The descendants of Thomas and Jemima Woodson have been an important part of the Getting Word project because of an enduring family tradition that links them to Monticello. According to their family history, passed down since the nineteenth century through a number of different branches, Thomas Woodson was the son of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson. While descent from Jefferson is not supported by genetic testing and a documented connection to Monticello has yet to be found, the Woodsons and the Getting Word project continue to pursue research to learn about this family and its history.
Thomas and Jemima Woodson left western Virginia for Ohio in about 1821. In Chillicothe they helped to found a church and in 1829 they founded a thriving farming community in Jackson County. Their entire family was engaged in assisting fugitive slaves and their work in the Underground Railroad led to the death of two of their sons. The family is noted for exceptional leadership in the fields of religion and education. Of Thomas and Jemima Woodson’s eleven children, five were teachers and three were ministers. Lewis Woodson was a religious and educational leader who espoused separate black communities like the one founded by his parents. His powerful newspaper writings led one historian to call him the “Father of Black Nationalism.”
Another notable individual in the second Woodson generation was Sarah Woodson Early, who graduated from Oberlin College and taught at Wilberforce University, the first African American woman on a college faculty. Woodson descendants in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries include prominent figures in the fields of education, religion, business, law, and the military.