Conclusions in Diagnosing Jefferson
Are Partially Confirmed by New Data
When the book Diagnosing Jefferson first appeared in 2000, a few skeptics criticized the author’s conclusions. Norm Ledgin maintained Thomas Jefferson’s many eccentricities were consistent with genetically based Asperger’s Syndrome.
A few Jefferson scholars disputed that but offered no clear alternate hypothesis for Jefferson’s wealth of idiosyncrasies. Asperger’s is on the high end of the autism spectrum, and that bothered a few historical biographers.
Now comes word from Jefferson’s first cousin seven times removed. Vaughn Whitney of Colorado contacted Ledgin and informed him of likely Asperger’s among family members, including himself. Mr. Whitney is middle-aged and was diagnosed with the condition approximately a year ago.
The traceable line, according to Mr. Whitney’s findings, begins with Thomas Jefferson’s uncle, John Jefferson (1671-1748). His son Luke Jefferson (1732-89) was contemporary with first cousin (and not yet President) Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826).
Luke had a son, William (1768-1820), and William had a son also named William (1800-48). The second William’s son was Isaac Jefferson (1824-97), who had a son, Andrew (1867-1923). Andrew had a son, Roy Jefferson (1895-1987), whose daughter, Carol Whitney (1932-1986), was Vaughn Whitney’s mother.
What rounds out the family tree information is the preponderance of career interest in technical subjects. They include computer science, electrical and civil engineering, physics, and radiology. Many family members are at the doctoral and master’s levels educationally.
Although a lawyer, planter, musician, horticulturist, inventor, political theorist, and writer, Thomas Jefferson considered himself a scientist.
Ledgin shared Mr. Vaughn’s initial email with Dr. Temple Grandin, autistic animal scientist. She replied July 27, 2014 with the observation, “I think half of Silicon Valley has Asperger’s.” Dr. Grandin wrote comments that are included in Ledgin’s book, Diagnosing Jefferson.
Mr. Whitney is exploring other possible family and Asperger’s connections through President Jefferson’s younger brother, Randolph. He plans to attend a family gathering the week of August 17, 2014 and will seek more information.