Winifred Bennett, 71, Is Dead; Proposed Jefferson DNA Tests

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Winifred Bennett, an amateur historian whose casual suggestion at the dinner table 10 years ago that DNA testing might establish whether Thomas Jefferson fathered children by his slave Sally Hemings helped rewrite history, unsettle families and raise enduring questions about sex, race and the American past, died on Oct. 7 at her home in Arlington, Va. She was 71.

The cause was kidney failure, said her daughter, Phoebe Bennett.

As a result of Mrs. Bennett’s idea, an international team of scientists embarked on a genetic study of Jefferson and Hemings descendants. Their findings, published in the journal Nature in 1998, indicated that a male of the Jefferson family, most likely Thomas, fathered at least one of Hemings’s children.

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Herbert Barger - 3/13/2009

As assistant to Dr E.A. Foster on the Jefferson-Hemings DNA Study I was able to have MANY e-mails from him and his manner of operation.

I am sorry for Mrs. Bennett's bitterness toward her former friend, Dr Foster, but in my opinion, it was very much warrented. In order to gain "FAME" (her words in an interview with me and my wife,) Dr Foster ran to Nature with the results before allowing her to first publish the results in her Jefferson book. At that time she was financially supporting the program. She asked him, "Gene, is it money that you want.......his reply.........NO, FAME? He got his fame at the public's expense.

Dr Foster, tested a KNOWN carrier of Jefferson DNA, "A Jefferson uncle", Randolph Jefferson, TJ's younger brother, as he was known by TJ's grandchildren and their slave playmates. He did this and DID NOT so inform Nature, as I had highly recommended. At the time of the original article they knew NOTHING of the claims of the Eston Hemings family claims. As I warned him, there was a match BUT this was Randolph NOT Thomas.

Mrs. Bennette, we are sorry to hear of your untimely death and the anger and sorry in your life attributable to Dr Foster. The Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society ( is working dillegently to bring TRUTH to this study and to get Monticello to update their biased and misguided research.

Herb Barger
Founder, Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society