Annette Gordon-Reed : Seeing Past the Slave to Study the Person

Historians in the News

When, 11 years ago, DNA evidence convinced most experts that Thomas Jefferson had fathered children with his slave Sally Hemings, many people talked about what the discovery said about Jefferson. Yet few seemed all that interested in what it said about the young girl he owned.

Annette Gordon-Reed was one of those few. Her 1997 book,"Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy" (University of Virginia Press), examined how historians throughout the decades consistently discounted the rumored relationship, ignoring the oral testimony of black descendants. Since then she has combed legal records, diaries, farm books, letters, wills, old newspapers, archives, relatives' memories and more to rescue not only Sally but the entire Hemings clan from obscurity.

Their story is contained in her book"The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family" (W. W. Norton), to be released on Monday. In nearly 800 pages she follows four generations of Hemingses, starting with their origins in Virginia in the 1700s and continuing through 1826, when Jefferson died and his home, Monticello, was put up for sale.

"I wanted to tell the story of this family in a way not done before" so that readers can"see slave people as individuals," Ms. Gordon-Reed said, sitting on a bench at the slavery exhibit at the New-York Historical Society, where she will be speaking on Oct. 14 with Brent Staples, an editorial writer for The New York Times. Looking down from the balcony, visitors can see glass cabinets holding dozens of busts and statues, including a small one of Jefferson. On another shelf is a bronze cast of Lincoln's face and hands.

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Herbert Barger - 3/13/2009

Annette Gordon-Reed is confusing the public with statements that CANNOT in my opinion, be substantiated and are OUTRIGHT false.
She has NO proof that TJ fathered 7 of Sally's children, yet this book will be used in our students classrooms.

I am referring to the DNA Study and not the other Hemings family information. The Madison Hemings family will NOT DNA test to prove or disprove the claim that Madison and Eston have the SAME father. Eston claims a "Jefferson uncle", meaning Randolph, as TJ's grandchildren and slave playmates knew him by. He was invited to Monticello exactly 9 months prior to the birth of Eston, and Madison claims Thomas. Of course Madison claimed that he was named at Monticello on the date of his birth by Dolley Madison........FALSE. So how are we expected to believe anything regarding this article?

The public is being "CONNED" by politically correct historical revisionists. These books are being introduced into our school systems. I am unable to understand how AGR won the National Book Award in the category of NON-FICTION, when the TJ-Sally "puff" is just that, FICTION.
Read the Scholars Commission Report (13 top scholars, black, white and female, (

The Hemings family was well covered by Judith P. Justus, in "Down from the Mountain, Oral History of the Hemings Family."

I ask that all serious historians and interested Jefferson fans NOT believe, Annette Gordon-Reed, the Monticello stance, Joseph Ellis (patting AGR on the back on the dust cover), Peter Onuf, Jan Lewis, and several late authors who gain their information at the biased Monticello study. They are all "slavery issue" "historians" who use a FALSE and contrived amateur DNA Study to degrade TJ. Dr Foster knew he was testing A KNOWN carrier of the Jefferson DNA BUT he refused my suggestion to so inform Nature. The match could NOT fail because Eston's family always claimed descent from Randolph.

She mentions being scheduled to appear with Brent Staples, NYT. This writer has ALWAYS been writing articles that do NOT give both sides of the story. I have complained to the NYT ombudsman but his inaccurate and confusing articles continue. When the Washington Post was writing several inaccurate articles I asked their ombusdman for assistant and a long exposing article was later written exposing eight of their top reporters (by name), who had been doing biased reporting.

Herb Barger
Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society