AMERICA'S FIRST DAUGHTER
Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie
THE STORY (from Goodreads)
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.
When reading this book, one has to remember that this is not a history book. It’s a novel. So it’s much more interesting to read because the characters come to life through dialog that is “creative license.” But it is strongly based on history, and in fact, each chapter does open with a written record of something from Tom himself. (If you read this book, you can call him Tom. After 624 pages, you should be on a first name basis with anybody.)
So you won’t learn a lot that’s new to you about Tom himself unless you are really unfamiliar with him to begin with. You DO come to appreciate what a struggle it was to start up a country: the risks the founding fathers took with their lives, the relationships they had with each other – who they liked, who they didn’t – and the work it took to bring it all together even after the war was done.
But mostly, you gain real insight into how incredibly difficult it was to live 200 years ago in a society that ranged from moneyed plantation owners to regular farmers and tradesmen to slaves. Added to that mix are the views of men toward women and vice versa in a land where life was fragile and dangerous, and you and your family’s very survival depended upon each other. It was a complicated culture whose vestiges are still with us today even though we have shed many of the discomforts, dangers and distasteful doctrines of that time.
It’s a heavy topic and a long read, but you come to know the characters quite well and wish the best for their future, even though you know how it ends. Because hey, It’s based on history. But served up much better than you remember in high school.