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.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tags: , , , , ,

White or Black? The children of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings wrestle with racial identity

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Passing on 2017-11-05 04:29Z by Steven

White or Black? The children of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings wrestle with racial identity

Nehemiah Center For Urban Leadership Development
Madison, Wisconsin
2017-10-13

Phil Haslanger, Associate Pastor
Memorial United Church of Christ, Madison, Wisconsin


Annette Gordon-Reed

Annette Gordon-Reed, the historian and law professor at Harvard and Radcliff, explored that dilemma in the third annual James Madison Lecture at the Wisconsin State Historical Society on Oct. 11. She brought into focus the choices African-Americans have had to make in deciding whether to “pass” – to be viewed as white even though they are bi-racial.

Hemings’ children were all freed from slavery after [Thomas] Jefferson’s death, the result of promise she extracted from him when they were in Paris in the late 1780s and she could have walked to her own freedom there.

Jefferson and [Sally] Hemings’ son, Eston Hemings Jefferson, brings that dilemma home to Madison. This is where he and his wife and their three children moved in 1852, using Jefferson as his last name and becoming part of the white community in this emerging city.

“Passing for white is a complicated thing,” Gordon-Reed told the standing-room only crowd in the Historical Society Auditorium. “Do you choose for your parents or for your children? Passing is always a poignant story.”

Gordon-Reed is the historian whose worked changed the national consensus around the relationship between Jefferson and Hemings. Her 1997 book, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, shattered decades of wide acceptance of denials from Jefferson’s white descendants that he had fathered children with Hemings…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson and the Ways We Talk About Our Past

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, United States, Virginia on 2017-08-26 22:38Z by Steven

Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson and the Ways We Talk About Our Past

The New York Times
2017-08-24

Annette Gordon-Reed, Charles Warren Professor of American Legal History; Professor of History, Faculty of Arts & Sciences
Harvard University


A photograph of Monticello from the late 1800s. Credit University of Virginia Library

It has been 20 years since the historian Annette Gordon-Reed published “Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy,” a book that successfully challenged the prevailing perceptions of both figures. In a piece for The New York Times Book Review, submitted just before the tragic events in Charlottesville, Va., Gordon-Reed reflects on the complexities that endure in our understanding of Hemings and the language we use to characterize her.

Sally Hemings has been described as “an enigma,” the enslaved woman who first came to public notice at the turn of the 19th century when James Callender, an enemy of the newly elected President Thomas Jefferson, wrote with racist virulence of “SALLY,” who lived at Monticello and had borne children by Jefferson. Hemings came back into the news earlier this year, after the Thomas Jefferson Foundation announced plans to restore a space where Hemings likely resided, for a time, at Monticello. A number of news reports as well as comments on social media discussing the plans drew the ire of many readers because they referred to Hemings as Jefferson’s “mistress” and used the word “relationship” to describe the connection between the pair, as if those words inevitably denote positive things. They do not, of course — especially when the word “mistress” is modified by the crucial word “enslaved.”

When I published my first book, “Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy,” in 1997, most people knew of Hemings from two works: Fawn Brodie’s biography “Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History” (1974) and Barbara Chase-Riboud’s novel “Sally Hemings” (1979), both of which sought to rescue Hemings’s personhood. More typically, the scholarship written to disprove her connection to Jefferson routinely diminished Hemings’s humanity. The arguments that the story couldn’t be true because Jefferson would never be involved with “a slave girl” and that such a person was too low to have influenced Jefferson recurred in various formulations in historical writings over many years, as if the designation “slave girl” told readers all they needed to know. My first book was designed to expose the inanity of those, and other, arguments. I wrote a second book, “The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family,” to flesh out Hemings’s personal history…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , ,

Thomas and Sally

Posted in Arts, History, Live Events, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2017-08-12 22:09Z by Steven

Thomas and Sally

Marin Theater Company
Mill Valley, California
September 28-October 22 (2017) | World Premiere

By Thomas Bradshaw

An explosive world premiere by a 2017 PEN Award winner, Thomas and Sally gets up close and personal with founding father Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, the enslaved woman who mothered six of his children. Playwright Thomas Bradshaw takes us behind the scenes—and into the beds—of American history with the Hemings-Jeffersons and the rock stars of the Revolution: Ben Franklin, John & Abigail Adams & the Marquis de Lafayette!

