Friday, April 27, 2018

Book Review: Jefferson's Daughters

by Catherine Kerrison


Partial Synopsis from Bas Bleu Thomas Jefferson is among the most famous of America’s founding fathers, but it’s easy to forget that he was an actual father, to daughters Martha and Maria Jefferson—and to Harriet Hemings, one of several children he had with his slave Sally Hemings. (Fact: Sally was Martha and Maria’s biological aunt on their mother’s side, making Harriet their cousin as well as their half-sister.)



My Thoughts:  What a fascinating read.  I learned so much about early US History.  The author does a great job covering Virginia state law of the time, especially the legislature around slave holding.  Some of these laws are quite heartbreaking.  While eldest surviving daughter, Martha, kept meticulous records and consistently wrote letters to friends and family, younger Maria did not.  It's very interesting to read Martha's perspective in her own words about specific events.  Maria's feelings are a bit of a mystery and take some guesswork.  Her thoughts can be pieced together, though, thanks to letters from her Aunt Eppes as well as close friends like Abigail Adams.  Martha and Maria are Jefferson's daughters with his legal wife, also named Martha.

Very little documentation is left about daughter, Harriet Hemings, born at Monticello to slave, Sally Hemings.  Other than farm records, we really know very little about her.  She may or may not have been taught how to read and write.  None of her thoughts or feelings, written in her own hand, are known to exist.  The author does however include experiences of other slaves at Monticello and in the surrounding area.  There is also quite a bit of speculation about what happened when Harriet disappeared.  If you enjoy early American history, you will want this book.

What have you been reading?

;-)  -Marci

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