Reader Letters

A Question of Genetics

Dear editor,

Nell Boeschenstein’s excellent article, “Out of the Brainland and Into the Heartland,” was very interesting and “down to earth” reporting on Mr. Jefferson and his Monticello.

However, I wish to point out one glaring and distracting reference: that Thomas Jefferson fathered the Sally Hemings children. What proof does she possess to make such an unfounded statement? I assisted Dr. E.A. Foster with the DNA Study and nowhere was there such proof. Please see the Scholars Commission Report, in which 13 prominent scholars found no proof that this occurred. May we expect a withdrawal of this inappropriate claim by Ms. Boeschenstein? Also may I suggest William Hyland’s book, In Defense of Thomas Jefferson, The Sally Hemings Sex Scandal and Cynthia Burton’s book, Jefferson Vindicated.

Herbert Barger
Jefferson Family Historian

Ms. Boeschenstein replies:

Dear Mr. Barger,

Thank you for your note and your interest. While I understand this is a sensitive subject for some and a story about which the whole truth might never be known, I based my statement on research by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which indicates a high likelihood that Jefferson fathered at least one child with Hemings. The Thomas Jefferson Foundation officially takes a nuanced stance, saying that it “encourages its visitors and patrons, based on what evidence does exist, to make up their own minds as to the true nature of the relationship.” While I perhaps could have been more vague in my choice of language in the essay, doing so might have disguised the fact (and misled my reader) that I have made up my mind on the matter and believe that he did indeed father one child or more with a slave.

All the best,
Nell Boeschenstein
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