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"The Mistress of Monticello" To Debut At The Southampton Cultural Center

Originally Posted: February 01, 2013

Chloe Shakin

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“The Mistress of Monticello” is debuting at The Southampton Cultural Center. (Courtesy Photo)

The inaugural performance of "The Mistress of Monticello," a play written and directed by multiple award-winning visual artist Tina Andrews based on the affair between Thomas Jefferson and his slave mistress Sally Hemings, will be presented at The Southampton Cultural Center on February 2, 2013.

"The Mistress of Monticello" brings to life the 200-year-old scandalous relationship between third U.S. president Jefferson and mulatto slave Hemings, referred to as one of America's "most enduring soap operas" by historian Joseph J. Ellis.

Many fantasize that the pair's story was reminiscent of that of Romeo and Juliet's: a tragic romance between two star-crossed lovers kept apart by the 18th century's racial discrimination. Many writers and biographers, most famously Fawn Brodie, spun the controversial affair into just that. Although there is no documented evidence to support this idea, nothing exists that refutes such a hypothesis. All that exists is unbiased confirmation of Jefferson's fathering of all of Hemings's illegitimate children.

World traveler Thomas Jefferson was reported to have visited Monticello nine months prior to the birth of each of Sally Hemings's children (except for her first child, who is assumed to have been conceived in Paris when Jefferson was the minister to France and Sally, at the time age 16, was his daughter's servant).

About 50 years after Jefferson's death, Hemings's son Madison Hemings reported in an 1873 interview with Ohio's Pike County Republican newspaper that his mother had told him that Jefferson fathered all of her children. Another Monticello slave supported this claim, but Americans largely refused to believe in one of their founding fathers supposed "flaws" until well after the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.

The uncertainty about the speculated relationship piqued retired pathologist Eugene A. Foster's interest and led him on a wild goose chase to uncover the truth. After learning of new mapping techniques for the Y chromosome, he searched for male descendents of Jefferson, eventually finding a living descendent of Field Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson's uncle. He then discovered that this male's Y chromosome perfectly matched that of John Weeks Jefferson, a descendent of Hemings' youngest son Eston, confirming the occurrence of sexual relations between Jefferson and Hemings.

Andrews' "The Mistress of Monticello" as well as her award-winning CBS miniseries "Sally Hemings: An American Scandal" bring the controversial affair to life and offer audiences worldwide a glimpse into one of America's greatest scandals. Jefferson and Hemings descendent Shannon Lanier (through their third son Madison Hemings) was interviewed by Andrews for her research on the miniseries and served as a consultant. He plans to attend the play's February 9th performance.

"The Mistress of Monticello" will be presented by the Southampton Cultural Center on February 2, 2013 at 8pm, February 9, 2013 at 8pm, and February 10, 2013 at 2:30pm.

Tickets will be available at the door beginning 40 minutes before the start of the performance ($10 for general admission and $5 for students under 21 years of age). The Southampton Cultural Center is located at 25 Pond Lane in Southampton. For more information call 631-287-4377 or visit southamptonculturalcenter.org.

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Guest (Steven T. Corneliussen) from Poquoson, Virginia says::
Maybe Hemings and TJ were parents together, and if so, I hope they were happy. But this article unambiguously falsely reports the scientific evidence for paternity. The genetic evidence said only that someone carrying a Jefferson family DNA marker almost certainly fathered one of the kids, Eston. Purely as a matter of science -- and science is what's being invoked in this article -- that means at least two dozen men at the time. And the evidence said zero about the paternity of the other kids. Now, maybe Hemings and TJ had all those kids. I don't know. But I do know that it is unambiguously false to speak of "unbiased confirmation of Jefferson's fathering of all of Hemings's" kids -- or even of Eston, the one kid that the genetic evidence does say something about.
Feb 2, 2013 10:49 am


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