DNA & Hemings


A Civil Action: Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings

by William G. Hyland, Jr. and William G. Hyland

Allegations that Thomas Jefferson had an affair and fathered at least one child with slave Sally Hemings have been discussed for two centuries. In this article, published by American Journal of Trial Advocacy, the authors summarize a "mock" trial defense of Jefferson, and conclude that the allegations are unproved by the greater weight of the evidence.




Anatomy of a Mystery

The University of Virginia Magazine

In no other place is the presence of Thomas Jefferson more alive than the University he founded. Whether he fathered slave children with Sally Hemings is an issue that has divided the alumni community. In the Fall 2007 issue of The University of Virginia Magazine, writer Maura Singleton arranges the evidence in "Anatomy of a Mystery." 

Biohistory Analysis Unearths Debate

Richmond Times Dispatch

The curious are applying DNA testing and related lab tools to the study of historical figures without guidelines specific to this kind of analysis--"Biohistory". As medical technology reveals more about the intimate details of our lives, those who would uncover them grapple with increasingly complex ethical issues.


Hair’s Breadth: Locks could be Keys to Jefferson Mystery

Even though Monticello relies on the DNA tests as "proof" that Thomas Jefferson fathered the children of Sally Hemings, there was no DNA of Thomas Jefferson. The DNA used in these tests came from the descendants of Field Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson's uncle. It has been suggested that locks from Jefferson's hair maybe a source of DNA. James Breig, in the Colonial Williamsburg Journal, examines the possibilities of this technology.

Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson, and the Authority of Science

Steve Corneliussen is a writer and media advisor working with businesses in Tidewater Virginia who has addressed the science injected into the paternity debate. The author does not "offer nor hold any opinion whether or not Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson were parents together." He is interested in the basis on which science has been used by those who assert paternity, which involve the DNA molecular findings, and the proximity theory, which is illustrated by a statistical study of Jefferson's presence at Monticello at the time of Sally Hemings conceptions.

Constructing Ethical Guidelines for Biohistory


Should technologies of bioanalysis, such as DNA testing, be used to try to answer questions about historical figures? If so, what social, legal, and scientific standards should be used? Currently there are no professional guidelines specifically addressing biohistorical analysis. Often, investigators fail to pose an investigative question capable of resolution by genetic testing. For example, Eugene Foster's 1998 comparative Y-chromosomal study of the descendants of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings was intended to establish whether Thomas Jefferson had fathered Sally Hemings' children. Yet the study protocol was inappropriate for determining the paternity of Hemings' children--the only possible conclusion was that some of Jefferson and Hemings male-line descendants had common relatives.

Who's Your Daddy?

Richmond Times-Dispatch

Which Jefferson Was the Father? 


The authors of the original DNA report in Nature say the evidence for Thomas Jefferson's paternity is less than conclusive. In responding to letters to Nature, the authors make it clear that the data establish only that Thomas Jefferson was one of several candidates for the paternity of Eston Hemings, Sally Hemings' 5th child. 

Genealogists look inside their cells for clues to their ancestors. 

Ownership and Identity

The Scientist 

The drive to manipulate DNA has changed the economy and the law. Daniel J. Kevles examines the history of the use of DNA.


Paternity Hype Visits Monticello

Washington Post

An Innocent Man

Examines the widely held belief that Thomas Jefferson fathered a child with his slave, Sally Hemings. Provides a history of the politically motivated allegation and presents evidence for an alternate paternity candidate. Discusses Jefferson's health, the DNA study, the Jefferson-Hemings Scholars Commission Report, Paris, Madison Hemings and Jefferson's overseer. To request a higher res copy of this video go to lightandliberty.org

Much of the original DNA coverage demonstrated a remarkable flight from careful and skeptical reporting. All too often the news stories, commentary, and analysis transformed an intriguing but inconclusive scientific finding into a dead certainty. Several journalists went on to turn the DNA results into some sort of referendum on the current state of race relations and presidential politics. 


















A Primer on Jefferson DNA

"Primer on Jefferson DNA" was written by John Works and is featured prominently on Frontline's website. Mr. Works is a direct lineal descendant of Thomas Jefferson, a former Monticello Association president, and a Monticello Association life member.

The DNA tests indicated that any one of two dozen Jeffersons , 8 of whom were within a day's drive of Monticello, could have been the father of one of Sally Heming's children, and there was nothing to indicate it was Thomas. The same Y-chromosome existed in Mr. Jefferson's brother Randolph, who lived 20 miles from Monticello , and in 5 of Randolph 's sons, who were in their teens or 20s when Sally Hemings was having children.

The current members of The Monticello Association were acknowledged by Thomas Jefferson as his offspring (and by their subsequent offspring) as descendants of Thomas Jefferson so no acknowledged descendant of Thomas Jefferson need be tested for a DNA match under currently acknowledged paternity standards. If the acknowledged descendants of Thomas Jefferson submitted to DNA testing the test would be futile because the only genetic test would be of the Y-chromosome. The acknowledged descendants of Thomas Jefferson are all descended through Thomas Jefferson's daughters, not the male line. Thus they would have the Y-chromosome from their male lines, not the same Y-chromosome as any Jefferson . Since all of the descendants of Thomas Jefferson's daughters had Y-chromosomes from male lines other than the Jeffersons , nothing could be more futile than to test the acknowledged descendants of Thomas Jefferson.

If Thomas Jefferson were exhumed for Y chromosome DNA testing it would only confirm that he carried the same Y chromosome as the other 8 Jeffersons in question. The only way this would not be true is if Thomas Jefferson were illegitimate. Besides being futile, it is very unlikely that there would be usable DNA that could be tested after so many years.