Updated: Jan 23
In early August 2022, I had the honor of meeting and spending time with Margaret “Peggy” Anderson, one of the Robert Jefferson descendants who was included in my original DNA research project to see if genetics could connect the family to the man believed to be Robert’s father, Thomas Jefferson.
If you haven’t read the earlier posts about Robert, I recommend you introduce yourself to him here before you continue reading my “Meeting the Descendants” series that started with William “Bill” Roberson.
My friend Sandy, who I met way back when we were working at a Wendy’s in my hometown when I was a junior in high school, had driven me from her home in Woodinville, where she was graciously allowing me to stay for the week, to Henderson to meet Peggy’s daughter, Susan Potter. Susan then drove me to her mother’s home in a condominium complex on a lake in, fittingly, Lakewood.
Waiting for me there with Peggy were Susan’s aunts, Virginia, a.k.a. Ginger, and Jean, as well as her sister and cousin. I set up my Canon 5D Mark ii as a video camera (this was only my second time using it this way, and trust me, I’m still learning) in Peggy’s dining room, which opens out onto a balcony with one of the most beautiful lake views I’ve ever seen. And it was a beautiful day.
As is the case with their cousins Bill Roberson, and Emily Brin Roberson, and brothers Nick and Steve Woods, Peggy and Ginger, who tested later in the fall last year, have DNA matches –– distant cousins –– whose family trees lead back to Jefferson and related families.
The sisters are great-great-granddaughters of Robert and Celia’s oldest daughter, Lucy Jefferson Roberson. Their father, Artrudoe Lazenberry Lee, was the son of Lucy’s daughter Laura Violet Roberson and her husband, Artrudoe Moon Lee.
The sisters, who are in their 80s and 90s and behave like true siblings, grew up knowing they were descendants of Thomas Jefferson. But, unlike Emily, they had no idea that their connection to him involved an enslaved woman; and, like Bill, they were totally unaware of having African ancestry.
“Nobody ever said anything about that,” Jean recalled. “And I’m sure our parents didn’t know.”
“But it makes sense,” Peggy said, noting that the sisters all sported dark tans during the summer months.
Peggy’s test results show she inherited 15 percent of her DNA from Nigerian ancestors and 2 percent from Cameroon, Congo, and the Western Bantu Peoples. Ginger, who received a test kit from Peggy’s daughter, Sue Potter, during that visit, shares about the same percentages.
Jean said she had, at one time, done some research on Ancestry.com, where she discovered that while living in Minneapolis, Minnesota, her grandparents had been listed in the census as mulatto. But, in the 1910 census, after the family had moved to Seattle, Washington, they were described as white. Like so many mixed-race Americans – particularly those who risked their lives to escape the bonds of slavery –– the family was able to “pass” for white and, apparently, never looked back.
The Lees also placed a high value on education. Their parents met while their father was a school principal and their mother was a teacher. “They waited to get married until they were 26 years old, while Daddy went to law school,” Jean said. “I could read at the age of 5, when they put me in first grade. I was always a year younger than everybody in my class.”
“Mother always read books,” she added. “There were books all over the house. We were all avid readers. As far [back] as I can remember, I was always told that I had to get an education. When I got engaged at 18 and wanted to get married, they said. ‘No. You can’t get married until you’re out of college.” … I graduated in three-and-a-half years so I could get married, but [the message] was always that you need an education.”
Ginger, who met her late husband Weldon Howe when she was 17, also knew she would have to graduate from college before they could marry. “I knew I had to do that, because I just didn’t want to disappoint the parents,” she said. “I liked being in school … but, you know, I was kind of majoring in ‘Mrs.’”
Peggy, too, met her late husband, Paul Anderson, at a young age. But she broke the mold when Paul was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Korean War. They married, and she promised her parents she would go back to college later. “But I couldn’t. We couldn’t afford it. And then I had Karen (their first child) the month before he got out of the service. It’s been wonderful; but it was just, we were all different.”