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It doesn’t matter to me who fathered Sally Hemings’s children. Seeing how devastated Thomas Jefferson was by the death of his wife at thirty-three, at one time I even thought that if he had managed to find a new love later in life, that was fine and none of us had the right to judge him for it. But knowing Jefferson as I had come to know him, I became sadly confident that it never had happened. Seeing that his nephews, the Carrs, seemed to have fessed up to it, at the last minute I added to the 1993 edition of My Thomas a postscript naming one of them as the father of Sally Hemings’s children. Then after the novel was first published I did some more extensive research. I came to see that all the evidence pointed not to Thomas Jefferson and not to the Carrs, but to Thomas’s younger brother, Randolph.

It has been twenty years since I researched the Sally Hemings question, soon after My Thomas first was published. The evidence that it was Randolph and not Thomas who had had a relationship with Sally Hemings seemed so incontrovertible to me that I am astonished that the old story has not long since been widely seen as discredited. For example:

1)    A relationship could not have begun in Paris. Thomas Jefferson went to Paris as a widower with his oldest daughter in 1784, and he sent for his middle daughter after the youngest died at Monticello. Fourteen-year-old Sally Hemings accompanied that second daughter to Paris in 1787, but she was a last-minute choice that probably was made at Monticello. It seems unlikely from the evidence that Sally’s going to Paris was Jefferson’s idea. I have seen it suggested that Paris was where he began a relationship with Sally, but there was no contemporary whisper of it. And Sally didn’t return from Paris pregnant, nor did she become pregnant soon thereafter. Her first child wasn’t born until she was twenty-two years old.

 2)    Randolph was reportedly often at Monticello when his brother Thomas was there.Randolph’s plantation was twenty miles from Monticello, and contemporary accounts suggest that he was a frequent visitor.

Read more of this Roberta Grimes blog article.


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