February 28, 2007, - 10:56 am

Was Thomas Jefferson Jewish?: Researchers Find TJ’s Possibly Jewish Genes

Remember the stories claiming that Thomas Jefferson fathered children with his Black slave, Sally Hemmings? Well, not exactly. DNA from her descendants matched Jefferson’s uncle, Field Jefferson, not necessarily proving that Jefferson, himself (as opposed to his uncle or another relative), fathered Hemmings offspring.
Now researchers say that same DNA from Field Jefferson shows that Jefferson possibly had one or more Jewish ancestors. In this case, the DNA discovery does apply to Thomas Jefferson, himself, as it runs in the males of the Jefferson family.
Researchers have found that Jefferson’s Y chromosome belongs to a lineage rare in Europe but common in Jews from the Middle East who came to Europe. This riases the possibility that our nation’s third President and one of its Founding Fathers had one or more Jewish ancestors, possibly a Sephardic Jew. From the New York Times:

Was Jefferson First Prez in a Yarmulke?

Was Thomas Jefferson the first Jewish president? Researchers studying Jefferson’s Y chromosome have found it belongs to a lineage that is rare in Europe but common in the Middle East, raising the possibility that the third president of the United States had a Jewish ancestor many generations ago.
No biological samples of Jefferson remain, but his Y chromosome, the genetic element that determines maleness, is assumed to be the same as that carried by living descendants of Field Jefferson, his paternal uncle. These relatives donated cells for an inquiry into whether Jefferson had fathered a hidden family with his slave Sally Hemings. . . .
Geneticists at the University of Leicester in England, led by Turi E. King and Mark A. Jobling, have now undertaken a survey of the branch or lineage to which Jefferson’s Y chromosome belongs. All Y chromosomes fall on branches of a single tree, descended from one man in the ancestral human population. The reason is that all the other potential Adams in this population had Y chromosomes that fell extinct when they had no children or only daughters.
Jefferson’s Y chromosome belongs to the branch designated K2, which is quite rare. It occurs in a few men in Spain and Portugal and is most common in the Middle East and eastern Africa, being carried by about 10 percent of men in Oman and Somalia, the geneticists report in the current issue of The American Journal of Physical Anthropology.
Puzzled at the lack of K2 Y chromosomes in Britain given that Jefferson’s own family traced its origin to Wales, Dr. Jobling’s group decided to scan a special population most likely to carry K2 – that of men named Jefferson.
Of 85 British Jeffersons tested, just two proved to have Y chromosomes of the K2 lineage. The paternal grandfather of one was born in Yorkshire, that of the other in the West Midlands.
Discovery of these two English members of K2 supports the idea that Thomas Jefferson’s recent paternal ancestry is from Britain. Had they not been found, Dr. Jobling’s team writes, the geographic distribution of K2 would have made the Middle East seem the most likely origin of Jefferson’s family.
The fact that K2 is common in the Middle East, however, raises the possibility that Jefferson had a Jewish ancestor, Dr. Jobling said. Jewish Y chromosomes resemble those of Middle Eastern peoples, and the Jewish Diaspora is one way Middle Eastern chromosomes entered Europe. But because so little work has been done on the rare K2 lineage, “our research raises the possibility, but doesn’t help anyone to answer it either way,” Dr. Jobling said.
Michael Hammer, a geneticist at the University of Arizona, said he had compared the Jefferson Y chromosome with those in his database of Y chromosomes and found close matches with four other individuals. There was a perfect match to the Y chromosome of a Moroccan Jew, and matches that differed by two mutations from another Moroccan Jew, a Kurdish Jew and an Egyptian.
Dr. Hammer said he would “hazard a guess at Sephardic Jewish ancestry” for Jefferson, although any such interpretation was highly tentative. Sephardic Jews are descendants of those expelled from Spain and Portugal after 1492.
Bennett Greenspan, president of Family Tree DNA, a DNA-testing service, said that among the 90,000 Y chromosome samples contributed to his database, K2 occurred in 2 percent of Ashkenazim, Jews of Central or Northern European origin, and 3 percent of Sephardim.
Even if Thomas Jefferson had had a Sephardic Jew in his ancestry in the 15th century, very little of that ancestor’s genome would have come down to him along with the Y chromosome, given that in each generation a child inherits only half of each parent’s genes.

