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A President in the Family: Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings, and Thomas Woodson Hardcover – February 28, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Squabbles about Southern genealogies are usually confined to blue-haired ladies in local history societies but not when the family in question is Thomas Jefferson's. The possibility of a sexual liaison between the third president and his slave Sally Hemings has occupied scholars and gossipmongers since Jefferson's lifetime. Most of the recent debate has focused on the four children with the surname Hemings (Madison, Beverly, Harriet and Eston). But there may have been another child, Thomas Woodson (so named because, the story goes, he was sent from Monticello to the nearby Woodson plantation as a lad). Though the existence of young Tom is up for debate, one of those claiming to be his descendants tells his side of the story here. Woodson presents new evidence, the most persuasive piece of which is Jefferson's Farm Book, in which he recorded all the names of his slaves. Scholars have noted that no young Tom was recorded in 1790 (his putative year of birth). Woodson was stunned, then, to see that in 1790, four slaves' names had been recorded, and one of them was erased, a fact never reported by Jefferson scholars. Woodson's book is a tad histrionic, filled with words like "astounding," "preposterous," "repulsed" and lots of exclamation marks. There is also a bit too much extraneous material about the author's family details about his adoptive daughter's penchant for running away, for example. Still, Woodson makes his case effectively, and Jefferson buffs will relish this latest installment in the Jefferson-Hemings saga.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Woodson is a sixth-generation descendant of Thomas Woodson, who was the eldest of five children born to Sally Hemings, a slave in the household of Thomas Jefferson. This book is the latest installment in a bitter debate concerning whether the father of those five children was Thomas Jefferson himself. In this heartfelt book, the author clearly delineates those he sees as the heroes and the villains. The chief villains are the "establishment" Jefferson historians, such as Dumas Malone, who for many years declared that Jefferson could never have had an affair with one of his slaves. One of Woodson's "heroes" is Fawn Brodie, whose 1974 book Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History argued that such a liaison had indeed existed. This book gives not only another exhaustive account of our third President's private life but the subsequent history of the Hemings progeny. Woodson bitterly criticizes the procedures followed in the DNA testing of 1997, which failed to establish conclusively that the Woodsons are descended from Jefferson. (Woodson himself contributed a blood sample to that test.) This book will not end the debates about the Jefferson-Hemings relationship, but it will be an important document in future discussions. Recommended for all academic and large public libraries. T.J. Schaeper, St. Bonaventure Univ., NY
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Praeger; 1St Edition edition (February 28, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0275971740
  • ISBN-13: 978-0275971748
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,163,472 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Queen Cobra, Goddess of Truth and Justice on June 10, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The existence of 'Black Tom' is highly questionable, though Woodson is quite right about the erasure in Jefferson's records, I've seen it too in a holograph edition of his Farm Book.
Unfortunately for Mr. Woodson's thesis 'Tom's' name should certainly have appeared more than once. His 'mother' and 'brothers and sister' are listed not only on Jefferson's Slave Census but in distributions of rations and clothing as well. 'Black Tom' supposedly lived at Monticello till 1802, his name most certainly should have appeared in those records just as the rest of the Hemmings family's names did.
However the even if the existence of 'Black Tom' were proven it would do the Woodsons no good. The famous DNA tests that proved the Eston Jeffersons are indeed descended from *A* Jefferson male, (possibly Thomas but his brother or nephew is equally probable) also proved that though Thomas Woodson was undoubtedly sired by a white man that man was *not* a Jefferson.
