Dear Ace: I recently heard that someone new has come on the scene to “vindicate” Thomas Jefferson from charges that he was pappy to at least one of Sally Hemings’ kids? Is this true, and who’s rushing to TJ’s rescue?—Peter Familias
Well Peter, as you know, the whole little mountain was in a kerfluffle a few years back when the science journal Nature published an article saying DNA evidence pointed to one of the Jefferson men as the father of one of the children of TJ house slave Sally Hemings. Given that during his lifetime, Tommy-Boy had been rumored to be, how to put this, intimately acquainted with Hemings, lots of people put 1 and
Ace says “lots of people,” but not “everybody,” and among the bodies who just ain’t buying it is Keswick resident and self-trained genealogist Cynthia H. Burton. Ace hopped into the Acemobile on a lovely late summer day to visit with Burton, who says she was motivated to probe the Jefferson affair out of concern that history would judge him a hypocrite. TJ had denied the liaison in his day, and if he had knowingly lied about relations with that woman, Miss Hemings, then “all the principles of this country’s foundation” would be a sham, Burton said. After six years of research, she released her self-published monograph, Jefferson Vindicated, last month.
Two main ideas inform Burton’s argument: 1) TJ wasn’t home at Monticello during the likely conception period of Eston Hemings, Sally’s youngest child whose DNA was traced in that Nature article; and 2) TJ probably couldn’t get it up. Being sensitive to his fellow man, Ace blushes to put it this way. But Burton points out that Jefferson was an old man by the time Eston was conceived, and he had a lot of health complaints: “Certain doctors speculate that Jefferson suffered from chronic prostatitis,…‘an inflammation of the prostate gland that develops gradually’ with subtle symptoms such as low back pain, painful urination, and painful ejaculation.” Ex-cu-use Ace!
Burton doesn’t want to offend anybody, she says—“I’m sure discussing Jefferson’s potency is sensitive to the family.” (Uh, yeah!) Her sole purpose is to encourage more historical research on a matter that she says is not firmly settled (you might ask yourself, What was TJ’s bro Randolph was doing at the time…). Ace refrains from taking a stand on this matter, but if you want to judge for yourself whether Jefferson has been vindicated, contact Burton at Chburton7@aol.com or pick up her book at New Dominion Bookshop.