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

3.58  ·  Rating details ·  2,036 ratings  ·  428 reviews
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.

Thomas Jefferson had three daughters: Martha and Maria by his wife, Martha Wayles Jefferson, and Harriet by his slave Sally Hemings. In Jefferson's Daughters, Catherine Kerrison, a scholar of
Hardcover, 425 pages
Published January 2nd 2018 by Ballantine Books
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Chanel I believe that it is worth your time. It is sad that Harriet Hemings had so little choices but to leave her family behind and become someone else due …moreI believe that it is worth your time. It is sad that Harriet Hemings had so little choices but to leave her family behind and become someone else due to the racial hierarchy in this country. If you would like to understand why we are facing class, gender and racial issues of today, this book lays the foundation. Happy Reading! (less)
Steph Have you read Jefferson's Sons? It's a great middle grades book on the topic.…more
Have you read Jefferson's Sons? It's a great middle grades book on the topic.

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David Eppenstein
This book is either a biographical history of Thomas Jefferson's three daughters, 2 white and 1 black, or a commentary on the plight of women in the late 18th century and early 19th. Whatever it is it's a disappointment. As a history of these three women there is plenty of source material upon which to track the lives of TJ's two surviving white daughters, Martha and Marie. As for the daughter TJ had with Sally Hemings named Harriet there is virtually nothing of evidentiary value from which to t ...more
TammyJo Eckhart
Nov 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Catherine Kerrison has a difficult task in this book. She wants to tell us about the three daughters that Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson "raised" to adulthood. I say "raised" because as you continue reading you discover just how little direct contact he often had with his daughters, particularly Harriet, who was born into slavery via her mother, Sally Hemings. Hemings had been promised freedom for her children when they turned 21 years old but Jefferson's gendered attitudes and belief in raci ...more
I can not reccommend this book. In fact I'm somewhat shocked this was even printed in 2018. The information included is dated, inaccurate, and slavery apologist in tone.

This biography while extremely approachable is heavily and not respectfully edited in respect to chattel slavery. This biography includes 2 white women who exploited enslaved peoples and one enslaved person. The enslaved person is presented as a labor exempt 'worker'. If an author is too fragile to acknowledge that enslaved peopl
Biblio Files (takingadayoff)
Oct 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Thomas Jefferson had three daughters, two with his wife Martha, and one with his slave, Sally Hemings. Jefferson's Daughters looks at how the daughters were raised, their education, upbringing, expectations, and how they fared in adulthood.

Although I was aware that Jefferson had children with Sally Hemings, I did not know that Hemings was actually a half sister of his deceased wife - they had the same father. Sally Hemings' mother also probably had a white father, so Sally was, by all accounts,
This is a definite must-read for those who likes to read history, especially American history. Ever since I visited Monticello, I have been fascinated with Martha Jefferson and Sally Hemmings. This book even shared more details of Maria Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson's younger daughter, whom nothing has been written much about. I will admit that it wasn't till this past year that I realized that Thomas Jefferson had 2 daughters, since not much was mentioned about Maria. I didn't even know he had a ...more
Mar 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A well written biography of Thomas Jefferson's three daughters, Martha, Maria, and Harriet, the first two born to his wife, the third born to his slave, Sally Hemings. Martha has already been the subject of a full-length biography, but Maria, who died as a young woman, and Harriet, who disappeared into obscurity after being freed, have been given less attention. Much of the book is devoted to bringing the latter two out of the shadows. Kerrison looks at Maria, who has suffered in comparison with ...more
Nov 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: bestseller
I read this book slowly.. as I wanted time to research a few items that I'd read. OMG! The author outdid herself. This has to be one of the best researched novels of Jefferson's daughters. If you've read, "First Daughter".. then, this book is a MUST read. You will gain insights that you would not have even thought of prior to reading this story. It's a standalone novel.. you do not need to do prior reading.. but, it does help you understand the Jefferson family and their role in forming this cou ...more
Cheryl James
Great history story regarding Jefferson's daughters and his life. Much history on the white daughters, more speculation on the black daughter, but at any rate I enjoyed the story.

Audio Version
Catherine Kerrison tells the stories of Martha Jefferson Randolf, Maria Jefferson Eppes and Harriet Hemings, Thomas Jefferson’s three daughters who survived to adulthood. Their lives show that when their father declared all men created equal, he meant, literally, men.

