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

by Catherine Kerrison

Hardcover, 2018




Ballantine Books (2018), Edition: First Edition, 448 pages


Biography & Autobiography. History. Nonfiction. HTML: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   FINALIST FOR THE GEORGE WASHINGTON PRIZE • “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 Thomas Jefferson had three daughters: Martha and Maria by his wife, Martha Wayles Jefferson, and Harriet by his slave Sally Hemings. 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. 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, history scholar Catherine Kerrison has uncovered never-before-published documents written by the Jefferson sisters, as well as letters written by members of the Jefferson and Hemings families. The richly interwoven stories of these strong women and their fight to shape their own destinies shed new light on issues of race and gender that are still relevant today—and on the legacy of one of our most controversial Founding Fathers.   Praise for Jefferson’s Daughters   “A fascinating glimpse of where we have been as a nation . . . Catherine Kerrison tells us the stories of three of Thomas Jefferson’s children, who, due to their gender and race, lived lives whose most intimate details are lost to time.”—USA Today “A valuable addition to the history of Revolutionary-era America.”—The Boston Globe “A thought-provoking nonfiction narrative that reads like a novel.”—BookPage.… (more)


½ (23 ratings; 3.7)

User reviews

LibraryThing member phoenixcomet
A worth-your-time read about the daughters of America's 3rd President, Thomas Jefferson. Known for his Declaration of Independence and that "all men are created equal", Jefferson nonetheless was still a slave owner and task master. More compassionate than most, he was a product of his Virginian
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times - Black people were not intellectually equal and should not be free.
That being said, he didn't think twice about taking Sally Hemings as his sex partner and fathering 6 children with her, several which made it to adulthood, including Harriet who managed to be unofficially set free on her 21st birthday.

Maria Jefferson Eppes married for love, but died from the after effects of childbirth at age 25. Martha Jefferson Randolph, Paris educated, raised 12 children under Jefferson's watchful eyes. Never quite fully actualized, Martha did the best she could, as a product of the times that did not value the intellect of women.
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LibraryThing member brangwinn
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
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about Harriet.
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LibraryThing member SignoraEdie
A very revealing and well-researched account of the lives of Thomas Jefferson's descendants. I found it eye-opening about the realities of white privilege and "color of skin" then and now. Focusing on Jefferson's three daughters, Martha, Maria and Harriet, the book shows the importance of racial
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purity...then and now! The richest chapter was at the end...Legacy. His daughter Harriet, chose to leave her family and her identity to live a life of "passing" for herself and her children. She is invisible to us as Jefferson's daughter. As recently as 2002 the Montecello Association denied the rights of burial in the Montecello graveyard to Heming descendants of Jefferson. Shame on us.
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LibraryThing member ValerieAndBooks
Author Catherine Kerrison does an excellent job of showing attitudes towards gender and race at the time Thomas Jefferson‘s daughters were living. His two white daughters received excellent educations for females at that time, and were considered privileged. Another daughter Harriet, by his slave
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Sally Hemings, escaped Virginia -- probably with Jefferson's help. She passed for white, probably living and raising a family in Washington DC, & we don‘t know her fate.

All three daughters had such potential but were restricted by attitudes towards race and gender, especially Harriet. Maybe Harriet's descendants will be revealed someday.

I highly recommend this book. It‘s non-fiction (which I want) but I was initially fooled by its cover design, which makes it look like historic fiction.
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Virginia Literary Awards (Finalist — Nonfiction — 2019)
George Washington Book Prize (Finalist — 2019)


Original language


Physical description

448 p.; 6.41 inches


1101886242 / 9781101886243
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