National Geographic : 1976 Feb
Federalists, he had been convicted of sedition during John Adams's term. Jefferson had Cal lender's 200-dollar fine refunded. But Callen der wanted more: a postmastership, as well probably as the President's expressed esteem. When the favors did not come, he fired his arrow in the Richmond Recorder. "It is well known," he wrote, "that the man, whom it delighteth the people to honor, keeps, and for many years has kept, as his concubine, one of his slaves. Her name is SALLY." She had borne him several children, Callender alleged; her eldest resembled him. GLEEFULLY SEIZING upon the story, Federalist editors rained abuse upon the President who more than any other championed a free press. Jefferson maintained silence in public, but denied the story in private, as his descendants have con tinued to do. But the tale would not die. Fawn Brodie treats it extensively in Thomas Jefferson, An Intimate History, a recent best-seller. What is the truth? Did the man who wrote immortally of liberty keep a mulatto mistress and sire several slave children? I asked Dr. Malone what he thought. "Jefferson's affection for his own daughters and grandchildren was extreme if anything," he answered. "That he would have a liaison with a slave and raise up a flock of slave chil dren in the midst of his own family-it's just simply, utterly unthinkable." In a house overlooking the Pacific, I visited Mrs. Brodie, who teaches at the University of California at Los Angeles. "Dr. Malone and other biographers say the story is not provable," she remarked. "But I'm persuaded it's true." She believes Sally Hemings provides a clue to Jefferson's toleration of slavery in his later years. Sally became part of the widower's household in France, accompanying his younger daughter across the ocean in 1787. "You can document the fact," Mrs. Brodie said, "that Jefferson was very intent upon emancipation until he went to France, and then you begin to see a backtrack. I think the fact that the young slave girl had come into his life is part of the explanation." Dr. Malone declared, "He tried in his early years to do something about slavery. He got beaten down. In his later years, if he got rid of his slaves he just couldn't live, and they would have faced great difficulties as free people in a slave state. The practical aspects of the problem baffled Jefferson, but he never ceased believing that emancipation was inevitable."