James T. Callender Richmond Newspaper Accusation Thomas Jefferson Sally Hemings

James T. Callender Richmond Newspaper Accusation Thomas Jefferson Sally Hemings, Sally Hemings (Shadwell, Albemarle County, Virginia, circa 1773 – Charlottesville, Virginia, 1835) was a mixed race slave owned by the third President of the United States Thomas Jefferson. She was said to be the half-sister of Jefferson's wife Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson. Journalists and others alleged during and after Jefferson's presidency that he may have fathered several children with Hemings after his wife's death, but few historians credited the allegation. However, new analysis of the historical data, bolstered by 1998 DNA testing that indicated that a male in Jefferson's line was the father of at least one of Sally Hemings's children, led to a re-ignition of the debate.

Prior to 1802, vague insinuations had been published in the Washington Federalist newspaper regarding Jefferson's alleged involvement with slaves. In 1802, James T. Callender, a muckraking political journalist and former supporter of Thomas Jefferson, published a claim in the Richmond Recorder newspaper that Jefferson was the father of five children by Sally Hemings, including a son, Tom. By that time, according to various written sources, Hemings had borne as many as five children, but at least two had died. The only record other than Callenders's articles that names a son named "Tom" - Thomas Eston was born later - was a letter written by Thomas Gibbons on December 20, 1802, which contained information about the Hemings that did not appear in newspapers in 1802. Callender called the child "President Tom," saying that he closely resembled the President and had been born upon Jefferson's and Hemings' return from Paris.

Jefferson's grandson Thomas Jefferson Randolph later admitted that Sally's children resembled Jefferson "so closely that it was plain that they had his blood in their veins," attributing the resemblance to paternity by a Jefferson relative. Despite that admission, Callender had never visited Monticello and relied on second-hand information and speculation for his stories. Although he made an effort to correct factual errors in his account, and he was correct in reporting the existence of Sally, her presence in France, and the resemblance of her children to Jefferson, his basic assertion that "President Tom" existed has never been proven.

It is not, however, noted by Callender, that Jefferson was a single man at the time of Callender's article--widowed for almost exactly 20 years. His wife, Martha Wayles Jefferson, died September 6, 1782, after suffering complications from the birth of the couple's seventh child. On her deathbed, she made her husband promise he would never marry again--a vow he kept. Callender's journalism centered on loathing of miscegenation. He believed his readers would share his sense of racial outrage: "Jefferson before the eyes of his two daughters," wrote Callender on September 28, 1802, "sent to his kitchen, or perhaps to his pigstye, for this mahogany coloured charmer." Callender himself was reportedly disgusted that whites would ever mix with blacks, and was said to have a leading role in attempts to rescind formal social affairs frequented by white men looking for black women.

Callender exploited racist views to denigrate Jefferson and undermine his presidency. In his newspaper articles, Callender called Hemings a "wench" and a "slut as common as the pavement." He mocked her eldest son, allegedly fathered by Jefferson, as "President Tom." She was, he wrote, an "African Venus." Missing was any concern over sexual abuse of slaves by their masters or any mention or moral question that such an affair could be rape and any concern at all for Sally Hemings.

Many editors of the day repeated Callender's bigoted story line because of its ability to damage Jefferson rather than as a means for attacking the issue of slavery. Editors reprinted Callender's story or carried the allegations in their own coverage of the Jefferson Administration. Newspapers in Boston and Philadelphia added their racially charged observation that Jefferson's two daughters were likely "weeping to see a negress installed in the place of their mother." The editor of the (Lynchburg) The Virginia Gazette challenged Jefferson for crossing the racial divide: "Why have you not married some worthy woman of your own complexion?" To the Palladium, Hemings was a "sable damsel." The Boston Gazette called her "A negro-wench,": "Black is love's proper hue for me (Jefferson), And white's the hue for Sally" (sung to the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy). The Philadelphia Port Folio called Hemings "Sooty Sal" in the printed lyrics of another Jefferson-bashing tune conjured by Jefferson's political opposition. Two of most famous ballads recorded were "Long Tom" an "Dusky Sally". It is said that the poet, William Cullen Bryant, was the author one the poems printed about Sally and Jefferson. .

