A PRESIDENT IN THE FAMILY by Sr. Woodson

A PRESIDENT IN THE FAMILY

Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings, and Thomas Woodson
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KIRKUS REVIEW

An African-American writer finds his family’s roots in a longstanding historical controversy.

Woodson traces his ancestry to a slave named Thomas Woodson, who, he claims, was the firstborn son of Thomas Jefferson and his slave mistress, Sally Hemings. Evidently removed from Monticello following some sort of disagreement with Jefferson and relocated to a plantation owned by a cousin of the president, Woodson went on to have children of his own, whose respective descendants kept alive an oral history charting their lineage to Jefferson. Over the course of many years, the author’s mother, Minnie, gathered this circumstantial evidence, along with documents relating to the first generation of Tom Woodson’s offspring. On her death, Woodson pressed claims before the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation that his family be recognized as a legitimate branch on the Jefferson family tree. These claims have been rejected for several reasons, all of which Woodson contests (singling out historians Dumas Malone and Joseph Ellis for particular drubbing); he charges that the foundation itself has a long history of ignoring “most of the people who lived on, worked on, and built the Monticello plantation.” Byron Woodson’s claims to descent from Jefferson are entirely plausible, though skeptical readers may demand more comprehensive evidence. Much of Woodson’s material on the Jefferson-Hemings union (which, Woodson is careful to note, occurred after the death of Jefferson’s wife) is by now well known and largely accepted as historical fact. The author also provides a careful account of the Woodson family, which rose from slavery to hold positions of considerable influence over the generations, its family members prominent in the church, government, and business, as well as in abolitionist and African-American nationalist causes.

Uneven, but of considerable interest to students of African-American history and biography.

Pub Date: April 30th, 2001
ISBN: 0-275-97174-0
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Praeger
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2001




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