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

Catherine Kerrison. Ballantine, $28 (432p) ISBN 978-1-1018-8624-3
Kerrison (Claiming the Pen), associate professor of history at Villanova University, richly textures this tale of the lives of Thomas Jefferson’s three daughters. Two daughters, Martha and Maria, came from Jefferson’s marriage to Martha Wayles Skelton. The other, Harriet, was born to the enslaved Sally Hemings. Kerrison demonstrates her deep understanding of post-Revolution America, marshaling an impressive array of sources to illustrate the possibilities for “women, free blacks, and slaves” in the new country. Jefferson’s presence looms throughout, but Kerrison foregrounds the daughters’ stories, brilliantly recapturing the patterns of Southern women’s lives. Martha and Maria lost their mother at an early age and bounced from place to place before settling into homes of their own as married women. Harriet’s story is the most captivating and reveals much about the web of family connections woven in bondage. Harriet never knew Maria and Martha ignored Harriet at Monticello. When Harriet turned 14, Jefferson put her to work in Monticello’s weavers’ cottage. But in 1822, he facilitated Harriet’s departure to Washington, after which she passed as a white woman. Incisive and elegant, Kerrison’s book is at once a fabulous family story and a stellar work of historical scholarship. Maps & illus. Agent: Howard Morhaim, Howard Morhaim Literary. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 10/30/2017
Release date: 01/02/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 460 pages - 978-0-525-52438-0
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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