A President in the Family: Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings, and Thomas Woodson


Conceived during Thomas Jefferson's junket in Paris, Thomas Woodson was Jefferson's first child by Sally Hemings. He was banished from Monticello at the age of 12, after a journalist exposed Jefferson's relationship with his young slave. A President in the Family traces Thomas Woodson's subsequent journey from Virginia to Ohio where Thomas and wife Jemima, a former slave, would raise a productive and ambitious family.

Their eldest son Lewis, author of the famous Augustine ...

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Conceived during Thomas Jefferson's junket in Paris, Thomas Woodson was Jefferson's first child by Sally Hemings. He was banished from Monticello at the age of 12, after a journalist exposed Jefferson's relationship with his young slave. A President in the Family traces Thomas Woodson's subsequent journey from Virginia to Ohio where Thomas and wife Jemima, a former slave, would raise a productive and ambitious family.

Their eldest son Lewis, author of the famous Augustine letters, would carry on the family tradition of education, leadership, and public service. A founder of Wilberforce University and described by some as the father of black nationalism, Lewis argued that the black race should not depend on white philanthropy to achieve success in America. His children and grandchildren would prosper as entrepreneurs, engineers, and educators.

A President in the Family tells of the Woodsons' continuing struggle to correct accounts by Jeffersonian historians and their successful discovery of documentation that supports an oral history that survived independently in five branches of the family tree. Byron W. Woodson, Sr., a sixth-generation descendant of Jefferson, details the recent developments in the quest to corroborate family lore, to locate missing family members, and to reveal the truth about the complex day-to-day life at Monticello. This is the amazing story of the Woodson family and its steadfast effort to reveal its illustrious past to the American public.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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. (Apr.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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 Cahners Business Information.
Found through DNA testing to be a sixth generation descendant of Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings, Woodson chronicles the controversy over his lineage and the lives of his ancestors (including first generation son, Thomas Woodson, and Lewis Woodson, black nationalist founder of Wilberforce U.). Includes family photos and Jefferson's will. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780275971748
  • Publisher: ABC-CLIO, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 2/28/2001
  • Pages: 310
  • Sales rank: 818,868
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.21 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

BYRON W. WOODSON SR. is a son of Minnie S. Woodson, who researched the Woodson genealogy and wrote the Woodson Source Book. He is a sixth generation descendant of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson and a great-great-grandson of the Reverend Lewis Woodson, the father of black nationalism. Byron Woodson gave a blood sample for the Hemings/Jefferson DNA test in 1997 and with his wife, Trena, has extended research to Thomas Jefferson's papers, uncovering new findings. Woodson is a graduate of Lincoln University (Pa.) and Temple University where he earned a MBA.

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Table of Contents


The Fate of Sally Hemings


James T. Callender, With the Hammer of Truth

Tom is Banished

Freedom Secured

The Rights of All

The Color Line

Harvesting Strands of the Past

The Third Heart: The Brilliance of Dr. Fawn Brodie

Minnie S. Woodson Strikes Genealogical Gold

Search for Truth?

Stop and Look Both Ways

Calling All Cousins




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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2001

    Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings First Child: Thomas Woodson

    Byron Woodson has written a sensitive and insightful biography about the Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings controversy. This is the first comprehensive writing about Thomas Woodson who was the subject of James Callendar's newspaper articles and who was conceived in Paris during Thomas Jefferson's and Sally Hemings' stay during 1789. A film, 'Jefferson in Paris' was created from the basis of this family history. Madison Hemings wrote of this first child and suspected that he had died, but other reliable sources sugges otherwise. This is a good opportunity to consider a family's history and how they become a part of national politics and debate, with at its center the issues of race in our country spanning over two hundred years of Woodson family history. An enjoyable, intriquing, and historic read about the complex role one founding father played in a slave family.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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