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Random House Publishing Group, Fall 2018

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Jefferson's Daughters
Three Sisters, White and Black, in a Young America
By (author): Catherine Kerrison
9781101886267 Paperback, Trade English General Trade BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY / Women Jan 29, 2019
$24.00 CAD
Active 5.5 x 8.2 x 0.9 in 448 pages 36 B&W PHOTOS THROUGHOUT; MAP, FAMILY TREE Ballantine Ballantine Books
Thomas Jefferson fathered three girls: two white and free, one black and a slave. Called “beautifully written” and “a nuanced study” by the N.Y. Times Book Review, this book about Martha, Maria, and Harriet tells the fascinating story of their very different lives at Monticello and beyond, as daughters of one of our most brilliant and complicated Founding Fathers.

Martha and Maria Jefferson and Harriet Hemings shared a father—but there the likeness ends, as their lives took widely diverging paths. Martha received a fine education in Paris while Jefferson was ambassador there, but it did not prepare her to be a planter’s wife on her return to rural Virginia. She devoted her life to her father, yet when he died, that famous connection could not protect her. Maria emerges as a strong-headed young woman who was determined to create an independent family life, even when it went against her father’s will. Born into slavery, Harriet Hemings would leave Jefferson’s home at twenty-one to make a life in freedom that has been shrouded in mystery ever since. In their struggles to shape their own lives, we see both the possibilities and the disappointments that resulted from the American Revolution. The great irony of their stories is that the Revolution made little difference in the lives of Jefferson’s acknowledged daughters, but brought the greatest opportunity to his daughter born a slave.

Story Locale: Paris, France, and Monticello, VA

Publication History: Ballantine HC (1/18)


THE FULL STORY OF JEFFERSON AND SALLY HEMINGS’ BIRACIAL DAUGHTER, including the author’s detective work on what became of her and her descendants.

BASED ON EXTENSIVE ARCHIVAL AND DNA RESEARCH by a professor at Villanova who specializes in early American history. Kerrison has interviewed and had DNA testing done on Hemings family descendants, with their cooperation of course, as well as searched for and tested many other possible Harriet Hemings’ descendants.

INCLUDES NEVER-BEFORE-PUBLISHED MATERIAL such as letters from the Jefferson girls and their friends and both letters and commentary from Jefferson and Hemings’ descendants.


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, 2005) won the Outstanding Book Prize from the History of Education Society in 2007.

Author Residence: Berwyn, PA

Author Hometown: Australia

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“Beautifully written…To a nuanced study of Jefferson’s two white daughters, Martha and Maria, [Catherine Kerrison] innovatively adds a discussion of his only enslaved daughter, Harriet Hemings. The result is a stunning if unavoidably unbalanced book, combining detailed treatments of Martha’s and Maria’s experiences with imaginative attempts to reconstruct Harriet’s life.”The New York Times Book Review

“A richly textured and satisfying book…a striking portrait of how women in Jefferson’s era lived, bravely and resourcefully, in an age that demanded fealty and absolute obedience to men.”Newsday

“Intriguing…The most poignant literature gives a voice to the voiceless. And in Jefferson’s Daughters…Catherine Kerrison tells us the stories of three of Thomas Jefferson’s children, who, due to their gender or race, lived lives whose most intimate details are lost to time…. A highlight of Kerrison’s work is that while noting the gender constraints that hemmed in white women, she does not sugarcoat their privileged status, nor deny their racism…. A historical narrative that allows us to reflect on the thoughts, fears and motivations of three women coming of age in a turbulent time, Jefferson’s Daughters offers a fascinating glimpse of where we have been as a nation. It is a vivid reminder of both the ties that bind, and the artificial boundaries that painfully divide us.”USA Today

“Kerrison’s book is a valuable addition to the history of Revolutionary-era America as well as a reminder of how many of its promises have yet to be fulfilled.”The Boston Globe

“Absorbing and affecting…Like all great histories do, Jefferson’s Daughters brings its period vividly to life, a credit to Kerrison’s exhaustive research, her passion for her subject, and her elegant writing.”The Christian Science Monitor

“Much has been written about Thomas Jefferson, his family and his illegitimate daughter, Harriet Hemings. But historian Catherine Kerrison eloquently manages to shed new light on the Founding Father and his relationships with three of his very different children…. Although Jefferson promoted individual liberty, he contradicted this endorsement by owning slaves. Kerrison writes about this contradiction with thoroughness and candor, piecing together massive amounts of research, including letters, journal entries, financial accounts and commentary from family descendants. In meticulous detail, her knowledgeable yet conversational style makes Jefferson’s Daughters a thought-provoking nonfiction narrative that reads like a novel.”BookPage

“Drawing on letters and journals, Kerrison presents an intimate portrait of a powerful man and his daughters through their respective paths to womanhood at a time of change and tumult that nonetheless held to racial and sexual restrictions.”Booklist

“Incisive and elegant, [Catherine] Kerrison’s book is at once a fabulous family story and a stellar work of historical scholarship.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

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