The Unknown Source

The Madison Hemings interview with a newspaper reporter occurred about forty-five years after Hemings left Monticello. This interview is important to the paternity believers because it is the only declaration by a Jefferson relative, acquaintance, or slave, that Jefferson fathered children by Sally Hemings. We will continue to examine it in Jefferson Notes.

The interview which was conducted in 1873 by S. F. Wetmore contains two claims by Madison Hemings which are relied on to establish the paternity of the Hemings children. The first is the famous “treaty” negotiated between Jefferson and Sally Hemings. The second is that Jefferson was the father of a child conceived in Paris as well as four children born to Sally Hemings at Monticello.

As far as we know, the “treaty” existed only in the mind of Madison Hemings. Although some writers have speculated that it must have been a tale told by his mother. Hemings offered no source or detail to support claim for its legitimacy. It is possible that it had its origin in the newspaper articles by James Callender, but those were written several years before Madison Hemings was born, and were about a son for whom there is no historical proof that he ever existed. It is possible that the rumors generated by the articles were accepted by Hemings to explain why he had no father.

Of course, the “treaty,” as related by Hemings, was based upon the pregnancy of his mother in Paris. Again, there is nothing to indicate, other than Hemings’ story, that this pregnancy ever occurred. Jefferson was then the well-known ambassador to France, but the pregnancy was never noted in Paris. He returned home on a ship with his two daughters and Sally Hemings, and no comment was ever made that she was pregnant. According to Madison Hemings, the birth occurred at Monticello, but was never recorded, or commented on by anyone at Monticello.

In his interview with Wetmore, Madison Hemings also claimed that Jefferson was his father and the father of his four siblings. He includes this Paris child, which he said later died at Monticello. Again, he gives no source for this information on his paternity, or that of his siblings, nor does he describe any circumstances on which he bases that claim. The Madison Hemings interview is simply devoid of any evidentiary value. 

Those committed to the paternity belief tried to manufacture some support for it by version that the Paris baby had lived and became the ancestor of the Woodson family. This was conclusively discredited by the DNA tests. Even the part of the DNA tests that received such public attention only indicated that someone in the Jefferson male line (about 20 possibles) was the “father” of Sally Hemings’ youngest child, Eston. There are no DNA tests linking the three oldest children of Sally Heming to any Jefferson. 

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