After losing his wife, Jefferson accepted an appointment to represent the new nation in Paris. Martha went with him and enjoyed the convent school she attended. She made lifelong friends and experienced female leadership and a curri
Tom Rowe
Too long.

It is rare that I declare a book too long, but this book is indeed too long. While it started off very well and was completely captivating, the last third of the book ended in endless repetition. (That's got to be some sort of logical fallacy.)

So here we have the story of Jefferson's three daughters Martha, Maria, and Harriet. In the beginning, we get lots of detail on Martha because he life is so well documented. Maria's brief life was a bit less so. While Martha and Maria are his dau
Lynne Luker
I struggled reading this book. The author jumped around too much. So much of the history was speculation. Very disappointed.
More than a biography of Jefferson's three daughters, Martha and Maria, who were born to his wife, and Harriet Hemings, born to Sally Hemings, the author offers a heavily researched and documented description of the societal and legal constraints on women, especially Southern women, in the US, regardless of their educational or social status. Martha, the oldest, was educated in France during her father's long period of residence there. She benefitted from the coursework at her elite Parisian sch ...more
Jun 27, 2019 rated it it was ok
I wasn’t really impressed with this one. I was expecting something totally different. This read more like a biography for Martha Jefferson Randolph (only one of Jefferson’s daughter). True, Mary died at a young age and Harriet pretty much disappeared from history, but I feel like we still should have gotten more about them.
The last section of the book read more like a book on race relations and women’s right. Interesting enough, but not really what I signed up for.
Dawn Wells
Apr 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
An amazing book written in chronological order and may be a stay on your toes read to keep up. Was very emotional and highly intense at times. The author went deep to help you understand what was really happening at the time. This story of three sisters, white and black and their relationships with their father. The term father here used biologically. The oldest,Martha his oldest and in many ways the Matriarch of the family. She knew him best and was by far the most liked. His daughter, Maria wh ...more
Jo Ann
Feb 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was a very intriguing read for me, and served to inform me more about the mores, values, educational opportunities (and lack thereof), in both Jefferson's time, and for Jefferson in particular. All 3 daughters, and the man himself, were certainly impacted by societal expectations and prejudices. I knew quite a bit about Martha, little about Maria, and almost nothing about Harriet, whose mother was Sally Hemings. We still do not know much about Harriet...much of what the author writes about ...more
Bridget Vollmer
I received this book in a GR giveaway in exchange for my review.

This I my first book I've read pertaining to Jefferson' daughters.

I thought Catherine Kerrison did a wonderful job not only describing the very different lives of the three sisters but also daily life, education, and the social environment of that time period. I also enjoyed how Kerrison broached the topic of slavery, and how it's impact is still seen in modern times.

A great non fiction historical read recommended for those who love
Feb 21, 2018 rated it it was ok
I got an ARC from Netgalley for review.

I was expecting a story about Jefferson's 3 daughters in relation to each other. Mostly, it was a story about Jefferson's White daughters, and then about Jefferson's Black daughter. They did not interact with each other.

It's really a study of gender roles in the 19th century. It could have been about any Virginian, slave-holding family.

Recommended only for Jefferson scholars.
Nov 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
A rather dry, fact-filled historical perspective -- but the author kept my interest throughout. A fascinating look at the families that intersected in and around a mountain top in Virginia, focusing mostly on the three sisters who survived to adulthood. I have to admit I was mostly captivated by the search for TJ's slave daughter's (Harriet) fate in Washington DC after she departed home circa 1822. ...more
I did not enjoy this book. So. Much. Conjecture. In general, the word "perhaps" occurs way too many times in this book.

My initial response to this book in the first chapter and a half was that the author was screaming at me "I'm a woman. Hear the woman's perspective. Also, slavery is bad, but I'm a woman, so I know better than anyone else who has told you before, so believe me more."

… it didn't get much better from there.

