Jefferson's Daughters
Thomas Jefferson fathered three girls: two white and free, one black and a slave. This book about Martha, Maria, and Harriet tells the fascinating story of their very different lives at Monticello and beyond, as daughters of one of our most brilliant and complicated Founding Fathers.

Jefferson's Daughters Details

TitleJefferson's Daughters
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseJan 2nd, 2018
PublisherBallantine Books
ISBN-139781101886243
Rating
GenreHistory, Nonfiction, Biography, Politics, Presidents, Historical, Race

Jefferson's Daughters Review

  • TammyJo Eckhart
    January 1, 1970
    Catherine Kerrison has a difficult task in this book. She wants to tell us about the three daughters that Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson "raised" to adulthood. I say "raised" because as you continue reading you discover just how little direct contact he often had with his daughters, particularly Harriet, who was born into slavery via her mother, Sally Hemings. Hemings had been promised freedom for her children when they turned 21 years old but Jefferson's gendered attitudes and belief in raci Catherine Kerrison has a difficult task in this book. She wants to tell us about the three daughters that Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson "raised" to adulthood. I say "raised" because as you continue reading you discover just how little direct contact he often had with his daughters, particularly Harriet, who was born into slavery via her mother, Sally Hemings. Hemings had been promised freedom for her children when they turned 21 years old but Jefferson's gendered attitudes and belief in racial inequalities resulted in her never being given legal documents to protect her freed status. Instead Harriet had to pass as white and thus disappeared from historical records to protect herself and her children. Kerrison has a good chapter walking us through her look into every type of record she could to try and find out what happened to Harriet and it is a good example for wouldbe historians to understand. History is not easy to construct if one is not of the most privileged group. While there is no doubt that compared to other slaves Jefferson owned the Hemings children were treated better, they were still treated as his slaves because they were.Jefferson's daughter, Maria, leaves behind more records of her life yet because she was not the chosen companion of her father, we do not have as much as we do from the older daughter, Martha, that's I'll write about in the next paragraph. Maria comes across as a very different personality though how much of that reflects innate differences versis how they were raised and how much contact they had with their father. Maria did marry and have children but she died relatively young. Even though Jefferson claimed her death touched him, given the information that Kerrison shares his grief felt weak to me.The daughter Jefferson was closest to, Martha, was the one whom we know most about because she functioned in many ways as "first lady" in the family and in his political career. Martha's personality seems to change dramatically from her early life in America to her years in France to her return to America. At first, we might hope she's learned to see all humans as human from her years in a convent but records about her life back at her father's and then her plantation show she thoroughly bought into the philosophy underlying slavery and enforced it.At times the text is challenging to follow. If the chapters had been laid out one sister and then another it would have been clearer to follow perhaps but the text is more chronologically arranged. The switching between sisters' experiences and describing the world they live in feels overwhelming at times. I believe their experiences could have been better differentiated at times to help a layperson understand more easily.Even as a historian who has studied gender and slavery, this book was emotionally challenging to read. It should be difficult to read and Kerrison has done a good job of not toning down the realities.
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  • Biblio Files (takingadayoff)
    January 1, 1970
    Thomas Jefferson had three daughters, two with his wife Martha, and one with his slave, Sally Hemings. Jefferson's Daughters looks at how the daughters were raised, their education, upbringing, expectations, and how they fared in adulthood. Although I was aware that Jefferson had children with Sally Hemings, I did not know that Hemings was actually a half sister of his deceased wife - they had the same father. Sally Hemings' mother also probably had a white father, so Sally was, by all accounts, Thomas Jefferson had three daughters, two with his wife Martha, and one with his slave, Sally Hemings. Jefferson's Daughters looks at how the daughters were raised, their education, upbringing, expectations, and how they fared in adulthood. Although I was aware that Jefferson had children with Sally Hemings, I did not know that Hemings was actually a half sister of his deceased wife - they had the same father. Sally Hemings' mother also probably had a white father, so Sally was, by all accounts, fair skinned and straight haired. Still, this was no love match. Sally was a slave and Jefferson treated her and her children as slaves. He made some concessions, such as allowing them to be house servants rather than field hands, but he was hardly the proud father. In fact, he was embarrassed when it became common knowledge that he was fathering children with a slave. The fact that he did not respond to the public accusations lets us know that it was not considered acceptable behavior and that Jefferson himself was well aware of that.Sally had some leverage with Jefferson, though. She had been with the Jefferson family in Paris when he was the Ambassador to France and she learned French, and more important, that if she stayed in France instead of returning to Virginia with the family, she would be a free woman. Instead, she bargained with Jefferson, who apparently wanted to continue the relationship with the sixteen year old. He agreed that any children she had with him would be freed when they reached adulthood. She decided to trust him and returned with the family to the States.Jefferson never treated the children as anything other than slaves, allotting them the usual rations and clothing allowances, not educating them, and when they became adults, he didn't actually sign over their freedom, rather he allowed them to "escape." To legally free them would have been to acknowledge paternity, which he would not do.Harriet Hemings, half sister to the Jefferson girls, saw her brothers set out as free black men, and how difficult that was for them. She could only imagine how difficult it would be for a free black woman. So she decided her best bet was to pass as white. Evidently, she was able to do so. Kerrison's account at the end of the book of how she approached the puzzle of where Harriet went and who she became is a fascinating study in detection and genealogy.Excellent study of how women in an upper class American household at the turn of the 18th century lived.
