entered his chambers except at hours when he was known not to be in the public gaze."

N.B. This error in transcription could not be ascribed to a simple omission of words, since "to the public gaze" was changed to "in the public gaze." Without the change of "to" into "in," the altered sentence would have contained a grammatical error.

The Scholars Commission notes that it has no information about how or why these errors occurred, but it is clear that they have had an unfortunate impact upon the scholarship of even the leading historian at Monticello. While Appendix E to the TJMF Report included both versions, Lucia Stanton (former Director of Research at Monticello and currently Shannon Senior Research Historian at Monticello's International Center for Jefferson Studies) did not notice the error and indeed quoted the inaccurate Gordon-Reed version of this key sentence in response to questions from the Scholars Commission.

As one member of the Scholars Commission remarked: "Someone once said that if you gave an infinite number of monkeys an infinite number of typewriters and an infinite amount of time, they would recreate all of the great literary works of history (or something like that). But the odds of a single human being 'accidentally' changing 13 words in a single sentence in a manner that just happened to totally reverse its meaning, and just happening to have made the 'errors' in the most critical sentence of the document, strike me as being high."

The LIAR here is Dianne Swann-Wright, who has YET to correct her "error" nor to apologize for this LIE which smeared not just the memory of this great man, but in essence the entire nation.

Jacob Israel said...

"Back to the point: You cannot possibly believe that Jefferson never sexually abused his slaves. At least not with 100% certainty. I can't even say that my personal view of Jefferson is 100% accurate"

Yes, I can believe that, and I can believe it with 100% certainty, and my view of Mr. Jefferson is 100% accurate. I was a next door neighbor to Monticello while in his university, and visited there regularly where I read many of his writings which now seem to have disappeared. A visit from there to the slave quarters was very easy, and you would see that it would not be at all convenient to sexually abuse slaves there. The ONLY person in all of history to actually make that claim was the LIAR Callendar whose stories were never confirmed by anyone else at the household, and were denied in writing by Mr. Jefferson in hundreds of ways.

Furthermore, after Thomas Woodson et. al. demanded that his grave be desecrated in order to prove their "verbal history" that they are were his descendants and DNA tests proved they were NOT, they then decided to run wiht the "verbal history". What chutzpah.

His own granddaughter confirmed what she saw, which is that it would be impossible for Hemmings to be in his room without the household knowing it, AND that she never believed he ever had sex with her (or any other slave). It was this KEY witness whose WRITTEN account was altered by LIAR Dianne Swann-Wright to DECEIVE the whole world, including YOU, into believing this provable, proven, discredited (not to mention racist) LIE.

Kim in TX said...

"It may be that this myth is so firmly ensconced in the public consciousness that it is becoming one of those things that ''everybody knows'', even though it's likely untrue."

Great point. But that's how the far left operates. A great example is Obama. Our leftist media and propaganda machine have been hard at work for years preparing everything we are to believe about the one who now sits in the White House.

And to Nicholas, keep chipping away at this. And while you do, know there are many of us across this great nation who would love to see this extraordinary Patriot's name cleared. People wanting to make allegations should be prepared to have bodies exhumed. Otherwise, let them go yap somewhere else.

So keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

Let’s not forget that Sally was Jefferson’s late wife’s half-sister, shall we. She was not the “coal-black Sally” of contemporary Federalist doggerel but 3/4 white. Her father, Jefferson’s father-in-law, John Wayles, openly cohabitated with Sally’s mother, and had six children with her, much to the horror of the Virginia gentry. So did his neighbor Thomas Randolph, whom Jefferson idolized as a young man.

To know definitively the content of a person’s heart based on what papers of theirs and what recollections of them that chance has allowed to come down to us is not a realistic expectation. Let us not forget that all human beings are frail and imperfect, and often driven by passions that they do not themselves understand.

Racial antipathy is the most emotional and embarrassing scandal of the American civic religion. Its intractability all but voids the self-congratulatory delusion that America is somehow the new Zion with a holy destiny to reform the world in its image. But blaming individual blacks or whites for the behavior their culture expects of them is a simplistic reaction that robs both of their humanity. In truth, nothing more dramatic than flawed human nature is revealed in our shared racist past and present. No wonder some of us wish it were all a simple morality play with identifiably “bad” actors to hiss and “good” actors to cheer.