Min-Review — America’s First Daughter

27 Mar

My book club reads a lot of biographical fiction. It’s an interesting and entertaining way to learn more about a specific time, place, and person in history. This month we chose America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie. With the first person POV of the main character, Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph, it explores the life of not only Thomas Jefferson’s daughter, but of his contemporaries and family members. The book begins when Patsy is a young girl and finishes with her later years. It is filled with historical detail that a history-nerd will love. The Revolutionary War and the early years of the nation are not time periods I generally read, but this book was fascinating in its portrayal of a young nation founded on high moral principles, yet in reality a democracy riddled with injustices. Slavery, the huge elephant in the room given Jefferson’s own ownership of slaves and his relationship with Sally Hemings, is a big part of the story. Patsy is definitely a woman of her time, and though she abhors slavery (as do many of her acquaintance) she is unable to affect any kind of meaningful change. In fact, those with the power to do so either were unsuccessful or left it to later generations. The authors do a good job of balancing the context of the time (slavery, limited rights of women and children) with an honest portrayal of the subject matter. This is Patsy’s story to tell, and I feel the authors allowed this incredible woman to tell it. Patsy was witness to so much — the American Revolution, formation of a new nation, the unfolding of the French revolution, the rise and fall of political factions — yet she was first and foremost a dutiful daughter, a committed wife, and a nurturing mother of many children. Her life was both extraordinary and ordinary, and the novel expresses that so well.

If you are a fan of early American history, then this book is definitely for you. My book club googled a lot during the reading of the book! We also had an outstanding discussion.


Audience: adults.

(I purchased Kindle ebook from Amazon. All opinions expressed are mine alone.)

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.

Stephanie Dray is a New York Times, Wall Street Journal & USA Today bestselling author of historical fiction. Her award-winning work has been translated into ten languages and tops lists for the most anticipated reads of the year. She lives in Maryland with her husband, cats, and history books.

A New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestselling author of historical fiction, Laura Kamoie has always been fascinated by the people, stories, and physical presence of the past, which led her to a lifetime of historical and archaeological study and training. She holds a doctoral degree in early American history from The College of William and Mary, published two non-fiction 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. She is the author of AMERICA’S FIRST DAUGHTER, MY DEAR HAMILTON, and RIBBONS OF SCARLET, allowing her the exciting opportunity to combine her love of history with her passion for storytelling. Her upcoming novel, CHURCHILL’S SPYMISTRESS, is about SOE officer Vera Atkins and two of her spies in Occupied France during WWII. Laura lives among the colonial charm of Annapolis, Maryland with her husband and two daughters. http://www.LauraKamoie.com.