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  • Rachel
    January 1, 1970
    This is a definite must-read for those who likes to read history, especially American history. Ever since I visited Monticello, I have been fascinated with Martha Jefferson and Sally Hemmings. This book even shared more details of Maria Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson's younger daughter, whom nothing has been written much about. I will admit that it wasn't till this past year that I realized that Thomas Jefferson had 2 daughters, since not much was mentioned about Maria. I didn't even know he had a This is a definite must-read for those who likes to read history, especially American history. Ever since I visited Monticello, I have been fascinated with Martha Jefferson and Sally Hemmings. This book even shared more details of Maria Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson's younger daughter, whom nothing has been written much about. I will admit that it wasn't till this past year that I realized that Thomas Jefferson had 2 daughters, since not much was mentioned about Maria. I didn't even know he had a third daughter till I read this book. This is incredibly fascinating. It is a historical research, that is packed full of information about the three daughters that I am looking at history with a renewed interest. This is not a novel, by any means. It embraces everything, especially the issue of slavery and Jefferson's descendants who were born in slavery but left, passing for white. This is a heavily researched book on Jefferson and his impact on his daughters, the people around him and while the rest of the nation celebrates his heritage as a founding father, this book exposes his human flaws in the fact that he doesn't think his daughters have a voice in the new country. It is an incredible read and one that I think would appeal to new readers to history as well as those who do research for a living. Kerrison did a fine job of tying all the ends together in her research, while admitting there is more that is left to the ages because she doesn't have all the information. What she has here is a great start, and definitely more information regarding Jefferson's daughters, who ensured his comforts in his old age and made sure his legacies continued. I personally think this is my favorite book so far on the Jefferson women. I am enlightened now as to what his third daughter had endured when she left the plantation to be an independent woman. While Harriet still remains shrouded in the veils of history, Kerrison did her best to explain what Harriet had to endure as a slave, as an unrecognized daughter of Jefferson and what might have happened to her once she left the plantation with her older brother. Kerrison also devoted time to that time period where slaves would try to pass for white especially if they were lighter-skinned. It covers a sensitive subject that still resonates even today, 200 years after the Revolution. I would definitely recommend this book to everyone who is interested in history.
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  • Cherei
    January 1, 1970
    I read this book slowly.. as I wanted time to research a few items that I'd read. OMG! The author outdid herself. This has to be one of the best researched novels of Jefferson's daughters. If you've read, "First Daughter".. then, this book is a MUST read. You will gain insights that you would not have even thought of prior to reading this story. It's a standalone novel.. you do not need to do prior reading.. but, it does help you understand the Jefferson family and their role in forming this cou I read this book slowly.. as I wanted time to research a few items that I'd read. OMG! The author outdid herself. This has to be one of the best researched novels of Jefferson's daughters. If you've read, "First Daughter".. then, this book is a MUST read. You will gain insights that you would not have even thought of prior to reading this story. It's a standalone novel.. you do not need to do prior reading.. but, it does help you understand the Jefferson family and their role in forming this country!I did not realize that his "wooded" retreat was three days from Monticello. Everyone else made out like it was just a few miles in the woods. Jefferson's architectural building concepts were so far ahead of his time.. it's not funny. Though, I found it very odd that he chose to give himself the best lit rooms.. and then, locked the library. To visit his sanctuary was by permission only. An absolute treat for the mind! A book that I am sure I will re-read more than a few times in the coming years.
