Now that Charlottesville and Albemarle County have canceled celebrating Thomas Jefferson’s birthday, can we expect them to rescind the Fourth of July as well, which honors the Declaration of Independence that Jefferson authored?

They complain that Jefferson owned slaves and raped Sally Hemings.

When Jefferson inherited slaves, it was illegal to free them. He drafted legislation in 1769 to allow slaveowners to manumit slaves, and later another law prohibiting the importation of new slaves into Virginia. Jefferson denounced slavery in the Declaration of Independence, but the provision was dropped when South Carolina and Georgia threatened to leave the convention.

In 2000-2001, I chaired the most comprehensive study of the Jefferson-Hemings controversy. After examining every issue, the Scholar’s Commission of more than a dozen senior professors from across the country agreed that allegations of a sexual relationship are likely false. (We concluded that key historical documents were altered.) Our sole dissenter agreed the allegation is far from proven.

The scientists who conducted the 1998 DNA tests did not even have Thomas Jefferson’s DNA.

Until the 1970s, the descendants of Sally’s son Eston passed down the story that Eston was not the president’s child, but rather the son of an “uncle.” Jefferson’s brother Randolph was likely at Monticello at Eston’s conception, and the book “Memoirs of a Monticello Slave” revealed that Randolph spent his nights at Monticello playing his fiddle and “dancing half the night” with the president’s slaves. Because of his relationship to the president’s daughter Martha, Randolph was widely known at Monticello as “Uncle Randolph.”

Numerous efforts have been made since 2001 to set up a debate on this issue, but none of the pro-paternity scholars has been willing to engage. The offer remains open.

As a member of the Second Continental Congress, Thomas Jefferson was asked to draft laws to govern the Northwest Territory. Seven decades later, abolitionists in Congress incorporated Jefferson’s language into the text of the 13th Amendment prohibiting slavery.

Robert F. Turner

Albemarle County

References: (“Bill to Prevent the Importation of Slaves, &c., [16 June 1777]”; original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, vol. 2, 1777 – 18 June 1779, ed. Julian P. Boyd. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950, pages 22–24)

“The Jefferson-Hemings Controversy: Report of the Scholars Commission,” Carolina Academic Press, 2001, 2011 (pages 3, 20, 30-36, 57, 58, 162-163, 224, 225, 228)

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