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November 17, 2008

Jefferson, Albinism, and Vitiligo

Arch Dermatol. 2008;144(11):1529. doi:10.1001/archderm.144.11.1529

In Query VI of his Notes on the State of Virginia (originally published in 1784), Thomas Jefferson1 refers to “an anomaly of nature, taking place in the race of negroes, who, though black themselves, have white children, called Albinos. . . . They are of a pallid cadaverous white . . . their hair of the same kind of white, short, coarse, and curled as is that of the negro . . . and born of parents who had no mixture of white blood. . . . Their eyes are in a perpetual tremulous vibration, very weak, and much affected by the sun.” In addition to albinism, Jefferson describes a case of vitiligo: “To these I add the mention of a negro man born black, and of black parents; on whose chin, when a boy, a white spot appeared. This continued to increase till he became a man, by which time it had extended over his chin, lips, one cheek, the under jaw and neck on that side.”

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