Gee, I wonder what David Duke and my Islamist friends think of this. Do they really want to remain in a country, one of whose founders might just have been an “Evil Zionist”?
Yes, under Jewish law, it is true that matrilineal descent determines one’s status as a Jew. If you’re mother was Jewish, so are you. If not, then you’re not. But this possible ancestry of Thomas Jefferson is still interesting.

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12 Responses

Oh I can hear the conspiracy theories already from the anti-semites. Talk about giving them even more fuel to feed their hatred the west.

David Svendsen on February 28, 2007 at 12:05 pm

As you know “Jewishness” is passed matrilineally and therefore Jefferson could not be considered Jewish in any sense since this “evidence” is on the Y-Chromosome. So unless TJ made some positive move toward Judaism he is not the first Jewish President.
On another note, have we reached the point where we now replace the one drop of blood standard to the one gene standard for ethnic or racial identity? In a way that would put an end to all the racial classification nonsense because most humans share a large number of genes in common.

jerry on February 28, 2007 at 12:41 pm

No wonder he was always eating at Katz’s Deli on NYC’s lower east side.

Thee_Bruno on February 28, 2007 at 12:53 pm

Since you almost never hear Barry Goldwater asbeing the first Jew to run for President on one of the two major parties (which would probably also be true if his mother was Jewish instead of his father, unless he was raised Jewish), I think the same applies to Jefferson.
But I agree that it’s still quite interesting.

hairymon on February 28, 2007 at 4:09 pm

Didn’t Jefferson wear one of those white sheitels?

Shy Guy on March 1, 2007 at 3:20 am

I dunno. I keep hearing claims of ancestry, but I’ve noticed that the various groups only want to claim the smart ones. I suggest we use affirmative action, and somehow link the dumber presidents and other celebrities to Jewishness.

Linda F on March 2, 2007 at 12:24 pm

Why does the author excludes the semitic origin
(I mean the arab origin) of Thomas Jefferson? Is that not possible? Or it doesn’t fit the racial profile of an American president? David Duke will be proud of you! 🙂

Alec on April 7, 2007 at 10:13 am

Does his nationality really matter today ? Today we obviously lack genuine democrats like Thomas Jefferson. And that’s not just my opinion. Look what famous peers said about Jefferson:


Dawood on November 20, 2009 at 4:51 am

You bet your ass he knew that Kaballah inside out; as did Franklin and several others.

steph on January 23, 2010 at 3:54 am

Here is a map of K2 distribution:


It is concentrated heaviest in the horn of Africa and some parts of the Indian subcontinent. I am of the opinion that it is ancient middle eastern/semetic DNA generally, and not modern Jewish DNA. It probably survived so well in the horn of Africa and certain parts of India due to the geographic and cultural isolation of the peoples who live there. Jefferson definitely has some middle eastern DNA (as do many, if not most, European gentiles), and it may be Jewish. Very interesting but not likely to sway anyone in a Jew-hate cult.

Frank on July 30, 2011 at 3:26 pm

This discussion has been going on a while
Interesting no one has asked the question:
Was Thomas Jefferson black? After all, most of the K2 is in Africa
and not necessarily North Africa.
Considering the widely accepted belief in the US that “one drop”
of black blood makes one black, this could easily be argued.
Besides I always thought being a Jew was about following a particular religion not a race.

sandy on August 13, 2011 at 11:45 am

It is an oversimplification to say that if your mother isn’t Jewish, you are not a Jew.

Deuteronomy 21 10:13 states a man may choose a wife of enemy captives. If she was alwful wife, then her children would be legitimate “Jewish” heirs.

In answering who may enter into the congregation of the Jews Deuteronomy 23:3 states that Ammonites and Moabites may not enter into the congrgation of the Lord even though they shared ancestry with the Hebrews, because the Ammonites and Moabites were hostile to the Hebrews when they came out of Egypt. Deuteronomy 23:7 states the commandment that “Thou shalt not abhor the Egyptians because thou wast a stranger in his land. the children that are begotten of them shall enter into the Congregation of the Lord in their third generation.”

Boaz married the Moabite Ruth, who was ancestor to King David.
Moses married a Midianite. Joseph married an Egyptian. In the modern era many people who are practicing jews and are accepted by the Jewish community as such, have non-jewish genetic markers on either their male or female side.

Probably over the most of Jewish history (over 5,772 years)
descent was patrilineal, because that was customary in the cultures at that time.

craig on July 2, 2012 at 12:20 am

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