African American Seeks to Prove A Genetic Link to James Madison

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Bettye Kearse stepped inside the mansion at Montpelier, former president James Madison's Virginia estate, to find the walls stripped bare. Rooms once opulently adorned have been deconstructed by archaeologists to reveal the slatted wooden frame that held together the home of one of the nation's premier architects.

Kearse, 64, a Massachusetts pediatrician, says she hopes to prove something the mansion's walls have so far kept hidden: that she, an African American, is a direct descendant of the man known as the father of the Constitution.

Kearse was one of dozens in attendance this weekend at the Montpelier Slave Descendants Reunion, where African Americans thought to have ties to the Orange County estate gathered to swap stories, learn about the home and submit DNA samples to help trace their roots. The estate is about a year away from completion of a $24 million restoration.

Madison had no children with his wife, Dolley, but Kearse says she has long believed her family's oral tradition, which holds that Madison fathered a child named Jim with a slave cook named Coreen, Kearse's great-great-great-great-grandmother. To prove it, Kearse has been working with Bruce Jackson, co-director of the Roots Project, which helps African Americans trace their genetic histories.

The plan is to compare the Y chromosomes -- which are identical across generations -- of male descendants in Madison's family to the Y chromosomes of some of Kearse's male cousins. Jackson and Kearse have been searching for Madison relatives in England but recently located a descendant of one of Madison's brothers in North Carolina.

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Jeff Schneider - 6/15/2007

There is a comment that Madison had black children in Theodore Parker's speech, "An Anti-Slavery Address" which is in the old collection The Rights of Man in America edited by FB Sanborn. See page 160. I have asked the experts in Virginia about that and only got quizzical looks. It will be interesting if Dr. Kearse can prove her case. Just how frail and timid was the "Father of the Constitution?"

Jeff Schneider

Ameil Bruce - 6/12/2007

I read the post about slave descendants going to a reunion of sorts at the James Madison Plantation/Mansion and was aghast as to how they saw this as an honor, to celebrate the enslavement of their foreparents because it may have given them whiteness per the raping of their foremothers.

Their is no honorable aspect of that, or of slavery, especially if one is, or descendant from such barbarity.

The insult was compounded when it was noted many wanted to do DNA sampling to see if they had Madison blood. That too is a matter that should be accepted as a matter of the social structure of the time when peoples thinking were less informed, but in the here and now, that is not something to pursue with pride.


It's simple. Such attitude, and action say if I can prove I have white blood ( their really is no such thing), then I am bette than if I just have Black/Afrimerican blood.

That's sad.