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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie

America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie
Published by William Morrow ISBN 978-0-06-234726-8
Trade paperback, $15.99, 624 pages

When the hottest thing is entertainment is Broadway's hit musical Hamilton, the timing is good for a novel about President Thomas Jefferson's daughter Pasty. Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie combined to give us a fascinating look at not only Patsy Jefferson, but also at a fascinating time in our history in America's First Daughter.

On Patsy's mother's deathbed, she told young Patsy that it would be Patsy's job to look after her father Thomas and that is what Patsy spent her life doing. She accompanied her father to his post as ambassador to France, served as his hostess when he became President and became mistress of his famous estate in Monticello, Virginia.

Patsy also cared for her younger daughter Polly, and then married and became mother to eleven children. The man she married, Thomas Randolph, was left penniless due to a family fight, and he descended into anger and alcoholism which left Patsy to care for her family on her own.

Her first love was William Short, a man her father considered his adopted son. Patsy and William's path to a happy future was a rocky one because Thomas Jefferson believed that Short would not be able to provide adequately for his daughter, and would not give his blessing. How different her life would have been if only he did!

Short believed that slavery was an abomination, and because Jefferson's home state of Virginia depended on slave labor, this was a problem. Patsy also believed that holding people captive was wrong, and when she discovered that her father was carrying on with Sally Hemings, a household slave and his wife's half-sister, she was bereft and conflicted.

I was particularly impressed with how the authors dealt with the complications of slavery in this novel. Jefferson famously wrote that "all men are created equal" while he himself owned slaves and depended on them to operate his beloved Monticello. He had several children with Sally Hemings, children who were slaves on his plantation.

There are many wrenching scenes in this novel, but none are more disturbing than the one of Patsy attending an auction of her family's worldly goods, including many of the slaves. She is heartbroken that families will be broken apart and sold South, and yet she feels there is nothing she can do to stop it.

We also see in this novel what little say women had in their own lives. There are scenes of domestic violence where women are beaten and abused by their husbands and no one, not even a former President of the United States, is allowed to intervene. Married women are at the mercy of their husbands whims and decisions no matter how intelligent or wealthy they may be.

I read America's First Daughter on a plane and was so totally lost in this world I was shocked at how quickly the time flew. Dray and Kamoie clearly did a great deal of research and used letters recently released by the Jefferson estate as a jumping off point. There is a terrific conversation with the authors at the end of the book that should not be missed.

I highly recommend America's First Daughter, especially for people who like to read about historical figures. Patsy Jefferson comes alive in this wonderful book, and I am now going to read the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed to find out the real story of Sally Hemings and her children.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on this tour. The rest of the stops can be found here:

Tuesday, March 1st: Broken Teepee
Wednesday, March 2nd: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Thursday, March 3rd: From L.A. to LA
Friday, March 4th: Read-Love-Blog
Monday, March 7th: Luxury Reading
Monday, March 7th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Tuesday, March 8th: Just One More Chapter
Wednesday, March 9th: Reading Reality
Thursday, March 10th: A Chick Who Reads
Friday, March 11th: 100 Pages a Day…Stephanie’s Book Reviews
Monday, March 14th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Tuesday, March 15th: Kritters Ramblings
Wednesday, March 16th: bookchickdi
Thursday, March 17th: Ms. Nose in a Book
Friday, March 18th: Peeking Between the Pages
Monday, March 21st: Puddletown Reviews
Tuesday, March 22nd: 100 Pages a Day…Stephanie’s Book Reviews


  1. I don't read a lot of historical fiction but this one sure does sound fascinating and well written. I may have to look for it.

  2. I have enjoyed Dray's writing in the past and look forward to seeing how this team effort works. Plus the content of the book is fascinating to me.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour!