The rumors about President Thomas Jefferson’s affair with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings, started while he was in office in 1802. It had been a disgruntled journalist – once an ally of Jefferson’s but later an embittered enemy – who set the ball rolling with articles in the Richmond Recorder.
That journalist, James T. Callender, wrote, “It is well known that the man, whom it delighteth the people to honor, keeps – and for many years past has kept – as his concubine, one of his own slaves. Her name is Sally.” The article went on to mention Jefferson by name, in case any of his readers were in any doubt about who “the man” referred to actually was.
Jefferson was 58 years old when these allegations were published in September 1802. He had also been president since March 1801 – a position he was to hold through two four-year terms. But the eminent American had already earned his place in the history books by that point; he was one of the Founding Fathers, after all, and had been the lead author of the Declaration of Independence.