The Woodson family has chosen to ignore this incontrovertable scientific evidence and cling to their family myth. Frankly I find it pitiable that this extraordinarily accomplished and successful family should be so fixated on a fictitious illegitimate descent from a Founding Father. The achievements of generations of Woodsons, against unbelievable odds, is in itself a heritage to be proud of, they don't need Jefferson's blood to validate their role in American history.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By R. Turner on September 21, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is a well-written and fascinating story that has been passionately believed by generations of descendants of Thomas Woodson (allegedly the "Black Tom" who was the central piece of "evidence" in scandalmolnger James Thomson Callender's 1802 charge that Thomas Jefferson had a sexual relationship with Sally Hemings). But SIX different DNA tests of male-line descendants of three of Thomas Woodson's sons have proven beyond any serious doubt that the story is fiction. Serious scholars are still divided over whether Sally Hemings was more than one of his house slaves to Thomas Jefferson. A year-long study by more than a dozen senior scholars released in 2001 concluded the story was probably false with but a single mild dissent, but some scholars continue to embrace the story. But no serious scholar still contends that Thomas Woodson was the son of Thomas Jefferson. (It is not known whether he was the child of Sally Hemings.) When pressed to reconcile his claim with the DNA scientific proof that has repeatedly shown it to be false, Byron Woodson noted that there is no known sample of Thomas Jefferson's DNA (the 1998 tests used DNA from descendants of his cousins -- which should have carried the same y chromosome as the president) and reasoned that perhaps Jefferson was illegitimate. Woodson seems like a nice fellow, and it is understandable why he might hold on to his belief despite such powerful scientific proof that it is untrue. But the issue has been clearly resolved by reliable scientific testing, and this volume should now be moved to the FICTION section -- where many readers may well find it a most interesting read.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By goetzl on January 6, 2002
Format: Hardcover
As a "roots" like story of a family's rise from slavery to the present day, this book is a pleasant read. However, for elucidating any ties to Thomas Jefferson, it is a tremendous disappointment. Having been greatly impressed by the poise, strength of character, and intelligence of Robert Cooley, the father one of the authors, I always hoped that his boast of being decended from Thomas Jefferson was true. However, the historic record left me in doubt. I bought "A President in the Family" with hopes that reading the Woodson family story would dispel some of that doubt, providing substance to the strong oral history. Sadly, I have been left hanging.
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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful By C Lewis on June 10, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is pretty sad really. I started out as a believer in the Woodson story and Woodson has obviously done a lot of research on his family history. Certainly, there are many distinguished people in Woodson's family...sadly, Thomas Jefferson has been pretty definitely proven by DNA (no match after testing 6 Woodson lines!) not to be one of them! Since Woodson was the Hemings child with the strongest "oral history"/family lore--the fact that there was no link to Jefferson really calls into question the whole story since obviously Sally got pregnant by somebody else in Paris. And the allegations started about a "Black Tom"....Still and all, with irrefutable evidence that someone in Woodson's family lied to create a link that science has proven doesn't exist, Woodson still can't give it up, claiming the 'no match" was the result of illegitimacy later in the line...which Woodson still doesn't seem to get would still mean he is not related to the Great Man. Bottom line: Don't waste your money.
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8 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Byron W on September 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Many of the reviewers harping on whether the Woodsons were actually descendants of TJ are completely missing the significance of this book.

So we're not related to TJ (I'm the son of the author). Our historical and genealogical research is accurate (we have found over 1700 living relatives) minus one speculation. For the record, as a member of the Woodson family I grew up knowing that I am related to Thomas Woodson, but thinking I might be related to Thomas Jefferson.

So the Woodson's aren't related to TJ . . .So why read the book? Because it's a darn good book.

I was even surprised at how well-written it is. This book aspires to be an honest account of how history is lived and made through the lives of real people as part of a family, and how history is both written and mis-written. The most ground-breaking and under-appreciated aspect of this book is that it tracks the stroy of at least seven generations of successful African Americans!

This multi-generational family-centered view shows the triumphs, plights, hopes, beliefs and one mistake of generations of a family (we're not related to TJ's cousin:) and the dishonesty of historians (DNA proved TJ is related to the descendants of at least one of Sally's children, much to the chagrin of historians; and that historians physically altered national landmarks [Monticello and Jefferson's farm book] to erase evidence of the close relationship between TJ and Sally).
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