Cover image for A president in the family : Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings, and Thomas Woodson
A president in the family : Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings, and Thomas Woodson
Woodson, Byron W.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Westport, Conn. : Praeger, 2001.
Physical Description:
xviii, 271 pages, 18 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, portraits ; 25 cm
General Note:
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Geographic Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E332.2 .W66 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
E332.2 .W66 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
E332.2 .W66 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Black History Non-Circ
E332.2 .W66 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
E332.2 .W66 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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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.

Author Notes

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 an MBA

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Woodson conveys the pain, pride, and persistence of a remarkable family that faced nearly 200 years of challenge and denial of their descent from the first-born son of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. Woodson's family meticulously researched and documented an oral history that traced their connection to the third president and his mulatto slave, who was his wife's half-sister. Consequently, this book offers historic accounts and documents attesting to that relationship. Woodson seeks to do justice to the memory of Hemings, who was much vilified until historian Fawn Brodie acknowledged her in Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History (1974). He recounts the long and vehement denial of the Hemings-Jefferson affair--an effort to protect the image of an American icon seen to have flouted the taboo against race mixing--and also the history of his own significant family, distinguished by such members as a pioneer of black nationalism and founder of Wilberforce University. This is an important contribution to the honest presentation of American history and the entanglements of race. --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Michele Cooley-Quille, Ph.D.
Forewordp. xi
Acknowledgmentsp. xv
Introductionp. 1
Chapter 1 The Fate of Sally Hemingsp. 7
Chapter 2 Monticellop. 25
Chapter 3 James T. Callender with the Hammer of Truthp. 49
Chapter 4 Tom Is Banishedp. 61
Chapter 5 Freedom Securedp. 87
Chapter 6 The Rights of Allp. 107
Chapter 7 The Color Linep. 133
Chapter 8 Harvesting Strands of the Pastp. 151
Chapter 9 The Third Heart: The Brilliance of Dr. Fawn Brodiep. 169
Chapter 10 Minnie S. Woodson Strikes Genealogical Goldp. 181
Chapter 11 Search for Truth?p. 201
Chapter 12 Stop and Look Both Waysp. 221
Chapter 13 Calling All Cousins!p. 237
Conclusionp. 247
Appendix I Mr. Jefferson's Willp. 253
Appendix II Reminiscences of Madison Hemingsp. 257
Indexp. 263