An important reason for the misinterpretation stems from DNA test results reported in 1998. The tests were widely misreported as identifying Jefferson as the father of Hemings’ youngest son, Eston.
The results were published in the journal Nature, which placed this erroneous headline above the article:
“Jefferson fathered slave’s last child.”
The Nature headline and its misreported findings had significant agenda-setting power.
The scholars commission, which was chaired by Robert Turner of the University of Virginia, note in the book that “much of the public has been misled about the significance of the DNA tests … reported in the journal Nature in November 1998.
“While the tests were professionally done by distinguished experts, they were never designed to prove, and in fact could not have proven, that Thomas Jefferson was the father of any of Sally Hemings’ children.”
More than two dozen Jefferson men, including Thomas, could have been the father.
By then, though, Thomas Jefferson was 64-years-old — scarcely a leading paternity candidate.