“America’s First Daughter” by Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie takes the reader on a journey through the heart and mind of Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter, Martha “Patsy” Jefferson. While keeping to her timeline as much as possible, the authors take creative license to fill in the missing puzzle pieces. However, the insinuations stem from close scrutiny of existing letters written between the Jefferson’s and their close friends.
The book starts the day after Thomas Jefferson’s death in which Patsy and Sally Hemmings are alone in his study, quiet in their introspection of the room’s contents, facing each other with years of history between them. Sally takes a shoe buckle of Thomas Jefferson’s, an inkwell, and an old pair of his spectacles without asking. She hands over the key to Mr. Jefferson’s study, which she’d held onto for the previous forty years, and without speaking walks out of the room and Patsy Jefferson’s life.
The rest of the book is a flashback for Patsy with all the trials and tribulations a daughter of the American Revolution, one that also included having a father who wrote the Declaration of American Independence along with being an Ambassador to France during it’s turbulent times and subsequently the third President of The United States, experienced.
We learn of Patsy’s harrowing flight at the young age of eight from the British away from her beloved Monticello with her ailing mother, sister and Jefferson’s ever faithful William Short while her father stayed behind to watch the advancement of troops. The authors expertly detail the torment to Thomas Jefferson’s character that plagued him throughout the rest of his life because of fleeing and the impact that had on young Patsy.
Her familial obligations solidified at the tender age of ten when her mother passed away after the lingering effects of another childbirth. Witnessing her father unravel after the devastation of losing his wife, Patsy held her father from the darkness of his grief and eventually pulled him back into the world of the living. From that point forward, Patsy’s devotion remained true to her father above and beyond her spouse or children.
The story speaks of the abhorrent nature of slavery and the Jefferson’s involvement as a southern plantation owner and President. Patsy was raised by the Hemmings slaves and knew they were her blood relatives, and it’s interesting to see her views differ from that of her father’s and how she evolves through her lifespan.
Another aspect of this book that I loved was the in-depth plot development into the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings. I’m happy they didn’t shy away from the controversial nature of slave owners and the many children they had with their slaves. It left me wanting to research what happened to the generations of Hemmings that followed and where they ended up in life.
From the turbulent relationship with her alcoholic husband, Mr. Thomas Randolph, to the proposed relationship with a lifelong family friend, Mr. William Short, and the tragic lives of a few of her eleven children, Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie weave a delectable tale of truth and fiction to keep the reader not only entertained but racing through the 624 page book.
For those on the fence or not interested in Historical Fiction, I’d advise you to give “America’s First Daughter” a chance. You’ll be yearning for more!