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  • Bridget Vollmer
    January 1, 1970
    I received this book in a GR giveaway in exchange for my review.This I my first book I've read pertaining to Jefferson' daughters.I thought Catherine Kerrison did a wonderful job not only describing the very different lives of the three sisters but also daily life, education, and the social environment of that time period. I also enjoyed how Kerrison broached the topic of slavery, and how it's impact is still seen in modern times.A great non fiction historical read recommended for those who love I received this book in a GR giveaway in exchange for my review.This I my first book I've read pertaining to Jefferson' daughters.I thought Catherine Kerrison did a wonderful job not only describing the very different lives of the three sisters but also daily life, education, and the social environment of that time period. I also enjoyed how Kerrison broached the topic of slavery, and how it's impact is still seen in modern times.A great non fiction historical read recommended for those who love American history.
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  • TC
    January 1, 1970
    I am not a historian by either inclination or education. I come from the upper Midwest and was not familiar with either Southern ways nor racial diversity. I chose to read this book because I was interested in the lives of women in the post Revolutionary era. Professor Kerrison examines the live of 3 very different women. Martha and Maria are the daughters of Thomas Jefferson and his wife Martha. Harriet Hemings is Jefferson's daughter by slave Sally Hemings. Eldest daughter Martha traveled with I am not a historian by either inclination or education. I come from the upper Midwest and was not familiar with either Southern ways nor racial diversity. I chose to read this book because I was interested in the lives of women in the post Revolutionary era. Professor Kerrison examines the live of 3 very different women. Martha and Maria are the daughters of Thomas Jefferson and his wife Martha. Harriet Hemings is Jefferson's daughter by slave Sally Hemings. Eldest daughter Martha traveled with Jefferson to France where she was educated in a convent school. Besides the typical studies of music, dance and needlework, the sisters taught Martha in subjects more frequently reserved for young men. Social contact with Jefferson's political and personal acquaintances introduced her to many educated, sophisticated, politically aware women. She grew into a woman who loved reading and the accumulation of knowledge. Younger daughter Maria stayed with relatives for the majority of Jefferson's time in Paris. She stayed with a family where she was loved, coddled and schooled in the traditional role of a Southern plantation owners wife. She joined her sister and father in Paris for a short time but was resistant to education in languages, literature, mathematics and geography. Sally accompanied the Jefferson's to Paris and returned with them after exacting a promise from Jefferson that their children would be freed from slavery at adulthood. Harriet and was raised as an upper level slave with freedoms not enjoyed by other household slaves. She was eventually trained in the skill of spinning. Author Kerrison adroitly incorporated known facts about these three women with blanks filled in by describing the typical lives of women in their place in society, often positing several possibilities of action. Her narratives present an interesting study of their lives, roles in society and the general attitudes toward women in different levels of society. After marrying a suitable but not very robust or successful man, Martha directed her love of learning to educating her many children and assisting her rather remote father. Maria, on the other hand, married a loving, successful man and happily lived the life of a planter's wife. Her marriage was plagued with stillborn children and poor health. She died in childbirth leaving one son and a grieving widower. Little is know of Harriet's life beyond a few bare facts but Kerrison describes well the life of an upper slave in that era. She came from a large and loving family. As she approached the age where she would be freed, according to Sally's bargain with Jefferson, she left her family and the plantation...possibly with the assistance of her brother and to a small degree Jefferson himself. She vanished into the Washington (DC) area where, later accounts tell us, she passed for white, married and had a family. She, perhaps, had the happiest life of all three of Jefferson's daughters.I loved the descriptions of the everyday lives of these three women. I was fascinated by information on the political climates, emerging philosophies concerning women's roles and rights, and on the eye-opening slave culture in the post Revolutionary US. I felt badly for these three women who were locked into the cultures in which they were born and wished I could reach back in time to tell them that some things will change and that, sadly, other things haven't.