Mr. Bradshaw’s writing has been influenced by the research of many historical experts on the Jefferson and Hemings families, but the world of this play is completely his own:

“Thomas and Sally is a work of historical fiction. You may recognize many of the names in this play, but others are pure invention. History is highly malleable and subject to interpretation. This is my attempt to explore the essence of these characters and the world they lived in. This is a play, and I am playing with history. I hope you enjoy.”

Thomas Bradshaw’s plays have been produced at regional theaters in NYC as well as in Europe. He is currently working on commissions from the Goodman Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club, and the Foundry Theatre, as well as developing a TV series for HARPO and HBO. He is the recipient of a 2009 Guggenheim Fellowship, the 2010 Prince Charitable Trust Prize, the 2012 Award from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, and this year’s PEN award for an Emerging American playwright.

For more information, click here.

Tags: , , ,

Clyde Ensslin Explores Thomas Jefferson’s Secret, Unflattering History in his Fringe Debut

Posted in Articles, Arts, History, Media Archive, United States on 2017-07-21 18:09Z by Steven

Clyde Ensslin Explores Thomas Jefferson’s Secret, Unflattering History in his Fringe Debut

Washington City Paper
2017-07-06

Caroline Jones, City Lights Editor


Clyde Ensslin (Darrow Montgomery)

Clyde Ensslin’s journey to the Capital Fringe Festival began, of all places, in an Uber. Ensslin has driven for the rideshare company since 2014, and one night in the fall of that year he received a message to pick up a passenger at the bar Showtime in Bloomingdale. That passenger turned out to be Capital Fringe CEO Julianne Brienza.

As they rode, she told him she’d just closed on Fringe’s new headquarters on Florida Avenue NE. When Ensslin revealed he had never heard of the arts festival, Brienza gave him a crash course in the world of Fringe, from its roots in Edinburgh to her plans to build Trinidad into an arts district. “She just kind of blew me away,” he says of his first impression. She encouraged him to see shows when the festival returned in the summer. He bought an eight-pack of tickets.

“At the time, I did not think this was anything I’d want to do,” he says now. But after seeing pieces he loved, like Cara Gabriel’s I Am the Gentry, he bought another eight-pack the following year. By the end of the 2016 festival, he was hooked. At the same time, Ensslin’s passengers were regularly telling him how much he sounds like former president Bill Clinton, so he started thinking about constructing a play that would coincide with the 20th anniversary of the 42nd president’s impropriety and subsequent impeachment

…Early on in the process, he discussed his plans with Ibe Crawley, the operator of IBe’ Arts, a small gallery in Historic Anacostia, who pushed him to not focus directly on Bill and Monica and instead tell the story of another lecherous commander-in-chief: Thomas Jefferson. The resulting play, a monologue called Thomas Jefferson: Hoochie-Coochie Man, is presented as a college lecture, taught by professor William Jefferson Clinton, that breaks down the relationship between Jefferson and Sally Hemings and the ways that story has evolved over time.

To begin his research, Ensslin consulted the authoritative text on the subject, historian Annette Gordon-Reed’s The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family. Gordon-Reed tells the stories of multiple generations of the Hemings family, who became Jefferson’s property when he inherited them from his father-in-law. She chronicles the hard labor they did on his plantation and follows members of the family after they were freed upon Jefferson’s death. After hearing her speak at the 2016 National Book Festival, Ensslin dove deeper into the historiographical archives, reading Christopher Hitchens’ Thomas Jefferson: Author of America and titles by Michelle Alexander, Michael Eric Dyson, and Eddie S. Glaude Jr. as he tried to understand the paradox that Jefferson occupies in American history.

