The Scholars Commission on the Jefferson-Hemings Matter, a panel of academicians, historians and even a genetic scientist, said Thursday that there is no evidence that Jefferson and Hemings were lovers or that there is no line of descendants from them.
According to the 500-page study, a more likely explanation for the chromosomal evidence that has fueled the speculation about Jefferson and Sally Hemings can be traced either to Jefferson's brother, who lived nearby "and liked to play fiddle with the slaves" – or one of Jefferson's uncles, brothers or even his father or grandfather, Turner said.
"This is not an O.J. Simpson DNA test case," said panel chairman Robert Turner, a professor at the University of Virginia. Tests of descendants show little evidence of paternity, he told reporters. "We simply looked at the genetic odds and the historic record."
Daniel Jordan, president of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation in Charlottesville, Va., said the study did not offer any new information, but simply reexamined the data from another perspective.
The foundation has claimed that Jefferson and Hemings were the parents of at least one child.
"We're confident about our own findings, but always welcome new evidence which we will take seriously," Jordan told United Press International. "But there is no new evidence here, no original evidence."
Turner said that with the exception of one member of the panel, "our individual conclusions range from serious skepticism about the charge to a conviction that it is almost certainly false."
Jordan told UPI: "We never said that DNA proved it. We said that the science and the history, especially the oral history, suggest a high probability that Thomas Jefferson fathered all of Sally Hemings' children."
Turner said that despite the thorough nature of the report, "We do not pretend that this is the final word on this issue.
"It is possible that future developments in science or newly discovered evidence will warrant a reconsideration of our conclusions."
Some 45 descendents of Sally Hemings were at a White House ceremony honoring Jefferson Thursday. Many will attend a wreath-laying ceremony at Monticello for Jefferson on Friday.
According to Turner, there is "not one" letter written by Jefferson to Sally Hemings, nor is there any documented evidence that she or her family received any special treatment at Monticello above and beyond the privileges they would have received as the principal slaves in the Jefferson household.
"I can't believe she never said anything to anyone after she was made free after Jefferson's death," Turner said. "She didn't talk to anyone."
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