DNA Does Not Lie, and Neither Did Aunt Peachy

A black family’s oral history of a link to Thomas Jefferson has been scientifically proved.

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There aren’t enough official documents to definitively make the case, but according to Jefferson scholar Lucia “Cinder” Stanton, what’s available is convincing. “The records are still fragmented, but the ones that have been found seem to leap together to confirm the oral history,” says Stanton, pre-eminent expert on Jefferson’s private life, author of two books on Monticello’s slaves and founder of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation’s Getting Word oral history of Monticello’s slave descendants.

My presumptive great-grandparents, Rachel Robinson and Moncure Robinson Taylor, had several children, most of whom crossed the color line, as did Jefferson and Sally Hemings’. My grandmother did not. She moved to Washington and married Arthur Jessup on Dec. 1, 1901. They had seven children and lived comfortably and happily for many years, until tragedy destroyed their family. I’ve often thought that it was the senselessness and pain of that loss that compelled me to learn more about my grandmother, that discovering Eva’s mysterious past would mitigate my dad’s pain.

Or maybe I was simply intrigued to learn that we are Jefferson descendants and wanted to know the truth.

These discoveries have some historical value. According to Stanton, “It bears on the sexual exploitation of servants and women of color that didn’t end when slavery ended, it speaks to the division in families because of the color line, and it’s relevant to how history is transmitted in families and what is valuable enough to remember.”

There’s still more DNA discovery ahead. Moore is looking for more scientific evidence that Moncure Robinson Taylor was indeed my grandmother’s father. That means reaching out to his white descendants for their DNA samples. Tess Taylor’s DNA has already been sampled. Meanwhile, my siblings and I are satisfied that the DNA results we have support what Aunt Peachy always said: that we are Thomas Jefferson’s descendants. Not that we ever had any doubts.

Gayle Jessup White is a writer, educator and lecturer living in Richmond, Va.