Statement on the TJF Research Committee Report on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings
January 26, 2000
Daniel P. Jordan, Ph.D., President
Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc.
When the DNA study was released on the evening of October 31, 1998, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation (TJF) responded immediately. Within twenty-four hours, we held a press conference with Dr. Eugene Foster (principal author of the study), posted a statement on our web site, and instructed our interpreters to initiate conversations with our visitors about the study. The Foundation also pledged that it would evaluate the scientific results -- and all other relevant evidence -- in a systematic and comprehensive way, and that we would, in the Jeffersonian tradition, "follow truth wherever it may lead."
Shortly thereafter, I appointed a staff research committee that included four Ph.D.'s (one with advanced study in genetics) and an M.D. The mandate was straightforward: (1) to gather and assess critically all relevant evidence about the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings; (2) to consult with outside experts as well as with two long-standing TJF advisory committees, comprised of scholars, public historians, and museum professionals who provide counsel for the Foundation's Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies and about African-American interpretation at Monticello; and (3) to report its findings and recommendations to me in written form and in a timely manner. The committee, headed by Dr. Dianne Swann-Wright, responded in a manner that was scholarly, meticulous, and thorough. The committee's report is attached. I believe it represents the most extensive compilation ever of what is known and not known about this complex and consequential topic. It also reflects the Foundation's abiding belief in sharing serious research with the broadest possible audiences.
I concur with the committee's findings. Although paternity cannot be established with absolute certainty, our evaluation of the best evidence available suggests the strong likelihood that Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings had a relationship over time that led to the birth of one, and perhaps all, of the known children of Sally Hemings. We recognize that honorable people can disagree on this subject, as indeed they have for over two hundred years. Further, we know that the historical record has gaps that perhaps can never be filled and mysteries that can never be fully resolved. Finally, we stand ready to review any fresh evidence at any time and to reassess our understanding of the matter in light of more complete information.
But for now, we will move forward to implement the findings of the research committee in a way that reflects the Foundation's ongoing commitment to scholarship. From the beginning, we have treated the Thomas Jefferson-Sally Hemings relationship as a research issue, and we will continue to do so. We believe it offers opportunities for the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, and that it will advance our firm belief in telling a story here that is accurate and honest -- and thus inclusive -- about Jefferson's remarkable life and legacy in the context of the complex and extraordinary plantation community that was Monticello.
- Go to the table of contents of the Report of the Research Committee on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings
- Go to "Hemings-Jefferson Resource Page," a compilation of links to further information