Jefferson’s Daughters: Three Sisters, White and Black, in a Young America

Posted in Biography, Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs, Passing, Slavery, United States, Virginia, Women on 2018-02-22 05:03Z by Steven

Jefferson’s Daughters: Three Sisters, White and Black, in a Young America

Ballantine Books
2018-01-30
448 pages
6.3 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1101886243
Paperback ISBN: 978-0525524380

Catherine Kerrison, Associate Professor of History
Villanova University, Villanova, Pennsylvania

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.

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Jefferson’s Three Daughters — Two Free, One Enslaved

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, Passing, Slavery, United States, Virginia on 2018-01-29 20:24Z by Steven

Jefferson’s Three Daughters — Two Free, One Enslaved

Book Review
The New York Times
2018-01-26

Mary Beth Norton, Mary Donlon Alger Professor of American History History
Cornell University, Ithaca, New York

JEFFERSON’S DAUGHTERS
Three Sisters, White and Black, in a Young America
By Catherine Kerrison
Illustrated. 425 pp. Ballantine Books. $28.


Martha Jefferson Randolph
Credit Thomas Jefferson Foundation

Fawn Brodie would be astonished — and gratified. In 1974, her biography “Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History” contended that the third president had fathered children with his slave Sally Hemings. For this, Catherine Kerrison, a professor of American history at Villanova University, accurately notes, Brodie was “excoriated by a cadre of Jefferson experts.” A lot has changed, and largely because of the work of Annette Gordon-Reed, who took seriously Hemings family stories and, bolstered by a DNA study, convinced nearly all scholars, including Kerrison, that Brodie was correct. “Jefferson’s Daughters,” Kerrison’s beautifully written book, takes the relationship’s existence as a given.

And so, to a nuanced study of Jefferson’s two white daughters, Martha (born 1772) and Maria (born 1778), she innovatively adds a discussion of his only enslaved daughter, Harriet Hemings (born 1801). The result is a stunning if unavoidably imbalanced book, combining detailed treatments of Martha’s and Maria’s experiences with imaginative attempts to reconstruct Harriet’s life…

Read the entire review here.

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How did we lose a president’s daughter?

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Passing, Slavery, United States, Virginia, Women on 2018-01-29 00:05Z by Steven

How did we lose a president’s daughter?

The Washington Post
2018-01-25

Catherine Kerrison, Associate Professor of History
Villanova University, Villanova, Pennsylvania


Thomas Jefferson is shown in a painting by Rembrandt Peale. Jefferson was the father of several children born to Sally Hemings, an enslaved woman at Monticello, one of whom chose to pass as white rather than claim her relation to the president. (AP/New York Historical Society)

What the disappearance of Thomas Jefferson’s daughter can tell us about racism in America.

Many people know that Thomas Jefferson had a long-standing relationship with his slave, Sally Hemings. But fewer know that they had four children, three boys and a girl, who survived to adulthood. Born into slavery, Sally’s daughter Harriet boarded a stagecoach to freedom at age 21, bound for Washington, D.C. Her father had given her $50 for her travel expenses. She would never see her mother or younger brothers again.

With her departure from Monticello in 1822, Harriet disappeared from the historical record, not to be heard of again for more than 50 years, when her brother told her story. Seven-eighths white, Harriet had “thought it to her interest to go to Washington as a white woman,” he said. She married a “white man in good standing” in that city and “raised a family of children.” In the half-century during which she passed as white, her brother was “not aware that her identity as Harriet Hemings of Monticello has ever been discovered.”

So how did we lose a president’s daughter? Given America’s obsession with the Founding Fathers, with the children of the Revolution and their descendants, why did Jefferson’s child disappear? As it turns out, America has an even greater obsession with race, so that not even Harriet Hemings’s lineage as a president’s daughter was sufficient to convey the benefits of freedom. Instead, her birth into slavery marked her as black and drove her decision to erase her family history…

Catherine Kerrison is an associate professor of history at Villanova University, and the author of the forthcoming book “Jefferson’s Daughters: Three Sisters, White and Black in a Young America.”

Read the entire article here.

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