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Birth of Eston Hemings Jefferson

Recent genetic testing strongly indicates the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, fathered at least one child with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings. The birth of Eston Hemings, who later added the 'Jefferson' surname to his title, has become an increasingly important historical moment as the United States reassesses its slave-holding past and the impact the practice has had upon the nation and its people. 

Nationally-renowned genealogist Myra Vanderpool Gormley notes that some of the top genealogists in the country have done extensive and meticulous research on the relationship between Jefferson and Hemings, and that their consensus is that Jefferson likely fathered at least one, and possibly all, of Hemings' children. That conclusion gives new meaning to the term "founding father."

For nearly 200 years, Sally Hemings has been the focal point of debate, but little is known about her other than her name, her parents' names, and where she was born and died. No picture of her is known to exist. She was described by Isaac Jefferson, a slave who worked at Monticello, as "very handsome," with "long, straight hair down her back." Isaac Jefferson also said she was "mighty near white." She lived with Thomas Jefferson from about 1789 until his death in 1826.

Hemings' father was John Wayles, a white lawyer and slave trader. Her mother was Elizabeth "Betty" Hemings, of mixed black and white ancestry, who was owned by Wayles. Sally Hemings was the half sister of Martha Wayles Skelton, Thomas Jefferson's wife!

RootsWeb, the Internet's oldest and largest genealogical and family research Website, archives detailed research on the family trees of both Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. The site provides links to articles about the Jefferson-Hemings controversy and to other genealogy-related sites. These include the finding that Jefferson had Jewish relatives; according to an article printed in  of Northern California , Eston Hemings married Julia Ann Isaacs, the daughter of a Jewish man and a woman of black and white ancestry.

The DNA evidence indicating that America's third president had children with his black slave Sally Hemings also shows that Thomas Jefferson had Jewish relatives through his son's marriage. Researchers tracked a Y chromosome that matched direct descendants of both Jefferson and Hemings. The match was confirmed through the descendants of Heming's son Eston.

Stephen Levitt, an amateur geneaologist in Verona, N.J., learned about the marriage between Eston Hemings and Julia Ann Isaacs, the daughter of a Jewish man and a woman of black and white ancestry. Levitt had been reading through "First American Jewish Families," a book of 600 genealogies of Jewish families from 1654 to 1977, when he noticed that a David Isaacs had "married a kid with black ancestry." He then spotted the name Ester Hemmings and, aware of the longtime theories linking Jefferson with Sally Hemings, called Monticello, the Jefferson home in Virginia, and asked to speak with an archivist. He asked her to check the Hemings marriage records and she confirmed that Heming's son, Eston, had married a woman named Julia Ann Isaacs.

Wanting to clarify the difference in spelling, Levitt says he then called Malcolm H. Stern, who had put the genealogies together, who told him that there were typographical errors in the book and Eston Hemings had married the daughter of a Jewish man.

The Jewish Bulletin

Negro President
Jefferson and the Slave Power
Houghton Mifflin, 2003 

Thomas Jefferson was taunted by some of his harshest critics as being the "Negro President" when he was elected to the Presidency in 1800 by a narrow electoral margin after losing the popular vote to John Adams.

Jefferson won the Presidency because the Southern slaveholder states at that time received extra representation in the government for the slaves they owned. Slaves could not vote, of course, but each was counted as three-fifths of a person in the census that determined proportionate representation in the Electoral College. This "Three-Fifths Clause" made the difference in the election that made Jefferson the President.

Historian Garry Wills examines this forgotten wrinkle in American history and casts a new and unflattering light on Jefferson's role in American slavery and its eventual abolition. 

"Jefferson belonged to that large class of southerners -- including the best of them, men like Washington and Madison -- who knew that slavery was evil, but felt they could not cut back on the evil without cutting the ground out from under them. They knew, as well, that they would lose their influence over other southerners if they went against the system off which they lived."

At the same time, he calls attention to Timothy Pickering, a key political figure of Jefferson's time who served in many government roles from postmaster general to secretary of war and who relentlessly called the intolerable nature slavery into question.

As Secretary of State under John Adams, Pickering helped secure U.S. aid for the slave revolt in Saint Domingue (Haiti), where for the first time in history slaves overthrew their masters and set up their own government.  When Jefferson was elected, support for the new government was withdrawn.



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