These Federalist publishers were clearly motivated by political rivalry, like the Gazette of the United States' Bronfon. Because of that, they missed the chance to score political points critical of slavery. Instead, they seemed to revel in the racist imagery of Callender's story.

In The Federalist Press and Slavery in the Age of Jefferson, historian John Kyle Day notes Federalist anti-slavery critics sought to drive northern voters from Jefferson rather than striking a blow against slavery itself. He says their tone expressed sarcasm rather than moral condemnation. "If Federalists were genuine antislavery political reformers, they should have expressed moral outrage at Jefferson's sexual exploitation of his slave Sally Hemings," argues Day. When Federalist periodicals did comment upon the Hemings scandal, the tone was more of sarcastic humor and bitter jest than any public outrage and/or moral condemnation of Jefferson's treatment of Hemings. This is not surprising, writes Day, since the Federalist press gave scant support to women in general, and a slave woman in particular. Regardless of the motives or goals in attacking Jefferson, Federalist editors likely shared Callender's disgust with miscegenation. If not, they would have found his articles offensive, counterproductive, and refused to print them.

The racist attitudes become more apparent when the Hemings allegation is contrasted with another charge leveled against Jefferson at about the same time. As the Hemings scandal unfolded, Jefferson was pilloried for his youthful attempts in 1767 to seduce Betsey Walker, the wife of his friend John Walker. Both the language and the tone of the accusation are telling and veer sharply from the racist disrespect heaped on Sally Hemings. Callender referred to her as a paragon of innocence. He applauded her for repulsing Jefferson's advance "with the contempt it deserved."

Jefferson had defenders among Republican editors, but even they failed to attack Callender's racism. Instead, they attacked his character and his alcoholism, or picked apart his allegation with logical retort. Meriwether Jones wrote in the Richmond Examiner, "Is it strange therefore, that a servant of Mr. Jefferson's at a house where so many strangers resort, who is daily engaged in the ordinary vocations of the family, like thousands of others, should have a mulatto child? Certainly not...."

Callender's attack-style journalism earned him many enemies. George Hay, a son-in-law of James Monroe, once assaulted Callender, beating him with a club. Callender died under unusual circumstances in July 1803, his body found in about three feet of water in the James River. There were rumors of foul play, and it's possible he committed suicide. But a coroner's inquest determined the death was accidental drowning while drunk.

Racial innuendo trumped civilized discourse in the Callender articles--underscored by the fact that Jefferson's attitudes on slavery were never presented, although they were a matter of record long before 1802. It is well documented that Jefferson struggled with the nature and morality of racial slavery. In A Summary View (1774), he proclaimed, "The abolition of slavery is the great object of desire in these colonies...." Two years later, he proposed as part of the Constitution for Virginia that, "No person hereafter coming into this country shall be held within the same under any pretext whatever."20 In Notes From Virginia, Jefferson appeared torn between benevolence and racial stereotype, as he lamented: "This unfortunate difference of colour, and perhaps of faculty, is a powerful obstacle to the emancipation of these people." In one of his most quoted passages, Jefferson seemed anguished: "...Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just ... the almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest (with slaves)."

Jefferson owned some 200 slaves on his estates in Albemarle and Bedford, although the number fluctuated. At Monticello, Jefferson used slave labor extensively in his fields, at a small nail factory, and in the building of his main house. Jefferson struggled with debt for many years, and saw slaves as valuable property. In one ten-year period, he sold or gave away 167 slaves. Jefferson tried to accommodate slaves who wanted to be sold, especially to keep their families together, and he tried to avoid selling slaves against their wishes. But in his will, Jefferson freed only five slaves, including John, Madison, and Eston Hemings.


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