Jefferson Family Historian Condemns Monticello Report

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

( - A Jefferson family historian said a report by the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation that claims the former president "most likely" fathered six children by slave Sally Hemings is a "very shallow, incomplete, in-house study," in an interview with

"I am extremely distressed at the Foundation's release of this report to coincide with the CBS series and Black History Month, which permits the Madison-Hemings descendants to travel around the country citing this report as proof they are descended from Thomas Jefferson," Herbert Barger, the Jefferson family historian, told

CBS TV is running a special on Sally Hemings on Feb. 13, the day before Valentine's Day, calling her "the love of Jefferson's life."

A panel of nine historians, archaeologists and interpreters put together by the Foundation concluded that a DNA study, combined with multiple strands of currently available documentary and statistical evidence, indicates a "high probability" that Thomas Jefferson fathered Eston Hemings, and that he "most likely" was the father of all six of Sally Hemings children.

In research conducted over a period of a year, the committee, which was made up of staff members of the non-profit foundation, also consulted outside experts and two long-standing advisory committees to the foundation, a committee member told in an earlier interview.

The committee report concluded that the results of a DNA test, conducted by retired pathology professor Eugene Foster of Charlottesville, were valid. Foundation President Daniel P. Jordan, endorsed the committee's findings in a statement.

"Although paternity cannot be established with absolute certainty, our evaluation of the best evidence available suggests the strong likelihood that Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings had a relationship over time that led to the birth of one, and perhaps all, of the known children of Sally Hemings," he said.

"We recognize that honorable people can disagree on this subject, as indeed they have for over 200 years," Jordan added. And, "we stand ready to review any fresh evidence at any time and to reassess our understanding of the matter in light of more complete information."

But Barger, whose wife is Thomas Jefferson's first cousin, six generations removed, is one of a number of historians who say they had important contributions to make to the report but were not consulted.

"Basically I think this report is superficial and unusually one-sided," said Dr. James McMurry, who is part of a growing number of non-professional historians spending thousands of hours examining the facts behind rumors that have dogged the Jefferson family since Thomas Jefferson became president in 1801.

McMurray, an area physician, told that after studying all the oral histories and speaking with DNA experts, "I've never been so close to anything in my life that sounded more like the big lie" than the case being made that Jefferson fathered Hemings' children.

"If a panel of doctors and scientists was convened to determined whether sickle-cell anemia was a health problem for the black population, and the panel only allowed doctors and scientists who believed it was not a problem to present their materials, but excluded doctors and scientists who believed it was a problem, you would be outraged at the bias of such a panel. Yet that is exactly what Monticello has done" in the case of researching the paternity of Sally Hemings' children, said James Manship, an historian who argues that Thomas Jefferson was one of the least likely Jeffersons to have fathered Hemings' children, in an interview with

"Of the 25 Jefferson adult males who could have been the father and who have the same 'Jefferson' DNA, eight of them, including Thomas Jefferson, lived within 20 miles of Sally Hemings." Thomas Jefferson was the second oldest of the 25, making him one of the least likely to father children, Manship said.