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Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy
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Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  403 ratings  ·  53 reviews
When Annette Gordon-Reed's groundbreaking study was first published, rumors of Thomas Jefferson's sexual involvement with his slave Sally Hemings had circulated for two centuries. Among all aspects of Jefferson's renowned life, it was perhaps the most hotly contested topic. The publication of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings intensified this debate by identifying glaring ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published March 29th 1998 by University of Virginia Press (first published 1997)
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Oct 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A masterful book. Since this was written in 1997, DNA testing has confirmed that Sally Hemings was NOT the mistress of any of the men in the Carr family. And the evidence available, now that it has been examined fairly and in detail by Annette Gordon-Reed, makes clear that she was very likely the loved mistress of Thomas Jefferson.

I'm glad I went to the appendices to read the memoirs of Madison Hemings, Sally's son, born in 1805 and freed by the terms of Jefferson's will in 1826. There are also
May 06, 2011 rated it liked it
This book was originally written before DNA testing were completed which ultimately showed that Sally Heming's children were indeed Jefferson children. It must be emphasized that although tests confirm that Sally Hemings did indeed have children which were a match to Jefferson DNA, it is not necessarily so that Heming's children were the offspring of THOMAS Jefferson. This book, although repetitious and sometimes dry, was very interesting. Dr. Gordon Reed is an attorney and therefore wrote the ...more
As stated in the preface, the author's goal is clearly to "present and analyze...the evidence that exists to support the story" (of a Jefferson-Hemings liaison). The author's other agenda, as stated in the conclusion, was also clear: " Blacks of today can reward those who suffered and endured for our benefit only through our present and future acts." "It means that we should let no negative charge, no offensive theory or supposition, no unsubstantiated claim about the nature of those who were ...more
A solid book. I particularly liked the textual analysis of previous historians' work (or lack thereof) on this topic.
This is not the book to read if you want a strong attempt to develop a picture of Sally Hemings as a person (it provides a better view of Jefferson, in that sense); also, far from a completely conclusive 'proof' of Jefferson fathering Hemings' children; but a great introduction to the flaws in the traditional scholarship on this topic (in that it's not been scholarly at all) and a
Apr 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
An excellent lesson to scholars on how to apply meticulous academic rigor to an accretion of the evidence. Somewhat metatextual commentary, this is a history of how American culture has reacted to the idea that Jefferson had a lengthy relationship with Hemings and fathered her children. Gordon-Reed gives thoughtful commentary in the wake of lots of freaked-out accusatory handwaving and political points-scoring, while underscoring the emotional repercussions of history's handling of the question ...more
Mar 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A thoughtful pre-DNA test treatment of the Jefferson-Hemings relationship. While it reads like a lawyer's brief at times (unsurprisingly since the author is a lawyer), it would be an excellent book to use for teaching historical methodology to undergraduate history majors.
Sep 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I am a big fan of this book. It's certainly not your typical piece of historical writing--you can hear the lawyer coming through--but I wish more people took the care that she did to weigh the value of the evidence. Exquisitely reasoned.
Gail Holman
Aug 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Well researched and eloquently stated. Dense argument that TOTALLY makes her case. If it's a topic that interests you, it's a must read.
Dec 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Incredibly neutral and factual presentation. I felt like I was on a jury.
Guyler Winter
Dec 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Written by a lawyer writing in a style you would expect from an investigative legal, logical mind.
Bill reilly
Jun 19, 2018 rated it liked it
The wonders of modern science in the form of DNA have proven the theory of this book into a reality. Unfortunately, the same climate change science deniers are still around. Gordon-Reed’s introduction was written two years after the original publishing date of the book. Blood tests of descendents of Thomas Jefferson proved a familial connection with the founding father. T.J. was in Paris in 1789 when Sally Hemings, a slave girl, arrived with her brother James. The first piece of the puzzle was ...more
Sep 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
In this work Gordon-Reed, a Harvard Educated Lawyer, is looking at each piece of evidence about the paternity of Sally Hemming’s children and determining WHY previous scholars either accepted it as true or false. For example, why is the oral history of slaves less believable then the oral history of whites [especially when those white relatives have a strong reason to lie, which DNA testing has subsequently shown they did.] Excellent research and critique of the implicit assumptions and biases, ...more
Bob Emmett
Feb 28, 2018 rated it liked it
This is a hard book to review. I was looking for a narrative history of the relationship of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, his slave who now we know genetically bore him several children. When this book was published in 1997 historians had been and were still arguing whether Jefferson was the father of Sally's children. Annette Gordon-Reed is first a lawyer and the book, rather than the narrative I expected, was a legalistic analysis of the treatments of the alleged relationship through ...more
Enid G. Ballantyne
A lawyer's Brief

