Framing a Legend

Written by M. Andrew Holowchak
Review by Jo Ann Butler

Rumors that Thomas Jefferson fathered children with Sally Hemings, an enslaved black woman, began in 1802 and continued throughout Jefferson’s life. That premise has become widely accepted by scholars and by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.

Framing a Legend, a 2013 analysis by Dr. M. Andrew Holowchak, mounts a thought-provoking defense of Jefferson. His most convincing point is that a DNA study was done on descendants of only one of Sally Hemings’ children. It indicates that a close relative of Jefferson as Eston’s father, but does not prove that Jefferson was the father of Eston, or of any of Sally’s other, untested descendants.

Dr. Holowchak analyzes fact and innuendo, and Jefferson researchers will find Framing a Legend useful. What marred the book for me was Holowchak’s overt disdain for pro-paternity writers, whose work he describes as “mawkish” and “ridiculously lame.” He protests Jefferson’s innocence so fervently that I wonder if bias might have crept into his psychoanalysis of Jefferson’s writings – the same charge Holowchak makes against other researchers. A more balanced treatment would have been more convincing.