Racists in the Book Pile

By Mike Sutton.

History Text on Founding Father’s Fatherhood Found Wanting

Controversy remains and may always remain with regard to the question: Did Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States (1801–1809) and founding father, father children with his slave Sally Hemings? On the basis of all the available evidence it seems that Jefferson as the father is the most likely explanation for the DNA matches between known descendants of both Hemings and Jefferson. At the time of writing Wikipedia (2012) sums it up neatly:

“It is impossible to prove absolutely that no other Jefferson fathered the child. (1) That would be proving a negative, and (2) any male who had the same Y-chromosome as Thomas Jefferson (other descendants of a common male ancestor) could have been the father, provided that this person had relations with Sally Hemings nine months before the birth of Eston Hemings. But, there is no historical evidence that Hemings had more than one partner.”

On the subject of this fascinating controversy, James Loewen ( 2007 p.145), in a most outstanding insightful example of attention to crucial detail nails down a poignant example of subtle racism in a major American history textbook:

‘Instead of analyzing racism, textbooks still subtly exemplify it. Consider a late passage (page 1083!) In Holt American Nation extolling the value of DNA testing: “Since Jefferson had no sons, scientists compared DNA from male-lineage descendants of Jefferson’s paternal grandfather with DNA from descendants of Eston Hemings, Sally Hemings’s youngest son. They found a match.  Since the chances of a match were less than one percent, Jefferson very likely was Eston Hemings’s father.”  Holt fails to notice that the last five words of the paragraph contradict the first five. Jefferson did have at least one son, Eston Hemings.  Changing had no sons to acknowledged no sons would fix the paragraph; surely the awkwardness was overlooked because Jefferson had no white sons, hence no “real” sons.’


Do we need a science of veracity?

References and Further Reading

Loewen, J. W. (2007) Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything your American History Textbook Got Wrong. New York: The New Press.

Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: A Brief Account http://www.monticello.org/site/plantation-and-slavery/thomas-jefferson-and-sally-hemings-brief-account   

Wikipedia (2012) Jefferson-Hemings Controversy:


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