Posted by: Lotfi Frigi | February 3, 2010

Could Thomas Jefferson’s DNA Trail Reveal Middle-Eastern Origins?

Very interesting read recommended by Juan Cole on Informed Comment, Could Thomas Jefferson’s DNA Trail Reveal Middle-Eastern Origins? A comment also mentions an interesting Wikipedia entry about Anthony Janszoon van Salee.

Informed Comment article:

Thomas Jefferson and the rest of the Jefferson clan in the British Isles may have descended from a Phoenician merchant family that set up a trading post up there.
Maybe the Lebanese (many of whom trace their ancestry to the Phoenicians) will get more interested in Jefferson’s thought if they realize he may share a direct, fairly recent common patrilineal ancestor.
And, of course, the finding lends a whole new meaning to the phrase “Americans of Middle Eastern descent”!

Wikipedia entry:

Anthony Janszoon van Salee(b. 1607-d. 1676) was an original settler of and prominent, wealthy landholder, merchant, and creditor in the New Netherlands colony.


Anthony was Jan Janszoon’s fourth child, born in 1607 in Cartagena, Spain, from his second wife. In 1624 Anthony was in Salè with his father, and by the 1630s had immigrated to New Netherlands, purchasing a farm on the island of Manhattan in 1638, and becoming one of the original settlers. It is speculated that Anthony’s father had provided him a considerable fortune, and by 1639 was one of the largest landholders on the island, as well as a prosperous farmer.
Following numerous legal disputes, including with the church (he was Muslim), Anthony was ordered to leave New Netherlands, but on appeal to the Dutch West India Company, was allowed to settle on 200 acres in what would become New Utrecht and Gravesend. This made him now one of the largest and most prominent landholders on Long Island. In 1643 he purchased a house on Bridge Street in New Amsterdam, in defiance of the court order restricting such. He would go onto become a successful merchant and creditor in New Amsterdam, while owning several properties throughout the region.

Marriage to Grietse Reyniers

He married Grietse Reyniers, a scandalous woman from the The Netherlands. Grietse is considered a legend of American colonial history because of her wild, sexual ways. She is dubbed the first Manhattan “lady of the night” by some accounts, while others have called her the “Carrie Bradshaw” of colonial Manhattan. Grietse died in 1669, and Anthony married Metje Grevenraet, before dying in 1676.
He had four daughters with Reyniers:
* Eva Antonis, who married Ferdinandus van Sycklin, an original immigrant to New Netherlands for whom a present-day avenue in Brooklyn is named for
* Cornelia, who married William Johnson
* Annica, who married Thomas Southard, whose daughter Abigail was the great-great-grandmother of Cornelius Vanderbilt
* Sara, who married John Emans


Anthony’s physical appearance and race is the subject of much debate, and like his mother, the consensus was that his physical appearance was that of a mixed-ethnic background, and he was incredibly tall with superior strength. He has been described many ways, with some calling him a “semi-Dutchman” of “tawny” complexion, who erected the first “European” house in New Utrecht. Other descriptions have said he was a “former black slave” who was a “mulatto”; others include “half-Moroccan”, “Turk”, “Berber”, and “swarthy”.
Anthony was very wealthy and had made many enemies, while falsely being attributed to certain history written well after his death. Anthony’s appearance is consistently used in court documentation alongside his name with the phrase “Turk”, indicating his appearance and/or lifestyle was a main emphasis for documentarians and historians during that period. From deduction, he was not a “free black”, claimed in 2008,[17] as the first “free blacks” found in America were documented in 1662 in Virginia, well after Anthony’s arrival in the colonies. He was not a “former black slave”, as claimed in 2001, because he was a wealthy heir of a slave trader. It is also noted that Anthony was considered “European” enough to be credited, in 1862, for building the first “European” settlement in New Utrecht, while even historic African-centric collections cannot determine what his actual appearance, race, or origin was. It is also noted that he had four daughters who married into respectable, colonial New Amsterdam families of European origin.

Notable descendants

Notable descendants of Anthony include Vanderbilt family patriarch Cornelius Vanderbilt, John Vernou Bouvier III, Princess Lee Radziwill, American First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Consuelo Vanderbilt, Duchess of Marlborough; Jamie Spencer-Churchill, Marquess of Blandford, Lady Henrietta Spencer-Churchill, John Spencer-Churchill, 10th Duke of Marlborough, Lord Ivor Spencer-Churchill, John Spencer-Churchill, 11th Duke of Marlborough and Anderson Cooper.



  1. Interesting. I always wondered about Lincoln’s semitic looks too!

  2. There are tests being conducted on Lincoln’s DNA as we speak but nothing definitive has come out yet. Well, may be one, that Lincoln might have had a skin condition known as Marfan Syndrome as reported in a book titled “Abraham Lincoln’s DNA and Other Adventures in Genetics” authored by Philip R. Reilly. But don’t get too excited! The title is a teaser that devotes a tiny chapter to the subject. The rest of the book deals with the advances molecular biology and genetics have made this last decade. Some day soon we might have the answer to your question, J.J., I hope…

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