Jean's Reviews > The Hemingses of Monticello

The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed
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Aug 30, 09

Read in August, 2009

Gordon-Reed has written an meticulously researched epic of the Hemingses, an 18th century Virginia slave family. Thomas Jefferson inherited the Hemingses and other slave families from his father-in-law. The Hemingses received special treatment from Jefferson and Gordon-Reed argues that was because they were half brothers and sisters to Jefferson' s beloved wife, Martha. After Martha’s early death Jefferson began a thirty-eight year liaison with Sally Hemings, Martha's beautiful, mixed-race, half-sister. Jefferson and Hemings had seven children together.

The book examines the complicated family relationships that existed between Jefferson, Sally Hemmings, their mixed-race children, Jefferson’s two white daughters from his marriage to Martha and Martha’s half-brothers (also slaves in Jefferson’s home). Gordon-Reed, a law professor, provides detailed information about prevailing attitudes and behaviors on race and slavery and systematically builds case after case in which she interprets family members’ feelings, motivations and behaviors. The portrait of Jefferson that emerges is of a man who hated slavery intellectually, but who was too self-indulgent and emotionally needy to give up all his slaves. This book is fascinating, but I would have preferred an abridged version.
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