Thomas Jefferson had three daughters: Martha and Maria by his wife, Martha Wayles Jefferson, and Harriet by his slave Sally Hemings. In Jeffersons Daughters, Catherine Kerrison, a scholar of early American and womens history, recounts the remarkable journey of these three womenand 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 Parisa hothouse of intellectual ferment whose celebrated salonnières are vividly brought to life in Kerrisons 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 slaveryapparently 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 Jeffersons 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 Americaand on the personal and political legacy of one of our most controversial Founding Fathers.
Hardcover, 448 pages.
About the author:
Catherine Kerrison is an associate professor of history at Villanova University, where she teaches courses in Colonial and Revolutionary America and womens and gender history. She holds a PhD in American history from the College of William and Mary. Her first book, Claiming the Pen: Women and Intellectual Life in the Early American South, won the Outstanding Book Award from the History of Education Society. She lives in Berwyn, Pennsylvania.