Opinion

Daniel P. Jordan, Monticello Leader in Changing Times, Dies at 85

Daniel P. Jordan, who as president of the foundation that owns Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s plantation in Virginia, broadened its educational mission — and, perhaps most significant, commissioned a study that found that Jefferson had almost certainly fathered six children with Sally Hemings, one of hundreds of people he enslaved — died on March 21 in Charlottesville, Va. He was 85.

His daughter Katherine Jordan said the cause was a heart attack.

Questions about Jefferson’s relationship with Hemings had circulated among historians, and among her family, for two centuries. In 1993, when Mr. Jordan (pronounced JUR-dun) invited some of her descendants to a Jefferson commemorative event at Monticello, he was noncommittal on the paternity issue.

“If there’s anything like a party line, it’s simply this,” he told The Washington Post: “We cannot prove it, we can’t disprove it.”

But five years later, his position had to evolve. The results of DNA testing, published in the Nov. 5, 1988, issue of Nature magazine, appeared to confirm that Jefferson was the father of Eston Hemings, one of Sally Hemings’s sons.The tests strongly indicated that Eston had the same Y chromosome mutations seen in the Jefferson lineage.

At a news conference, Mr. Jordan said that the tests would be evaluated by a research committee at Monticello, which is owned by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.

“We will follow the truth where it leads,” he said.

A few days later, he told The New York Times, “My immediate reaction was to be reminded of just how vicious, abominable and complex the institution of slavery was.”

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