1873 Reply of Waverly Watchman editor, John A. Jones to Life Among the Lowly
John A. Jones' editorial in the Waverly Watchman,March 18, 1873 is excerpted here from "A Note on Evidence: The Personal History of Madison Hemings," by Dumas Malone and Steven H. Hochman, with permission from The Journal of Southern History, XLI, no. 4 (November 1975): 523-28.
The editor of the " Republican" having nothing of a weighty character on his hands, has commenced the publication of a series of articles entitled, " Life Among the Lowly," or the Lives and Adventures of Illegitimate Sons of Illustrious Sires, the first installment of which appears in the last issue of that paper. Madison Hemings heads the list, claiming to be the natural son of Thomas Jefferson by an illegitimate daughter of John Wa[y]les, the father-in-law of Jefferson.
Hemings, or rather Wetmore, gives a very truthful account of the public and private life of the Jefferson family; but this no doubt, was condensed from one of the numerous lives of Jefferson which can be found in any well-regulated family library. We have no doubt but there are at least fifty negroes in this county who lay claim to illustrious parentage. This is a well known peculiarity of the colored race. The children of Jefferson and Madison, Calhoun and Clay far out-number Washington's body servants when Barnum was in the height of his prosperity. They are not to be blamed for making these assertions. It sounds much better for the mother to tell her offspring that "master" is their father than to acknowledge to them that some field hand, without a name, had raised her to the dignity of a mother. They want the world to think they are particular in their liasons with the sterner sex, whether the truth will bear them out or not. This is a well-known fact to those who have been reared in those States where slavery existed, and with them, no attention whatever, is paid to these rumors.--If they were, the "master" would have to bear the odium of all the licentious practices that are developed on the plantation. The fact that Hemings claims to be the natural son of Jefferson does not convince the world of its truthfulness. He is not supposed to be a competent witness in his own behalf. He was no doubt) present at the time of accouch[e]ment, but his extreme youth would prevent him from knowing all the facts connected with that important event.--Jefferson was over 62 years of age when Hemings appeared upon the sacred soil of Virginia, if we are to believe his biographer. The extreme age of Jefferson, coupled with his natural frigidity of constitution causes a doubt in our mind whether or not Hemings has been correctly informed about the author of his being. Solomon, (if we have been correctly informed) said, when he took his two hundredth wife, "it's a wise child that knows its own father."--The same is as true to-day as it was in days of Solomon. At all events, Jefferson is not here to put in a disclaimer, and we think it rather mean to take this advantage of the author of the Declaration of Independence.
A perusal of Hemings' autobiography reminds us of the pedigree printed on the numerous stud- horse bills that can be seen posted around during the Spring season No matter how scrubby the stock or whether the horse has any known pedigree, the "Horse Owner" furnishes a full and complete pedigree of every celebrated horse in the country. One of these is copied, and the scrawniest "plug" rejoices in a descent that would put Sir Archy to shame. The horse is not expected to know what is claimed for him. But we have often thought if one of them could read and would happen to come across his pedigree, tacked conspicuously at a prominent cross-road, he would blush to the tips of his ears at the mendacity of his owner.