This is FRONTLINE's old website. The content here may be outdated or no longer functioning.

Browse over 300 documentaries
on our current website.

Watch Now

jefferson's blood
homevideo reportsis it true?jefferson enigmaslaves' storychronologyview the story

1802: Callender Replies to his Critics by J.T. Callender
James T. Callender, a Scottish-born journalist, was the first to publish the allegation that Thomas Jefferson fathered Sally Hemings's children. This article, a follow-up to his original report in March of 1802, originally appeared in the Richmond Recorder, 20 October 1802.
We are surprised at the petulance of some eastern editors in still affecting to doubt the truth of Sally's story. In this state, at least as far as we can learn, every body believes it. On the second day after the first publication, when the demos were denying the whole, a gentleman came into the district court, and offered to bet a suit of cloaths, or any sum of money, with any man present, that the charge was correct. He specified a small exception, which we have since noticed. Sally did not go to France in the same ship with our French ambassador. She went afterwards; and the gentleman said something about the blade wench and the captain, which we do not think it necessary to repeat. Nobody would venture to take up this gentleman. He was known to be capable of paying a debt; and to have the best access to family information. If we had been mad enough to publish a tale of such enormous, of such inexpressible ignominy, without a solid foundation, the Recorder, and its editors must have been ruined. All decent men would have struck out their names. We have lost but five or six in Richmond. One of these is a young man, whose own father-in-law hath since actually subscribed. Some of those who gave up their papers have been since harassing their acquaintances to lend them the Recorder. "Why did you not keep the paper, when you had it?"" said a gentleman to one of those borrowers. Twelve days after the publication of Sally's affair, Mr. Ralph Wormely, a gentleman whose wealth is as great as his probity, sits down, writes and subscribes a defence of the Recorder. He clanks us, in particular, for telling so much truth of political characters. Do you conceive, that a person of Mr. Wormely's standing would hazard the strong encomiums which he has bestowed, unless after the most serious premeditation? Since the publication of Sally, we have had at least an hundred and fifty new subscribers. Many of them are among the: most respectable citizens of Virginia. Strange! If all these people subscribe with the previous certainty that the editors of this paper could have propagated a base calumny Mr. Coleman of New York, and our corps of subscribers in that city, our friends in Philadelphia, about fifty subscribers in Baltimore, and sixty in New Jersy; may all rest assured that, upon Sally's business, as upon every other quarter, the reputation of our veracity is invulnerable.

Source Note: Transcription by Joshua D. Rothman

home ·  view the report ·  is it true? ·  the jefferson enigma ·  the slaves' story ·  mixed race america
special video reports ·  discussion ·  links ·  quiz ·  chronology ·  gene map
interviews ·  synopsis ·  tapes ·  teacher's guide ·  press
FRONTLINE ·  pbs online ·  wgbh

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation