Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings

Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings

An American Controversy

Book - 1997
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When Annette Gordon-Reed's groundbreaking study was first published, rumors of Thomas Jefferson's sexual involvement with his slave Sally Hemings had circulated for two centuries. Among all aspects of Jefferson's renowned life, it was perhaps the most hotly contested topic. The publication of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings intensified this debate by identifying glaring inconsistencies in many noted scholars' evaluations of the existing evidence. In this study, Gordon-Reed assembles a fascinating and convincing argument: not that the alleged thirty-eight-year liaison necessarily took place but rather that the evidence for its taking place has been denied a fair hearing.

Friends of Jefferson sought to debunk the Hemings story as early as 1800, and most subsequent historians and biographers followed suit, finding the affair unthinkable based upon their view of Jefferson's life, character, and beliefs. Gordon-Reed responds to these critics by pointing out numerous errors and prejudices in their writings, ranging from inaccurate citations, to impossible time lines, to virtual exclusions of evidence--especially evidence concerning the Hemings family. She demonstrates how these scholars may have been misguided by their own biases and may even have tailored evidence to serve and preserve their opinions of Jefferson. This updated edition of the book also includes an afterword in which the author comments on the DNA study that provided further evidence of a Jefferson and Hemings liaison.00

Possessing both a layperson's unfettered curiosity and a lawyer's logical mind, Annette Gordon-Reed writes with a style and compassion that are irresistible. Each chapter revolves around a key figure in the Hemings drama, and the resulting portraits are engrossing and very personal. Gordon-Reed also brings a keen intuitive sense of the psychological complexities of human relationships--relationships that, in the real world, often develop regardless of status or race. The most compelling element of all, however, is her extensive and careful research, which often allows the evidence to speak for itself. Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy is the definitive look at a centuries-old question that should fascinate general readers and historians alike.

Publisher: Charlottesville [Va.] : University Press of Virginia, 1997
ISBN: 9780813916989
Branch Call Number: 920 Go
Description: xx, 288 pages ; 25 cm


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Gordon-Reed examines the evidence related to Jefferson and Hemings.

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Oct 22, 2017

This book is not about DNA. It is about historiography and its relation to the Jefferson-
Hemings controversy.
The author’s thesis is that historian’s discounted black narratives and elevated white one’s. The case is not only compelling it is obvious. For anyone to argue otherwise I suggest one read Dumas Malone’s Appendices on the subject. Written in 1970 it is an appalling ‘analysis’ of the evidence clouded in so much racial stereotyping to call to question Malone’s standing for anything he had to say re TJ.
We can then jump to our current expert in TJ, J Ellis, and wonder in pre DNA era how he could go along w DM’s weak conclusion.
One did not need the science of DNA to accept the possibility of a Jefferson/Hemings relationship, one only needed an honest assessment of the historical record. The whole affair is sordid, not in that there was an interracial relationship, but for what it says about the relationship between historian, the subject, and the truth. If one finds this a strong indictment, ask yourself how Malone could ignore the fact that a way to establish plausible paternity would be to ask if Jefferson and Hemings were together within range of conception and dates of birth. In the case of each child they were. Were the Carr men with Sally? Certainly not in Paris when the first child was conceived. What were the names of Hemings children? Opps they all appear in the Jefferson genealogy. Malone knew these facts.
And to the scoence deniers, how did the Carr myth work out? And then we know that Malone lied. He claims that TJ's treatment of the Hemings children was in line with his treatment of others. It was not, and he knew this. And if Ellis was worth his salt as a historian, he certainly does as well. For E the Carr myth was too big to go against and risk his reputation by sullying the great man of marble. As for the science deniers, how did the Carr myth workout? As for the “primarary documents” those would be TJ Farm book, and the Hemmings & Issac Jefferson statements. Those and DNA EVIDENCE are clear. TJ & SH had a 30 plus year relationship in which 6 children were concieved.

Jun 09, 2017

The Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings controversy is a complicated and oftentimes confused situation. What is often ignored is the fact DNA testing was not completely accurate in the fact Thomas Jefferson did not have a son. A DNA test is not completely accurate unless there is a Y chromosome from a male heir. Unfortunately, Jefferson did not have a male descendant, so a DNA sample from Thomas Jefferson's line was not used. Instead, Thomas Jefferson's uncle's DNA was used. Thus, there is no DNA evidence to prove this controversy true regarding Thomas Jefferson. (Although, there is a possibility of his younger brother.) Furthermore, many modern historians look over the influence James T. Callender played in publishing this lie about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. The primary sources reveal how Callender hoped to slander Thomas Jefferson's character by creating this destructive tale. Thankfully, the men in Jefferson's time understood what a scrupulous character James T. Callender was and defended Jefferson. All of the above, does not even touch on the fact that the 1998 announcement of this controversy is strikingly paralleled with the impeachment of Bill Clinton due to his immoral, sexual acts. The facts are now showing that historian Joseph Ellis wrote the article about Thomas Jefferson to help alleviate the punishment and public criticism away from Bill Clinton. For more information, I highly recommend The Jefferson Lies by David Barton. This book uses primary sources to prove that many of the modern myths heard about Jefferson are actually false. To truly understand and study the life of Thomas Jefferson it is vital to research the primary documents. The Jefferson Lies will help introduce readers to the primary documents while also presenting some helpful tools and skills every American should possess when studying American History.

Jun 06, 2017

Somewhat dated, because DNA evidence has resolved the issue. However, the author's efforts show the racism and/or lack of scholarship on the part of many historians in addressing the question of Jefferson's liaison with Sally Hemings. She very carefully lays out the facts, demolishes most of the theories, and prosecutes her case in lawyerly fashion.

Wow! Based on the June 9 comment, I guess I should have been more specific in my earlier review. The book I read was the result of an exhaustive search of many original sources. It reviewed Callender's background (of course), as well as that of many of Jefferson's contemporaries, his family, and also discussed many of the biographers of Jefferson. David Barton, an ORU religion grad, has no standing in the history community.

My recommendation is to read the book if you have an interest in the topic.


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