Ensslin’s show arrives at a time of renewed interest in Jeffersonian scholarship. After DNA evidence conclusively proved Jefferson fathered a child with Sally Hemings, historians and curators were forced to deal with that aspect of Jefferson’s life for the first time. A large donation from philanthropist David Rubenstein in 2013 allowed curators at Monticello, Jefferson’s home in Charlottesville, Virginia, to build replicas of the cabins slaves lived in on the plantation. Visitors can now go on tours that specifically highlight the experiences of slaves and the Hemings family. But even Hamilton, every woke theater nerd’s guide to early American history, paints Jefferson as a politically savvy bon vivant, only mentioning Sally in a winking reference for history buffs…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , ,

Sally Hemings wasn’t Thomas Jefferson’s mistress. She was his property.

Posted in Articles, Communications/Media Studies, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Virginia on 2017-07-13 00:09Z by Steven

Sally Hemings wasn’t Thomas Jefferson’s mistress. She was his property.

The Washington Post
2017-07-07

Britni Danielle


The room at Monticello where Sally Hemings is believed to have lived. (Norm Shafer/For The Washington Post)

Archaeologists at Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia plantation, Monticello, are unearthing the room where Sally Hemings is believed to have lived, allowing for a new way to tell the story of the enslaved people who served our third president. The excavation has once again reminded us that 241 years after the United States was founded, many Americans still don’t know how to reconcile one of our nation’s original sins with the story of its Founding Fathers.

Just before the Fourth of July, NBC News ran a feature on the room, setting off a spate of coverage about the dig. Many of these stories described Hemings, the mother of six children with Jefferson, as the former president’s “mistress.” The Inquisitr, the Daily Mail, AOL and Cox Media Group all used the word (though Cox later updated its wording). So did an NBC News tweet that drew scathing criticism, though its story accurately called her “the enslaved woman who, historians believe, gave birth to six of Jefferson’s children.” The Washington Post also used “mistress” in a headline and a tweet about Hemings’s room in February.

Language like that elides the true nature of their relationship, which is believed to have begun when Hemings, then 14 years old, accompanied Jefferson’s daughter to live with Jefferson, then 44, in Paris. She wasn’t Jefferson’s mistress; she was his property. And he raped her…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , ,

Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson, And The Normalization of Slave Rape Narratives

Posted in Articles, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Women on 2017-03-19 01:34Z by Steven

Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson, And The Normalization of Slave Rape Narratives

black youth project
2017-02-23

Elizabeth Adetiba

I am not the same person now as I was when I was 14—and thank God for that. I was remarkably naive and unbearably insecure, and stuck in an environment that did nothing but exacerbate those complex internal struggles that are so typical of adolescence.

So imagine my outrage upon being continuously confronted with articles that insist on describing the affairs between Thomas Jefferson and a fourteen year-old enslaved Sally Hemings (simultaneously his slave and wife’s half-sister) as a ‘relationship.’ I cannot fathom, at fourteen, being denied the liberty to reject the sexual advances of a 44 year-old man (and not just any man, but a man who would become the President of the United States) only to have historians and writers skip over the imbalanced power dynamics and categorize it as a ‘relationship.’…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , ,

Why You Can’t Ever Call an Enslaved Woman a “Mistress”

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2017-03-05 22:16Z by Steven

Why You Can’t Ever Call an Enslaved Woman a “Mistress”

Teen Vogue
2017-02-27

Lincoln Blades

This is an important Black History Month PSA.

In the black community, many different opinions abound regarding the usefulness of Black History Month. For some, it is viewed as a necessary and critical tool for cultural celebration and propagating the importance of our collective historical achievements, which otherwise would go unnoticed. For others, it feels like a reductive display of forced lip service conducted during the shortest and coldest month of the year, in lieu of providing us with a more sustained and inclusive role in the everyday curriculum. But what we all can agree on is that presenting our history in a wholly accurate and factual manner delivered with the correct context is of the utmost importance, which is why we react so strongly to inaccurate and/or misrepresentative claims.

That irritation was inflamed this past weekend when The Washington Post published an article about a restoration that would be occurring at Monticello, the plantation of America’s third president, Thomas Jefferson, which is operated as a museum. The restoration to be completed will involve unmasking a bathroom installed in 1941 just steps from Jefferson’s bedroom to reveal what the room really was: Sally Hemings’s bedroom…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , ,