Other Notable Deaths

OTHER NOTABLE DEATHS

October 17, 2006

Winifred Bennett, the amateur historian who suggested that DNA tests might determine whether Thomas Jefferson fathered children by his slave Sally Hemings, died of kidney failure Oct. 7 at her home in Arlington, Va.

Ms. Bennett's suggestion, made casually over dinner at the home of a retired pathologist, led a team of scientists to begin a genetic study of Jefferson's and Hemings' descendants. Their findings, published in 1998, indicated that a male in the Jefferson family, most likely Thomas Jefferson, fathered at least one of Hemings' children.

Rumors that Jefferson fathered a child with her surfaced as early as 1802, but by the 20th century, most scholars gave them little credence.

The article, published in the journal Nature, received worldwide attention - and raised questions about Jefferson's position on slavery. He had backed away from abolitionism in the late 1700s, saying he feared emancipation would lead to racial intermixing.

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