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The Interplay of Scientific and Historical Evidence

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1 The Interplay of Scientific and Historical Evidence
Thomas and Sally: The Interplay of Scientific and Historical Evidence by Eric Ribbens and Andrew C. Lydeard Department of Biological Sciences Western Illinois University, Macomb, IL Was President Thomas Jefferson the father of Sally Hemings’s children?

2 Thomas Jefferson Third president of the United States (1800-1807).
Wrote the Declaration of Independence. Very influential political and philosophical thinker. Born 1743, died 1826.

3 Jefferson’s Family Married Martha Wayne Skelton when he was 29 (her second marriage). Jefferson was widowed 10 years later, when she died four months after giving birth to their sixth child. Children of Thomas and Martha: Martha (lived to adulthood, had 11 children) Jane Randolph (died as infant) an unnamed son (died as infant) Mary (lived to adulthood, 1 child who lived) Lucy Elizabeth (died as infant) Their last child, also named Lucy Elizabeth, who died at the age of two of whooping cough.


5 Sally Hemings The child of a black slave and Martha’s father (a white plantation owner), Sarah (“Sally”) Hemings became part of Monticello when Jefferson bought out his father-in-law’s estate. In 1787, she was chosen to travel to Paris with Jefferson’s daughter Mary to join her father, who was serving as U.S. Ambassador to France. Sally was 14 (Jefferson was 44). She stayed in Paris two years, and returned to Monticello. (She could have legally stayed in France as a free person). Shortly after returning home, Sally gave birth to a child, who soon died.

6 CQ#1: Was Thomas Jefferson the father of Sally Hemings’s baby?
Yes No Could be, but we need more evidence

7 Sally Hemings’s Children
Harriet Hemings Born October 5, died December 7, 1797 Beverley Hemings (possibly William Beverley H.) Born April 1, died after 1873 unnamed daughter (possibly named Thenia) Born in 1799 and died in infancy Born May 22, 1801 – died after 1863 Madison Hemings (possibly named James Madison Hemings) Born January 19, 1805 – died in 1877 Eston Hemings (possibly named Thomas Eston Hemings) Born May 21, 1808 – died in 1856


9 September 1802 Political journalist James T. Callender, a disaffected former ally of Jefferson, wrote in a Richmond newspaper that Jefferson had for many years "kept, as his concubine, one of his own slaves." "Her name is Sally," Callender continued, adding that Jefferson had "several children" by her.

10 Were they Jefferson’s children or not?
Suspicions since the early 1800s. Steadfastly denied by the Jefferson-Wayles descendants, and by historians. Interesting evidence of Jefferson treating Sally’s children differently (freeing some in his will, for example). Based on assertions by two of Jefferson's grandchildren after his death, for 180 years historians concluded that Peter or especially Samuel Carr (Jefferson’s nephews) were the likely father(s) of all Sally Hemings' children.

11 Matching DNA DNA is the same for most cells in the body. Therefore, it is possible to compare a sample of unknown DNA against a person to evaluate if the two samples match. However, because every person is a unique combination of DNA, it is much harder to trace DNA patterns between different people, such as in family lineages.

12 Mitochondrial DNA Mitochondria have their own DNA.
Sperm does not have much of anything except a nucleus with DNA, so you inherit your mitochondria from your Mom. Thus, your mitochondrial DNA is the same as your siblings, is the same as your mother, is the same as your grandmother, etc.

13 CQ#2: If the man on the top right has the same mitochondrial DNA as the woman on the top left, what can we conclude about them? Nothing. They are probably siblings. They are the parents of the “blue” children.

14 CQ#3: Do the people in blue share the same Y chromosome?
Yes No Could be, but we need more evidence

15 Y Chromosome Only males have one, and they get it from their Dad.
So a guy’s Y chromosome is the same as his Dad’s, as his grandfather’s, great-grandfather’s …; and his brothers, paternal uncles, etc., also have the same Y chromosome.

