Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings

In an otherwise excellent book about the birth of the US Navy titled Six Frigates, Ian Toll made a parenthetical comment about DNA testing definitively proving that Thomas Jefferson sired children by Sally Hemmings.  This is the sort of comment that is a real pet peeve of mine.  Though DNA testing shows that a male on the Jefferson line was the father of Hemmings’s children, it is impossible to ascertain with 100% confidence who the father is.  Speculative evidence certainly suggests that Jefferson very likely could have been the father, and that is more or less the conclusion of this Thomas Jefferson Foundation report, though that was subsequently rebutted by other sources.

Anyone remotely familiar with my writing knows that I am no fan of Thomas Jefferson.  It is quite possible that Jefferson indeed was the father of Sally Hemmings’s children.  It is not, however, something we can definitively know one way or the other.  Short of exhuming the corpse of Thomas Jefferson, we can never know.  So when writers who should know better make these sort of sweeping assertions it drives me insane.

Published in: on November 16, 2010 at 4:15 pm  Comments Off on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings