Jefferson's Daughters

Jefferson's Daughters

Three Sisters, White and Black, in A Young America

Large Print - 2018
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The remarkable untold story of Thomas Jefferson's three daughters--two white and free, one black and enslaved--and the divergent paths they forged in a newly independent America

Thomas Jefferson had three daughters: Martha and Maria by his wife, Martha Wayles Jefferson, and Harriet by his slave Sally Hemings. In Jefferson's Daughters, Catherine Kerrison, a scholar of early American and women's history, recounts the remarkable journey of these three women--and how their struggle to define themselves reflects both the possibilities and the limitations that resulted from the American Revolution.

Although the three women shared a father, the similarities end there. Martha and Maria received a fine convent school education while they lived with their father during his diplomatic posting in Paris--a hothouse of intellectual ferment whose celebrated salonnières are vividly brought to life in Kerrison's narrative. Once they returned home, however, the sisters found their options limited by the laws and customs of early America.

Harriet Hemings followed a different path. She escaped slavery--apparently with the assistance of Jefferson himself. Leaving Monticello behind, she boarded a coach and set off for a decidedly uncertain future.

For this groundbreaking triple biography, Kerrison has uncovered never-before-published documents written by the Jefferson sisters when they were in their teens, as well as letters written by members of the Jefferson and Hemings families. She has interviewed Hemings family descendants (and, with their cooperation, initiated DNA testing) and searched for descendants of Harriet Hemings.

The eventful lives of Thomas Jefferson's daughters provide a unique vantage point from which to examine the complicated patrimony of the American Revolution itself. The richly interwoven story of these three strong women and their fight to shape their own destinies sheds new light on the ongoing movement toward human rights in America--and on the personal and political legacy of one of our most controversial Founding Fathers.

"Beautifully written . . . To a nuanced study of Jefferson's two white daughters, Martha and Maria, [Kerrison] innovatively adds a discussion of his only enslaved daughter, Harriet Hemings."-- The New York Times Book Review
Publisher: [New York] :, Random House Large Print,, [2018]
ISBN: 9780525524380
Branch Call Number: LGPRINT 973.4609 Kerrison 01/2018
Characteristics: 784 pages (large print) ;,23 cm
large print, rda


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Oct 30, 2018

Almost on the border of being boring...reads like a history book about Jefferson and the times with a few tidbits about the girls. Writing technique is like sitting down with someone who just keeps on talking and talking. The author labored too hard in trying to be factual with the girls; but it becomes boring with he said, she said etc... It was really hard to believe that Martha at the age of 10 was so mature for her age and reading on such a high level, it was like as if she was a trained dog. Gleaned some useful information; but it really wasn't worth the pouring over all the junk to get it. Low rate because of poor delivery of story and writing style.

Oct 04, 2018

Non-fiction, biography - while well written it reads like a history book - not what I was looking for or in the mood to read.

Jun 12, 2018

An interesting detailed look at both Jefferson’s white daughters and black daughters. Now only was the contrast in their relationships with Jefferson but how he viewed women and their place in society. What really impressed me was how much work it was for the author to find information especially about Harriet.

Jun 04, 2018

Kerrison has carefully researched the lives of the three Jefferson daughters who grew to adulthood-- Martha (aka Patsy), Mary (aka Polly or Maria), and Harriet Hemings. While Martha and Maria received convent educations in Paris, Harriet's education was a by-product of her life at Monticello. Using primary sources and interviews with both Jefferson and Hemings descendants, Kerrison produces an interesting story about the very circumscribed lives of women, both white and black, in colonial America. Jefferson was a man of his times -- his only interest was in expanding the rights of man from white men who owned property to all white men. Women and slaves were still considered property by their husbands and masters. An extensive bibliography and many pages of notes document how far we have come and how far we have to go.


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Jun 04, 2018

" But, as it turned out, not even the daughter and granddaughter of the author of the Declaration of Independence would be permitted that freedom [to command fortune and direct the events of my life]; in spite of their scholarly attainments, they remained, after all, women.


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