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Re: Editorial: "Jefferson fathered slaveís last child" -- journal article raises a question of credibility

A letter from Herbert Barger
Jefferson Family Historian



Return-Path: herbar@erols.com
From: Herbert Barger <herbar@erols.com>
To: publisher@naturalscience.com
Subject: Jefferson/Hemings DNA Study: Question of Credibility
Date: Wed, 25 May 1999 19:31:50


May 25, 1999

I have just seen your March 19, 1999 editorial, commenting on the Nature article by Foster and others entitled Jefferson fathered slaveís last child (1). Your article is "right on track" and I congratulate you for your keen observation. As a Jefferson Family historian of over 25 years, I would like to make the following observations.

My name was provided by the Monticello Foundation to Dr. Foster, the lead author of the Nature article, who asked me to assist in his study. This I did by helping to locate living family members and persuade them to donate blood for the study. I also provided historical information, including the fact that Thomas Jefferson had a younger brother, Randolph Jefferson, who lived about 20 miles from Jefferson's Monticello estate, and had five sons including Isham, who is said to have been "reared" by Thomas Jefferson (2).

Dr. Foster thanked me for the information about Isham and Randolph Jefferson, saying: "This is exactly the kind of information that will have to be considered if it turns out that there is Jefferson Y-chromosomal DNA in Hemings descendants. The DNA evidence in itself canít be conclusive for a variety of reasons. I look forward to the details you are sending." However, Foster et al. did not mention Randolph and sons in their Nature article (1), nor did Dr. Foster accept my offer to meet with him to provide further historical information.

Since its publication, Dr. Foster has admitted that the evidence presented in his Nature article (1) does not provide conclusive proof that Thomas Jefferson fathered Eston Hemings, the youngest child of Jefferson's slave Sally Hemings (3,4), yet neither Dr. Foster nor Nature will issue a retraction of, or correction to, the article's highly misleading title. This is a serious omission because we rarely attend to the details of what is published, just headlines and sound bites.

According to Dr. Foster, the Nature article made no mention of Randolph Jefferson or his sons because it was a "very, very remote possibility" that any one of them was the father of Eston Hemings (3). This conclusion, I believe, is unwarranted in the light of available evidence.

Randolph seems to have been a private, nonpolitical, fun-loving farmer--well known, apparently, to Jeffersonís slave, Isaac, who recalled that "Old Masterís brother, Mass Randall was a mighty simple man: used to come out among black people, play the fiddle and dance half the night; hadnít much more sense than Isaac" (5).

It was probably Randolph that taught the Hemings men to play the fiddle, because Thomas was occupied in too many other pursuits for his country and at his two homes. Thomas sometimes complained that he couldnít get to sleep because of the fiddle playing and noise in the slave quarters.

As I have related elsewhere (6), not only did Randolph often socialize with Thomas Jefferson's slaves, but he was invited by Thomas to come to Monticello to visit him and Randolphís twin sister in August 1807, exactly nine months prior to Eston Hemings' birth. Randolph was also present at Monticello on May 27, 1808, exactly six days after Estonís birth on May 21, 1808, which would have been natural enough had he come to see his son, Eston.

I call upon the great scientists and historians of our country to come forward and investigate this scientific/historical fiasco.

Respectfully,

Herbert Barger
Ft. Washington, MD

References

(1) Foster, E.A., M.A. Jobling, P.G. Taylor, and others. 1998. Jefferson fathered slaveís last child. Nature 396:27-28.

(2) Battle, J.H. (Editor). 1884. History of Todd County, KY. F.A. Battey Pub. Co., p 296.

(3) Marshall, E. 1999. Which Jefferson was the father? Science 283:153-155.

(4) Foster, E.A., D. M. Abbey, G. Davis. 1999. Nature, Jan 7, p 32.

(5) Bear, J.A., Jr. 1967. Jefferson At Monticello. University Virginia Press.

(6) Barger, H. 1999. The Truth About The Thomas Jefferson DNA Study.

Web article: http://www.angelfire.com/va/TJTruth


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