16 CQ#4: Which of these Jefferson men should have a different Y chromosome?
A. The grandfather B. The father C. The uncle D. Samuel Carr E. Thomas Jefferson

17 CQ#5: What possible DNA evidence could be found, 180 years later, to help determine who was the father of Sally’s child Eston? They could exhume DNA from Thomas Jefferson and compare it to descendants of Sally Hemings. Mitochondria are passed from mother to child, so the father is not involved and there is no genetic recombination of mitochondria. They could compare mitochondrial DNA of female descendants of Sally Hemings and of Martha Wayles (Jefferson’s wife). Y chromosomes are passed from father to child, so the mother is not involved. They could compare Y chromosomes of male descendants of Sally’s male child Eston to Jefferson males.

18 Problem! Thomas Jefferson only had two girls with Martha, so descendants of Martha do NOT have Jefferson’s Y chromosome. Can you think of a solution? Hint: Look at the chart with Jefferson males marked.

19 Problem Resolution Thomas Jefferson only had two girls with Martha, so descendants of Martha do NOT have Jefferson’s Y chromosome. Solution: Look at some males in the descendants of Thomas’s uncle, Field Jefferson. (Since Field and Thomas’s Dad were brothers, Thomas and Field should have had the same Y chromosome.)


21 The Results: Who matches who?
Five “Field Jefferson” males: J ,12,4,11,3,9,11,10,15,13,7 (3)5, (1)14, (3)32, (4)16 J ,12,4,11,3,9,11,10,15,13,7 (3)5, (1)14, (3)32, (4)16 J ,12,4,11,3,9,11,10,15,13,7 (3)5, (1)14, (3)32, (4)16 J ,12,4,11,3,9,11,10,15,13,7 (3)5, (1)14, (3)32, (4)16 J ,12,4,11,3,9,11,10,16,13,7 (3)5, (1)14, (3)32, (4)16 “Eston Heming” male: H ,12,4,11,3,9,11,10,15,13,7 (3)5, (1)14, (3)32, (4)16 “Samuel Carr” males: C ,12,5,12,3,10,11,10,13,13,7 (1)17, (3)36, (4)21 C ,12,5,11,3,10,11,10,13,13,7 (1)17, (3)37, (4)21 C ,12,5,12,3,10,11,10,13,13,7 (1)17, (3)36, (4)21

22 Y Chromosomal DNA Study
Jefferson’s uncle Field: five descendants Y DNA Sally’s son Eston: one descendant Y DNA Samuel Carr: three descendants Y DNA Results: Field matches Eston Field does not match Samuel Eston does not match Samuel

23 CQ#6: Based on this DNA evidence, was Sally’s baby Eston fathered by Thomas Jefferson?
No Could be, but we need more evidence

24 What Happened? Even though he was deeply in debt, Jefferson freed all of Sally Hemings’s children: Beverly, Harriet, Madison, and Eston, as they came of age. Three of the four entered white society as adults (they were 3/4 white), and their descendants were identified as white. Sally Hemings herself was withheld from auction when Thomas Jefferson died in 1826 and was freed by Jefferson’s daughter, Martha Jefferson Randolph. Sally Hemings lived her last nine years with her two younger sons in Charlottesville, and saw a grandchild born in the house her sons owned. She died in 1835 at the age of 52.


