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Wednesday, November 4, 1998
Houston, Texas
Volume 64, Issue 52

Local Election Results

National Election Results

About the Cougar

Thomas Jefferson likely fathered slave's child, test shows

By Margaret Chipowsky
Cavalier Daily (U. Virginia) 

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (U-WIRE) -- According to a report released Saturday, scientists have found it highly probable that President Thomas Jefferson fathered at least one child by Sally Hemings, one of his mulatto slaves.

Long-standing rumors have circulated around the University of Virginia founder and statesman, claiming he had a long-term relationship with Hemings while she was his slave. Several black families claim to be descended from Jefferson.

Retired UVa. pathology Professor Eugene A. Foster led a team that conducted DNA research in an attempt to investigate these claims.

Foster tested the Y-chromosome DNA -- the chromosome that determines a person's gender -- from five male-line descendants of Thomas Jefferson's paternal uncle, Field Jefferson. He compared his findings with DNA from male-line descendants of two of Hemings' children, Thomas Woodson and Eston Hemings Jefferson.

Descendants of Woodson claim to be descended from Jefferson. Eston Hemings adopted the surname Jefferson and moved into white society when he was freed from Monticello after Jefferson's death.

Foster's findings show that Woodson was not Jefferson's son, but that Eston Hemings was almost certainly his child.

"There's no way to put a number on it ... we think our data is at least 100 times more likely to indicate Thomas Jefferson was the father than just anybody," Foster said at a press conference this week.

The announcement of the study's findings produced a swift reaction from the protectors of Jefferson's estate.

"This is a consequential study we take very seriously," said Daniel P. Jordan, president o the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, a private, nonprofit organization that owns and operates Monticello.

Jefferson is "still the author of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom," Jordan said. "I believe (the American people) realize heroes are human beings."

Some historians, however, have questioned the validity of the findings. Foster admitted there is no way to prove definitively whether Eston Hemings really was Jefferson's child, because Jefferson's own paternity is not certain.

"It is conceivable that someone other than Peter Jefferson was (Thomas Jefferson's) father," Foster said.

If the findings are indeed valid, Monticello officials said there could be a change in the national perception of Jefferson, but they did not seem overly concerned.

"I think individuals throughout the country will re-assess their views of Jefferson," said Lucia B. Stanton, Shannon senior research assistant at Monticello's International Center for Jefferson Studies.

Stanton said she thought Jefferson would continue to "fascinate, inspire and perplex us."

Jordan said the discovery will "present a more rounded view" of Jefferson.

"Some people think we're uptight with (rumors about Jefferson's affair)," he said. "We're not at all. We deal with it every single day."


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