The wife of a Thomas Jefferson family group official pretended

to be black.

ROANOKE, Va. – The wife of a Thomas Jefferson family association official said Friday that she masqueraded as a 67-year-old black woman on an Internet chat room in a bid to keep descendants of a reputed Jefferson mistress out of this weekend’s family reunion.

“It might have been somewhat unethical,” said Paulie Abeles of Washington, D.C., who participated for eight months in the Yahoo! message board created for relatives of Jefferson slave Sally Hemings.

“It might have been childish, but I really think I was working in the best interest of the majority of the family members to make the reunion a calm and civilized gathering,” she said.

Abeles’ admission rankled members of both families on the eve of the reunion at Jefferson’s estate in Charlottesville. Some Hemings descendants suggested Abeles was covering for her husband, Nat, the head of the Jefferson family Monticello Association.

The Hemings clan was formally excluded from membership last year, but some members of the association continue to invite slave descendants to accompany them to the annual cocktail party and cemetery visit.

David Works, a sixth-generation grandson of Jefferson who sympathizes with the Hemings heirs, said he has asked federal authorities to investigate.

“This isn’t a fraternity house panty raid – this is serious,” said Works, who supervised the Internet group and traced messages back to the Abeles computer.

Paulie Abeles said she was curious last August when she found out the Hemings family was communicating through an Internet group, but she thought her name would have made it difficult to be included.

So Cassandra Mays-Lewis was born. In her Yahoo! profile, Abeles made Cassandra a descendant of Jefferson slave Joe Fossett, describing herself as having an interest in black genealogy. In her messages, she played the part of an elderly woman, stricken with emphysema, thanking Works at one point for his “kind attentions to an old woman.”

Abeles said she never told her husband about Cassandra until a few days ago when Works discovered she was a fake. Instead, she said she informed her husband of the Hemings’ conversations by having Cassandra send him e-mails.

“The information itself was quite valuable,” Nat Abeles said. “They were planning on all kinds of ways to get people in and trying to trick people into making inappropriate comments.”

Lucian Truscott IV, a Jefferson descendant who believes the Hemings family should be recognized, said he believes the Internet impostor was Nat Abeles, not his wife.

Truscott said that when the Hemings family started discussing the reunion on the Yahoo! site about three months ago, Nat Abeles promptly told the Jefferson family they were only allowed to bring two guests each.

When Truscott tried to accommodate the few dozen Hemingses by getting invitations from other Jefferson family members, Abeles countered by telling association members they had to be present to bring guests.

Then Truscott thought of using junior members – teenagers attending the event with their parents – to sponsor the Hemings family. Nat Abeles said only full members were allowed to bring guests.

“Every time we’d think of a way to get the Hemings there, he’d come up with a new rule,” Works said.

Some have begun calling the episode “Cassandragate.” Hemings descendant Jill Sim said she finds the whole thing insulting.

“It really was a stupid thing to do,” said Sim, 33. “It feels like a mockery.”



On the Net:

Family association: http://www.monticello-assoc.org

AP-ES-05-02-03 1903EDT



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