Was Thomas Jefferson Really a Liar and a Rapist?

May 8, 2002

by Mary Mostert, Analyst - Banner of Liberty

Over the weekend, the Washington Post reported, documented descendants of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, voted 74 to 6 to “bar the kin of slave Sally Hemings from joining the family organization, ending three years of rancorous and racially charged debate.” Matthew Mackay-Smith, a Jefferson descendant, spoke to loud applause, arguing that it would take "inventions" of history to establish that Jefferson fathered Hemings’s children. Those who disagree, he said, "accept or assert that he forsook his most sacred oath and was a monstrous scoundrel. I find it curious that they wish to claim such a person as an ancestor."

Lucian K. Truscott IV, another Jefferson descendant who favors accepting the Hemings’ descendants into the Jefferson family, challenged Smith and demanded to know “what the monstrous behavior was. Sex with a slave? A relationship with a slave? Sex with an African American? . . . What is monstrous about what we’re saying Mr. Jefferson did?"

The original accusation that Thomas Jefferson had an affair with Sally Hemings, according to the Richmond, Virginia Times Dispatch, grew from seeds of the controversy “sown 200 years ago, in 1802, when scandal-mongering journalist James Callender published a story in the Richmond Recorder claiming that Jefferson was sleeping with a slave named Sally Hemings and had, in fact, fathered her first child, Thomas.”

The charge at the time was an effort to defeat Thomas Jefferson’s bid for the presidency by accusing him of what, at that time, would be considered “monstrous behavior.” Why? Because, of course, that would violate not only the laws of God, but the laws of the State of Virginia. The Times Dispatch reported: “‘By making any connection between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, you are calling him a liar and a criminal, because it was against the law to have sexual relations with slaves,’ said Jefferson descendant Matthew Mackay-Smith.” Besides, Sally Hemings was also Jefferson’s sister-in-law. He inherited the Monticello estate, an its slaves, including Sally, when both his wife and her father, who also was the father of Sally Hemings, died.

When Sally Hemings had her first baby, whom she named Thomas Woodson, she was 17 and 47 year old Thomas Jefferson was George Washington’s Secretary of State. In any time, even in today’s era of rampant moral decay, if a powerful 47 year old politician, got an unmarried 17 year old girl employee pregnant, it would certainly be considered a monstrous event. It might even get him impeached.

What does it say about the moral level of those claiming kinship with Thomas Jefferson if they do not understand that kinship is claimed through a monstrous act - the rape of a teen-aged dependent and employee/slave?

And, that brings us to the apparent reason for this suddenly becoming a news item, back in 1998. Two days before the 1998 Congressional elections, U.S. News and World Report declared there was DNA evidence which gave “proof ... beyond any reasonable doubt that (President Thomas) Jefferson had a long-term sexual relationship with his mulatto slave," Sally Hemings.

Well, actually, the DNA evidence did nothing of the sort, as I pointed out in an article at the time. However, it appeared to be a handy red herring to drag across the Clinton scandal trail, since there was a story circulating that President Bill Clinton, while governor, had fathered a child by a black woman prostitute named Bobbi Ann Williams.

Some folks, the Washington Times for example, thought perhaps the 200 year old campaign accusation by a newspaperman claiming that Jefferson had “fathered Sally Hemings’ six children” was being revived to make a comparison between Clinton and Jefferson and their black mistresses Bobbi Ann Williams and Sally Hemings.

So, here we are, four years later, and the Jefferson Family, those in the genealogical family tree who are descendants of Mary and Martha Jefferson, are still trying to cope with the 200 year old scurrilous political attack and a half-baked “scientific” DNA report that claimed “proof” of a “long term sexual relationship” Thomas Jefferson was supposed to have had with Sally Hemings.

Almost immediately, following the U.S. News and World Report article in 1998, others challenged the DNA report as outlined. Dr. Ken Wallenborn issued a minority report in 1999 which has not been given much publicity.

In his report, Wallenborn gives far more convincing proof that Thomas Jefferson could not have possibly been the father of any of Sally Hemings children, and some very strong clues as to who might have been the father. Wallenborn notes that “only four or possibly five people -Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings, Randolph Jefferson, Jefferson’s oldest grandson, and Peter Carr, and Samuel Carr, his nephews who lived at Monticello - would have known the truth about the paternity question.”

The only one of the five who ever wrote anything on the subject was Thomas Jefferson himself. In 1805 he wrote a “very straight forward denial of all the Federalist charges which included the report of a sexual liaison with Sally Hemings.”

Wallenborn backed that up with information including direct testimony from Randolph Jefferson and Edmund Bacon, who was overseer of Monticello during the years that the last three of Sally Hemings children were born. The only Hemings that DNA evidence indicates a Jefferson connection was Eston, who was born when Sally was 35 and Thomas Jefferson was 65 years old. At the time, according to historian Williard S. Randall, "There were 25 men within 20 miles of Monticello who were all Jeffersons and had the same Y chromosome. Twenty-three of them were younger than Thomas Jefferson.”

Since the DNA evidence is not derived from either Thomas Jefferson, or any of Sally Hemings children, it would also be possible that, in 200 years, there has been an introduction through marriage of the Jefferson chromosome via a male descendent of one of Jefferson’s male relatives.

The leap to the claim that the author of the Declaration of Independence had a bevy of bastard children via a sexual liaison with his wife’s half-sister, who was also a Monticello slave, is made simply because someone wants to make such a leap for whatever purposes. It is not at all verifiable with current data.

And, that is exactly how the Jefferson Family organization has left it. The Richmond Times-Herald concluded with a quote from Nat Ables, who was elected president of the Jefferson association on Sunday. He said the group would welcome the Hemingses if they ever offer conclusive proof that Jefferson is their forefather.

"They don’t meet the criteria with DNA because the technology is not there yet," Ables said. "In 10, 15, 20 years, if the technology is there, we would welcome them with open arms."


Mary Mostert was writing professionally on political issues as a teen-ager in Memphis, Tennessee in the 1940s. In the 1960s, she wrote a weekly column for the Rochester Times Union, a Gannett paper and was one of 52 American women who attended the 17 Nation Disarmament Conference in Geneva, Switzerland to ban testing of nuclear bombs in the atmosphere. She was a licensed building contractor for 29 years, as she raised her six children. She served an 18 month mission as Public Affairs Director for the Africa Area for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1990-91. In the 1990s she wrote a book, Coming Home, Families Can Stop the Unraveling of America, edited the Reagan Monthly Monitor and talk show host Michael Reagan’s Information Interchange for seven years. She now operates the website, Banner of Liberty.

Send the author an E mail at Mostert@ConservativeTruth.org.

For more of Mary's articles, visit her archives.

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