Many people are aware of the rumors about Thomas Jefferson that have persisted for more than 200 years. The claim is that Thomas Jefferson was the father of one or possibly more children by his slave, Sally Hemings.
James Callender was a reporter for a Richmond newspaper, The Recorder, who became a bitter enemy of Thomas Jefferson after Jefferson refused to appoint Callender as Postmaster in Richmond. In retaliation, Callender published a newspaper article in 1802 with the accusation that Jefferson kept his slave Sally Hemings as a concubine and “had several children by her.” Callender never revealed where he obtained this bit of "information."
Callender has been described by some historians as one of the worst scandalmongers and character assassins in American History. John Adams once wrote that anything Callender said was not worthy of belief.
Geneticists later proved that Sally's son Eston was indeed fathered by “a Jefferson,” although it is impossible to prove which Jefferson relative was the real father. Similar claims about another of Sally Hemings's sons, Thomas Woodson, were disproved at the same time. While the DNA information is fascinating, such evidence still does not prove or refute the claims that Thomas Jefferson was the father; it only proves that he or one of his close relatives fathered the child.
The Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia has a lock of Thomas Jefferson's hair that is now on display. My correspondent asked if a sample of his DNA extracted from that lock of hair could be used to further test the Jefferson-Hemings relationship.
My answer is, "I don't think that will prove anything new." I am sure that DNA information could be obtained from the lock of hair, but I doubt if it would add any new knowledge.
Any DNA information obtained from the hair sample would provide Y-chromosome information. The Y-chromosome is passed down unchanged from father to son, and it is extremely accurate in determining paternal lines of ancestors. (I am ignoring the rare DNA mutations, which apparently did not occur in this case.)
Thomas Jefferson's Y-chromosome information as stored in the hair sample can be presumed to be identical to the Y-chromosome of his father, his grandfather, his great-grandfather, his brother Randolph, his many nephews, his cousin John Robertson Jefferson, and his son (if, indeed, he ever had a son, as claimed).
If we assume the hair is really that of former president Thomas Jefferson, any Y-chromosome DNA extracted would be identical to the DNA samples already obtained from Jefferson's other close male relatives.
In other words, the Y-chromosome information in that hair sample holds absolutely no new information. All that information is already known.
You can read more about the hair sample of Thomas Jefferson (and similar hair samples of other men in history) at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23103392/from/ET/.
The real “winner” in this case is the long-deceased, disgruntled newspaper reporter from Richmond, James Callender. He must be laughing in his grave over the controversy he has caused for more than two centuries.