I will say, I listened to the audiobook for this, but I'm ordering a physi
John Findlay
Mar 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
While I was aware of the Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings relationship and that he fathered several children by her, this book fills in many details that I did not know. And it also depicts the very privileged lives of his two legitimate daughters, Martha and Maria. But women clearly play a very limited role in the early days of our country, being deprived of a full education and the ability to control their own destiny. To ensure their futures, they needed to find an appropriate husband, and ...more
An interesting look at the lives of 3 women in the early days of the US and the way Thomas Jefferson's beliefs contrasted with his actions concerning women (education and roles) and race. The biographies are revealing and Harriet's (Jefferson' daughter by slave Sally Hemings) life is particularly interesting. Piecing it together required extensive research, since Harriet left Monticello after Jefferson's death, moved north, and passed for white, totally cutting herself off from her past. Leisure ...more
First of all, I disliked this book because the author uses the phrases they "would have" or she "may have" or he "probably" so many times its infuriating. She's basically saying she has no idea what actually happened, but here's what was happening in society at the same time. It's completely pointless!

On the other hand, it's hard to find women in the history back then. Men are just so much more visible - women disappear, especially when they die young or are enslaved. So she didn't really have a
Jemima Ravenclaw
Catherine Kerrison has set herself a difficult task in this book. She wishes to bring to light and to examine the lives of the three daughters, 'white and black', of Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States, and explore their individual experiences of growing up in America and also France, through the years 1770-1840. Through no fault of her own, she is forced to flesh out reasonably large tracts of history with suppositional theories based on little solid data and some comparative ...more
Kathy Riley
Jul 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
If I could give this book 6 stars, I would. The author is a brilliant historian and writer with the ability to make a time period come alive. I listened to the audio version and offer high praise to the reader as well. Thomas Jefferson had 3 daughters--Martha and Maria, by his wife Martha, and Harriet Hemmings, by Sally Hemmings, his slave and half sister of his late wife. Through the stories of these three women, we get a wide perspective on the stark differences between the lives of enslaved b ...more
Janet Goodwin
Jul 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 10, 2019 rated it liked it
Very detailed, carefully researched, and nuanced look into the family legacy of Thomas Jefferson, including his immediate children and grandchildren, as well as a bit about his descendants today. For the most part, the perspective of Kerrison is balanced and empathetic, and does not go easy on Jefferson's inconsistencies on his views of freedom, autonomy, and independence regarding women and slaves. But occasionally the tone, to me, seems a little too nostalgic.

Overall I very much appreciated l
Victoria Van Vlear
Nov 12, 2018 rated it it was ok
I was very much looking forward to reading a biography about Jefferson's three daughters. But only two thirds of the book was biographical. A full third of the book was a very biased feminist rant against the social mores of the 18th century. The author looked at these women’s lives through the lens of progressive 21st century ideals, which is not the purpose of a biography. Our culture has changed greatly in the last 200 years—of course we don't agree with some of the practices and assumptions ...more
Sugarpuss O'Shea
For me, this is yet another 2018 Goodreads Choice Awards finalist that just didn't live up to the hype....

While it's obvious Ms Kerrison combed through numerous tomes to bring this book together, there is just so little firsthand information about these three women contained herein. This book uses other people's documented experiences of the times & superimposes them on these three women. If there weren't enough primary sources to put together a complete, firsthand picture of their lives, why wr
Mar 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Excellent work by Catherine Kerrison, and her extensive research on Thomas Jefferson and his family. We hear a lot about his public life, but this is a more intimate look on who Thomas Jefferson was in his private life. Family relations, the wife and many children he lost. And then a close look at who Sally Hemings was, Jefferson's slave "concubine". My jaw dropped as I found out that she was only 15 years old (Jefferson 44) when they started their relationship in Paris. She had come over as a m ...more
I feel a little bad giving this only 2 stars when it was so well researched. But it’s just a snooze overall. I tried to power through this book. I made it to about 25%. It just didn’t captivate me. At all. As someone who is pretty obsessed with this era of history, I was really excited for it. But the author’s narration is actually quite dull for a subject that should be exciting - I mean Patsy Jefferson lived through the American Revolution as a child and then went to France and lived there in ...more
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No "long-standing relationship"! 1 11 Jan 01, 2018 08:11AM  

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Catherine Kerrison is an associate professor of history at Villanova University in Villanova, Pennsylvania, where she teaches courses in colonial and revolutionary America and women's and gender history. She holds a Ph.D. 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” (Cornell), won the Outstandi ...more

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“Harriet Garner (as she appears in the marriage register) or Gardner (as reported in the newspaper’s wedding announcement) married Benjamin Williamson on July 13, 1822. If Garner was Harriet Hemings, she made her decision about her future livelihood quickly but well.” 0 likes
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