26 A Side Note The Woodsons claim they are descendants of Thomas Jefferson (they claim Sally had another boy named Tom, from whom they are descended). Five Woodsons were tested: Jeffersons: J ,12,4,11,3,9,11,10,15,13,7 (3)5, (1)14, (3)32, (4)16 J ,12,4,11,3,9,11,10,15,13,7 (3)5, (1)14, (3)32, (4)16 J ,12,4,11,3,9,11,10,15,13,7 (3)5, (1)14, (3)32, (4)16 J ,12,4,11,3,9,11,10,16,13,7 (3)5, (1)14, (3)32, (4)16 Woodsons: W ,12,5,11,3,10,11,13,13,13,7 (1)16, (3)27, (4)21 W ,12,5,11,3,10,11,13,13,13,7 (1)16, (3)27, (4)21 W ,12,5,11,3,10,11,13,13,13,7 (1)16, (3)27, (4)21 W ,12,6,11,3,11,8,10,11,14,6 (0)1, (3a)3, (1a)11, (3a)30, (4a)14, (4)2 W ,12,5,11,3,10,11,13,13,13,7 (1)16, (3)28, (4)20

27 CQ#7: What do you conclude about the Woodsons?
W55 does not have Jefferson’s y chromosome W56 does not have Jefferson’s y chromosome W69 does not have Jefferson’s y chromosome W70 does not have Jefferson’s y chromosome None of them have Jefferson’s y chromosome, and W70 had a completely different ancestor Woodsons: W ,12,5,11,3,10,11,13,13,13,7 (1)16, (3)27, (4)21 W ,12,5,11,3,10,11,13,13,13,7 (1)16, (3)27, (4)21 W ,12,5,11,3,10,11,13,13,13,7 (1)16, (3)27, (4)21 W ,12,6,11,3,11,8,10,11,14,6 (0)1, (3a)3, (1a)11, (3a)30, (4a)14, (4)2 W ,12,5,11,3,10,11,13,13,13,7 (1)16, (3)28, (4)20 Jeffersons: J ,12,4,11,3,9,11,10,15,13,7 (3)5, (1)14, (3)32, (4)16

28 Conclusions The 1998 study concluded that the descendant of Eston Hemings had a Y-chromosome that matched the Y-chromosome of the Jefferson male line. Given historic evidence supporting Thomas Jefferson's paternity, according to the report of the study in the journal Nature, the team concluded Jefferson was the likely father of Eston, and probably the other Hemings children. Eight weeks later, in the journal Science, Foster made it clear that the data establish only that “Thomas Jefferson was one of several candidates for the paternity of Eston Hemings.”

29 Disagreement The Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society:
2001: published a report, in which they concluded there was insufficient evidence to determine that Jefferson was the father of Hemings's children. Suggested that younger brother Randolph Jefferson was the father, and that Sally Hemings may have had multiple sex partners. They emphasized that more than 20 Jefferson males lived in Virginia in the late 1700s.

30 CQ#8: Based on all of the evidence, in your opinion was Sally’s baby Eston fathered by Thomas Jefferson? Yes No

31 Wikipedia’s Conclusion
The new scientific evidence has been correlated with the existing documentary record, and a consensus of historians and other experts who have examined the issue agree that the question has largely been answered: Thomas Jefferson fathered at least one of Sally Hemings’s children, and quite probably all six. The language of "proof" does not translate perfectly from science and the law to the historian's craft, however. And the DNA findings in this case are only one piece of a complicated puzzle that many in previous generations worked hard to make sure we might never solve.

32 Image Credits Slide 1: Official Presidential portrait of Thomas Jefferson (by Rembrandt Peale, 1800), Slide 2: Thomas Jefferson (by John Trumbull, 1788), Slides 4, 8, 16, 20, 25: Family tree images by NCCSTS. Slides 12–15: These images are works of the National Institutes of Health, part of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. Slide 24, top image: Image of nickel obverses from Wikimedia Commons, Slide 24, bottom image (book cover): from Lanier, Shannon, and Jane Feldman. Jefferson's Children: The Story of One American Family. New York: Random House, 2000. Slide 29, book cover: from Wills, Garry. "Negro President": Jefferson and the Slave Power. Mariner Books, 2005. Slide 31, book cover: from Hyland Jr, William G. In Defense of Thomas Jefferson: The Sally Hemings Sex Scandal. Thomas Dunne Books, 2009.

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