Peterson assured his readers in 1960.

A third of a century later, the historian Joseph J. Ellis took the same position. He derided the story as a "piece of scandalous gossip" that had affixed itself to Jefferson's reputation "like a tin can that then rattled through the pages of history." Jefferson historians had no desire to know what might be in the tin can; they just wanted to boot it as far away as possible. "Within the community of Jefferson specialists, there seems to be a clear consensus that the story is almost certainly not true," Ellis wrote in 1996. "After five years mulling over the huge cache of evidence that does exist on the thought and character of the historical Jefferson, I have concluded that the likelihood of a liaison with Sally Hemings is 329

The community of Jefferson specialists found much more to their taste a self-serving story concocted by the Jefferson family to protect his reputation. Two of Jefferson's grandchildren put it about that Jefferson's nephews Peter and Samuel Carr were the fathers of the light-skinned slaves at Monticello. The Carrs were the sons of Jefferson's sister, which could explain why the young slaves so resembled Jefferson.

There the matter rested, so far as scholars were concerned, and might well have solidified into accepted fact, but for the trespass of two outsiders onto the historians' carefully groomed turf. An African American lawyer, Annette

Gordon-Reed, weighed the same evidence available to the historians but came to the opposite conclusion. A Jefferson-Hemings liaison was very likely, she argued, though it could not be proved. That finding led her to a harsher, but not so unreasonable, judgment that "those who are considered Jefferson scholars have never made a serious and objective attempt to get the truth of this 330

matter."_Gordon-Reed had no genetic evidence available to her; she simply interpreted the available historical evidence more skillfully than a generation of professional historians had done.

The second outsider to the issue was Eugene Foster, a pathologist who had recently retired from Tufts University to Charlottesville, Virginia. Foster had no particular interest in Jefferson, but Charlottesville is Jefferson country, and a friend asked him one day if DNA fingerprinting might shed any light on the Hemings issue. Foster decided it wouldn't—forensic DNA analysis can identify individuals and resolve paternity but can't reach back up a genealogical tree because of the shuffling of DNA between generations. Then he learned of work on the Y chromosome, which is passed unchanged from father to son except at its very tips, and realized it could hold the answer.

First Foster needed a sample of Jefferson's Y chromosome. Unfortunately Jefferson had no male descendants, but his paternal uncle Field Jefferson would have carried the same Y chromosome, assuming no illegitimacy in the Jefferson male line. With the help of Herbert Barger, a Jefferson family historian, Foster located 5 male descendants of Field Jefferson and wrote explaining his project and asking for a sample of their blood.

Next, he needed a Y chromosome of the Carr brothers, the leading suspects in the view of historians and the Jefferson family members. He obtained blood from three male-line descendants of the three sons of John Carr, the grandfather of Peter and Samuel.


A Y chromosome analysis of Thomas Jefferson's family performed by Eugene Foster and Chris Tyler-Smith showed that Eston Hemings, a son of the slave Sally Hemings, carried the same Y chromosome as that of Thomas Jefferson's male relatives and was therefore highly likely to have been Jefferson's son. At specific sites on the chromosomes, short DNA sequences are repeated a number of times, as in ATATAT. The number of repeats changes quite often between generations, so can be used to identify different lineages. In this case the repeats at 11 sites have been used to fingerprint the different Y's. A natural shift in repeat numbers at the 9th site has occurred in the rightmost of Field Jefferson's descendants

Eston Hemings had the same 11 repeats as the Field Jefferson descendants, so would have acquired his Y chromosome from a Jefferson family member, who from the historical evidence was almost certainly Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States. The finding strongly supports contemporary rumors that Jefferson had fathered a secret family with Sally Hemings, his slave mistress.

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