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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