In a compelling, richly researched novel that draws from thousands of letters and original sources, bestselling authors Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie tell the fascinating, untold story of Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter, Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph—a woman who kept the secrets of our most enigmatic founding father and shaped an American legacy.
From her earliest days, Patsy Jefferson knows that though her father loves his family dearly, his devotion to his country runs deeper still. As Thomas Jefferson’s oldest daughter, she becomes his helpmate, protector, and constant companion in the wake of her mother’s death, traveling with him when he becomes American minister to France.
It is in Paris, at the glittering court and among the first tumultuous days of revolution, that fifteen-year-old Patsy learns about her father’s troubling liaison with Sally Hemings, a slave girl her own age. Meanwhile, Patsy has fallen in love—with her father’s protégé William Short, a staunch abolitionist and ambitious diplomat. Torn between love, principles, and the bonds of family, Patsy questions whether she can choose a life as William’s wife and still be a devoted daughter.
Her choice will follow her in the years to come, to Virginia farmland, Monticello, and even the White House. And as scandal, tragedy, and poverty threaten her family, Patsy must decide how much she will sacrifice to protect her father’s reputation, in the process defining not just his political legacy, but that of the nation he founded.
Title: America’s First Daughter
Author: Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Genre: Literature & Fiction | Historical Fiction | Biographical Fiction
Published: March 1, 2016
Format: Paperback, 624 pages
FTC Disclaimer: I received an ARC from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for a fair and honest review. Opinions expressed are mine.
Sons of a revolution fight for liberty. They give blood, flesh, limbs, their very lives. But daughters . . . we sacrifice our eternal souls. This I am sure of, as I stand in the quiet emptiness of my father’s private chambers.
I’m here now because my father is dead and buried.
And I’m left to make sense of it all.
Writers of historical fiction have my deep and abiding respect for their work. Not the work we see produced between the artistic covers of a bound book or on the screens of our digital readers. No, I’m talking about the work that goes into the book other than the words on the pages.
It is amazing to think that Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie read through more than 18,000 letters written by Thomas Jefferson in order to write the story of Jefferson’s daughter, Martha, in America’s First Daughter. Most of the dialogue attributed to Jefferson came from his letters. Dialogue of other characters, when possible, is quoted directly from letters thereby reflecting biases, prejudices and political opinions of the time period. These letters barely scratch the surface of the research they must have done to draw out this story.
America’s First Daughter is 624 pages of the most beautifully written history I’ve read in a very long time. The authors have managed to paint portraits of each character bringing them to life on the page, and at times you feel as if you’ve been in their presence. Scenes, clothing, transportation, architecture both in France and America are meticulously detailed in words allowing the reader to time travel back to the late 1700s and early 1800s.
Most importantly, Dray and Kamoie share with us a woman quite influential in American history. However, Martha “Patsy” Jefferson managed to remain quietly influential while making strides in many areas of government.
Her story is told through her eyes and heart. She, of course, remained ever faithful and loyal to her father so her opinions are biased in his favor and his politics. Looking back at some of her beliefs and opinions considered at the time to be family loyalty or perhaps patriotism today seem to be somewhat troubling.
Patsy Jefferson lived a hard life losing her mother as a girl and assuming care of her younger siblings, acting as her father’s hostess and moving across the ocean to France with him, falling in love and leaving love behind in France, coming back to Monticello and finding love again, giving birth to a large family, and enduring suffering of varied kinds. If I tell you any more, you will have learned too much to enjoy the book.
My eyes have been opened to a side of history kept all too often in the shadows. Slavery was not limited to those of color. Women might be considered slaves to their men and their families and if slavery is too strong a word, then they lived in servitude. Dray and Kamoie handle this element tastefully and with honesty. I commend them on this point.
There is an underlying theme that spoke to me. It is a theme of choices. Choices we make, choices others make for us, choices we let slip by. As I read, I began to make note of the various characters whose lives were driven by choices, both good and bad. A lesson we all should take heed to even today.
Sally Hemings had returned to Virginia, to slavery, to this life–all for the sake of my father and this baby. Now my father was off serving the president and their baby was gone. She’d made choices she could never take back. Choices none of us ever could. And I had to fight off my own ears to stay strong for her and my sister both.
When I read the synopsis of America’s First Daughter, I knew I wanted to read all 624 pages of it. Women and history combine to make one of my favorite reading topics.
If you enjoy historical fiction, you will want to check out America’s First Daughter. If you’re not so much the history buff but enjoy women who’ve made a difference, you too will want to look into reading Martha Jefferson’s story.
This is a book written with elegant language, fluid, poetic, and filled with imagery. For that reason alone, you should consider it for your reading stack.
If you are a constant visitor to my blog, you know I don’t pass out stars on a regular basis but when a book resonates with me on almost every level, I am compelled to award it the hoped for five stars.
Stephanie Dray is a bestselling and award-nominated author of historical women’s fiction. Her work has been translated into six different languages, was nominated for RWA’s RITA Award, and won NJRW’s Golden Leaf. She is a frequent panelist and presenter at national writing conventions and lives near the nation’s capital.
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Laura Kamoie has published two nonfiction books on early America and most recently held the position of Associate Professor of History at the U.S. Naval Academy before transitioning to a full-time career writing genre fiction under the name Laura Kaye, the New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty books.
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