Ms. Gordon-Reed has laid out a detailed exposition of the pros and cons about Jefferson's being the father big Sally Heming's children. I would add one more pro: it was the custom! All the white off-spring seen in slave country shows this to be true. Read the 1937 WPA interviews with former slaves who readily state their parentage. It is rank hypocrisy to deny the existence of race mixing.
Jul 10, 2017 rated it liked it
Interesting analysis, though wish it had spent more time with the primary sources (which were a great addition in the appendix) vs contesting secondary ones. The book predates DNA testing which has shown a link between Jefferson and African American descendants, but I wonder-- given the rumors at the time that Heming's children may have been fathered by Thomas' nephew-- whether DNA can tell the difference and settle that particular dispute.
Jan 10, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A somewhat different approach to examining historical evidence, the author uses her lawyer background to consider and for the most part, refute the rebuttals of historians who have argued against a Jefferson-Hemmings relationship. This is a good book on the topic. Information in the Founding Brothers and John Adams’ biography substantiates several of her observations and indicates that she is knowledgeable about Jefferson.
Beth Angeli
May 25, 2019 rated it liked it
I agree with the previous reviews stated. I think I would have enjoyed this more had I not read another book on the same subject. That had evidence that Sally’s children where indeed Thomas Jefferson’s.
This book was written by a legal historian and it shows. Not bad, I like the topic. As far as historical books go it could have been worse.
Jun 03, 2017 rated it liked it
This was a pretty dry read but learned a lot.
Jun 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Nov 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
I first read this in grad school and, recently, decided to reread it. It may be common knowledge now that SH's children were in some way related to the Jefferson clan but I remember in grad school being shocked by this revelation, or the possibility of it. I also remember that a question asked wasn't necessarily did it exist but rather could a romantic relationship ever exist between one in power and one enslaved.

In any event, like I said, I wanted to revisit it to garner more background
Apr 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Although, after recovering from the initial shock years ago, I have believed that Sally Hemings was Jefferson's long time mistress and mother of 4 surviving children. As a Jefferson fangirl, I decided to read this book because it was written by a well-respected, female, African-American law professor. Wise decision. Gordon-Read took the arguments of major historians--pro and con--and applied her own logic and research to them. Is anyone surprised that the noted (white male and dead) historians ...more
Apr 08, 2015 rated it liked it
I find it interesting that I cannot find the proper title of the book on Goodreads. The book I read by Author Annette Gordon-Reed is titled, The Hemmings of Monticello. When I search for that book on this site, I get some funky collection of articles on Wiki-pedia. I have no idea what's going on there.

This book differs from others on the subject perhaps from the perspective of the author. She is writing and investigating a much rehashed topic from the inside out. Being a woman of color, she
Aug 08, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: presidents, history
I agree with Professor Gordon-Reed on one point; professional historians have made a mess of things. But she has done no better. Believers will be reinforced. Skeptics will feel secure. Those approaching with an open mind will be unable to decide.

Several attempts are made to prove a negative (e.g. some evidence doesn't exist perhaps because the Jeffersons destroyed it) There are factual misdirections (e.g. Edmund Bacon had close ties by 1801, not starting in 1806.) And some of the evidence is
Jan 12, 2015 added it
My second time reading it. I thought it was excellent and makes a case not so much on the issue of Jefferson/Hemings (of which I am a believer in a long relationship with children), but more so on the how historians and others unfairly and willfully neglected, ignored, or did not believe the narratives of former slaves; rather, it was the family history of the Jeffersons, who were slaveholders, that seemed to be more credible and believable. It was time for someone to set the record straight on ...more
Sep 28, 2012 rated it liked it
This book was a solid medium. This author was clearly not a historian, you can see her legal background in her writing style. She did present material and make a case for her perception, but the majority of the book was spent doing a critical analysis of what historians had said about Jefferson & Hemings. No original research here, mostly analysis of previous research. It had wonderful appendices and primary sources. She was rather repetitive and I would have organized the material more ...more
Jan 24, 2010 rated it liked it
I started reading this book after I finished The Hemingses of Monticello, thinking I might learn even more about the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and the enslaved Sally Hemings. But in fact, this book was written long before the other one. It is a study of how, up until the time this book was written, most white historians accepted as gospel truth anything Thomas Jefferson's white descendants and other white people said about him and ignored or denigrated anything that his children by ...more
Rebecca Dunbar
Sep 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
An excellent book, looking at the oral testimonies of Madison Hemings and Thomas Jefferson's white relations, rather than providing an imbalanced account from either side, which had hitherto been the case.

Since its release, DNA evidence proved that Thomas Jefferson had fathered at least one of Sally Hemming's children, and scholars are now in agreement that their relationship spanned a 38-year period.

Here, pre-DNA tests, Gordon-Reed seeks to redraw the balance in America's 'white' and 'black'
Oct 23, 2012 rated it liked it
An incisive critique of the Jefferson historiography concerning the alleged 38-year affair between Jefferson and Sally Hemings, a slave at Monticello. Gordon-Reed builds her case against the white-supremacist-laden arguments of the Jefferson apologist encampment. An expert model for historians on how to address evidence (source material). The organization made for a convincing argument, but a lackluster story.
Michael Kocher
Aug 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
It's a very important book and it takes an interesting approach in it's dissection of the Jefferson/Hemmings liaison. Gordon-Reed tries to dissect the study of history as much as she tries to prove what really happened at Monticello. It makes an excellent point on how women, african americans, and the poor and disadvantaged are not represented fairly in the study of American History. It's far too muddled though and some chapters are nothing but rambling rants.
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Annette Gordon-Reed is a professor of law at New York Law School and a professor of history at Rutgers University. She is the author of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy. She lives in New York City."