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  • Brandi D'angelo
    January 1, 1970
    Jefferson's Daughters is chock full of history, not only about Jefferson's daughters, but of the time period, customs, education, social etiquette, work, and more. One of the main themes is that of slavery. Author Catherine Kerrison does a fine job of delving into the hard telling of the history of slavery, how it affected woman in particular, and how its effects are still woven into life as we know it today. The story centers around 3 of Jefferson's daughters, two of which are white and the thi Jefferson's Daughters is chock full of history, not only about Jefferson's daughters, but of the time period, customs, education, social etiquette, work, and more. One of the main themes is that of slavery. Author Catherine Kerrison does a fine job of delving into the hard telling of the history of slavery, how it affected woman in particular, and how its effects are still woven into life as we know it today. The story centers around 3 of Jefferson's daughters, two of which are white and the third is mostly black and a slave. The reader learns how completely different lives are led, depending on your skin color. Slavery was a really tough life, not only in the actual work, but in how you were treated in regards to your clothing, housing, time with family etc. It is awful. I was mesmerized by the description of nail-making in the chapter entitled, "Harriet's Monticello." She describes how boys as young as 10 were put to work in the nailery, where it was brutally hot, especially in the summertime. They would hold iron in the fire until it was hot enough, and then swung a hammer, repeatedly, until it was shaped into a nail. Sometimes, a boy could yield 1000 nails in a 14-hour work day. Wow, a 14-hour work day. A lesser, but still prominent theme, was that of white women, told thru the story of Jefferson's two white daughters. While they were afforded lovely clothes, rich food, education, travel, etc., they still did not end up with the kinds of riches, property, and rights that men did. Women have come a long way, baby!Regardless of skin color, life was difficult and arduous back then. So many births ended in deaths, and it didn't matter how much money you had. So many people died of disease (typhus, measles, whooping cough) and infection. I like how the book ended, encouraging people to continue to pursue the inalienable rights that the founding fathers wrote about. So true!! We have to keep working, together, to build on that legacy.
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  • Deb
    January 1, 1970
    I received this book courtesy of NetGalley and its publisher, Random House. This book is interesting right from the start. The lives of each of Thomas Jefferson’s three daughters, Martha, Maria, and Harriet, are detailed very thoroughly. It is apparent the author has done a significant amount of research. After finishing the book, I felt I knew each of his daughters and the challenges each encountered. The reader learns not only about Jefferson’s daughters but also their progeny. After reading t I received this book courtesy of NetGalley and its publisher, Random House. This book is interesting right from the start. The lives of each of Thomas Jefferson’s three daughters, Martha, Maria, and Harriet, are detailed very thoroughly. It is apparent the author has done a significant amount of research. After finishing the book, I felt I knew each of his daughters and the challenges each encountered. The reader learns not only about Jefferson’s daughters but also their progeny. After reading this book, you definitely will have a solid understanding of the life and times of Jefferson’s era.The book isn’t just about these three women. It is about numerous topics including the:• History of Monticello• Slavery in the U.S.• Challenges of anyone with black blood• Gender biases• Thomas Jefferson’s political career• Hardships of the times with illness/death• Historical facts about ParisI found numerous interesting details sprinkled throughout the book, such as “Eighteenth-century manners required that writers first draft their letter and then make a fair copy to send.” If you enjoy historical books, this is a great one to pick up. You learn a lot while your interest is held.
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  • Sandra
    January 1, 1970
    It was a crucial time in our nation’s history. Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, was also raising his daughters alone during this time. His wife, whom he’d dearly loved, had died in childbirth, leaving him to raise their two daughters. The third daughter mentioned in this book, was borne by his slave.This book is about a different time, indeed. It was a time when a wealthy man could write a document about liberty and justice for all, while owning slaves. It was a time whe It was a crucial time in our nation’s history. Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, was also raising his daughters alone during this time. His wife, whom he’d dearly loved, had died in childbirth, leaving him to raise their two daughters. The third daughter mentioned in this book, was borne by his slave.This book is about a different time, indeed. It was a time when a wealthy man could write a document about liberty and justice for all, while owning slaves. It was a time when he could father children with a slave he owned.This is definitely a well-researched, accurate account of Jefferson, his daughters, two white and one black, and of a time early in the history of our developing country. This account is well-written, interesting, and seems to be unbiased. It includes some paintings and photographs to help tell the story. This is definitely the book to read if you are interested in this time period.I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.
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  • Amanda P
    January 1, 1970
    If you're interested in American history; this is a must read book. Catherine Kerrison really did her research and it shows. It portrays Jefferson as a relatable, flawed human rather than the celebrated founding father that he normally is shown to be.I had no idea he had 3 girls that lived to adulthood; let alone one born into slavery. I honestly thought he just had the one because very little is mentioned about his younger two in history books. It was fascinating to me to read how all 3 girls w If you're interested in American history; this is a must read book. Catherine Kerrison really did her research and it shows. It portrays Jefferson as a relatable, flawed human rather than the celebrated founding father that he normally is shown to be.I had no idea he had 3 girls that lived to adulthood; let alone one born into slavery. I honestly thought he just had the one because very little is mentioned about his younger two in history books. It was fascinating to me to read how all 3 girls were brought up so differently from each other and how little of a day-to-day role Jefferson played.This isn't a fast paced book by any means. There are a lot of tedious details that make parts of the book move at a snails pace. That said, I really enjoyed this book and Woolf recommend it to anyone that wants an accurate account of the Jefferson daughters.Thank you to NetGalley for an advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
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