updated 7/17/2005 9:31:48 PM ET 2005-07-18T01:31:48

In their first meeting away from Thomas Jefferson’s estate in Virginia, about 65 people who believe they are descendants of the nation’s third president and slave Sally Hemings gathered for a weekend reunion in southern Ohio.

“My son is only 4, so I want him to meet his black cousins,” said Lucian Truscott of Los Angeles, a Jefferson descendant who has spoken at several previous reunions.

Two of Hemings’ surviving four children, who claimed to be Jefferson’s sons, settled in southern Ohio: Madison Hemings settled in Pike and Ross counties, while his brother, Eston Hemings, moved to Chillicothe in the 1830s and left for Wisconsin in 1852.

The gathering drew people from Ohio, California, New York, Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Washington.

Hemings’ descendants have been trying for years to gain official recognition that Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence fathered at least some of Hemings’ children.

Their argument was bolstered in 1998, when DNA tests found that a male in Jefferson’s family fathered Hemings’ last child, Eston.

Some Jefferson family members, however, dispute Hemings family ties to the third president and have refused them membership in the family’s exclusive Monticello Association.

Oral historian Beverly Gray, who has spent 30 years researching slave families at Jefferson’s Monticello estate at Charlottesville, Va., said the reunion was a milestone in advancing racial understanding.

“This reunion helps the various parts of the family stay together and engage in the healing needed to overcome the effects of slavery,” she said.

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