The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family

Front Cover
W. W. Norton & Company, 2008 - Biography & Autobiography - 798 pages
29 Reviews
In the mid-1700s the English captain of a trading ship that made runs between England and the Virginia colony fathered a child by an enslaved woman living near Williamsburg. The woman, whose name is unknown and who is believed to have been born in Africa, was owned by the Eppeses, a prominent Virginia family. The captain, whose surname was Hemings, and the woman had a daughter. They named her Elizabeth.

So begins this epic work—named a best book of the year by the Washington Post, Time, the Los Angeles Times, Amazon.com, the San Francisco Chronicle, and a notable book by the New York Times—Annette Gordon-Reed's “riveting history” of the Hemings family, whose story comes to vivid life in this brilliantly researched and deeply moving work. Gordon-Reed, author of the highly acclaimed historiography Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, unearths startling new information about the Hemingses, Jefferson, and his white family. Although the book presents the most detailed and richly drawn portrait ever written of Sarah Hemings, better known by her nickname Sally, who bore seven children by Jefferson over the course of their thirty-eight-year liaison, The Hemingses of Monticello tells more than the story of her life with Jefferson and their children. The Hemingses as a whole take their rightful place in the narrative of the family's extraordinary engagement with one of history's most important figures.

Not only do we meet Elizabeth Hemings—the family matriarch and mother to twelve children, six by John Wayles, a poor English immigrant who rose to great wealth in the Virginia colony—but we follow the Hemings family as they become the property of Jefferson through his marriage to Martha Wayles. The Hemings-Wayles children, siblings to Martha, played pivotal roles in the life at Jefferson's estate.

We follow the Hemingses to Paris, where James Hemings trained as a chef in one of the most prestigious kitchens in France and where Sally arrived as a fourteen-year-old chaperone for Jefferson's daughter Polly; to Philadelphia, where James Hemings acted as the major domo to the newly appointed secretary of state; to Charlottesville, where Mary Hemings lived with her partner, a prosperous white merchant who left her and their children a home and property; to Richmond, where Robert Hemings engineered a plan for his freedom; and finally to Monticello, that iconic home on the mountain, from where most of Jefferson's slaves, many of them Hemings family members, were sold at auction six months after his death in 1826.

As The Hemingses of Monticello makes vividly clear, Monticello can no longer be known only as the home of a remarkable American leader, the author of the Declaration of Independence; nor can the story of the Hemingses, whose close blood ties to our third president have been expunged from history until very recently, be left out of the telling of America's story. With its empathetic and insightful consideration of human beings acting in almost unimaginably difficult and complicated family circumstances, The Hemingses of Monticello is history as great literature. It is a remarkable achievement.
  

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Review: The Hemingses of Monticello

User Review  - Jeni Enjaian - Goodreads

Where do I start with this book? First, I cannot believe that I finished it.The narrator's voice (and syntax and inflection) started grating on me from her very first word. It did not get better. In ... Read full review

Review: The Hemingses of Monticello

User Review  - Jay Perkins - Goodreads

Truly amazing book. Gordon-Reed offered more than expected. She is extremely through, careful, and fair. You can tell she is very passionate about this topic. I was surprised by many of her arguments ... Read full review

Contents

YOUNG ELIZABETHS WORLD
37
JOHN WAYLES THE IMMIGRANT
57
THE CHILDREN OF NO ONE
77
THOMAS JEFFERSON
91
THE FIRST MONTICELLO
111
IN THE HOME OF A REVOLUTIONARY
131
A PARTICULAR PURPOSE
153
JAMES HEMINGS THE PROVINICIAL ABROAD
169
HELLO AND GOODBYE
397
EQUILIBRIUM
414
THE BROTHERS
437
PHILADELPHIA
455
EXODUS
480
THE SECOND MONTICELLO
504
INTO THE FUTURE ECHOES FROM THE PAST
521
THE OCEAN OF LIFE
540

ISABEL OR SALLY WILL COME
191
DR SUTTON
209
THE RHYTHMS OF THE CITY
224
THE EVE OF REVOLUTION
249
DURING THAT TIME
264
SARAH HEMINGS THE FATHERLESS GIRL IN A PATRIARCHAL SOCIETY
290
THE TEENAGERS AND THE WOMAN
308
HIS PROMISES ON WHICH SHE IMPLICITLY RELIED
326
THE TREATY AND DID THEY LOVE EACH OTHER?
353
THE RETURN
376
THE PUBLIC WORLD AND THE PRIVATE DOMAIN
562
MEASURABLY HAPPY THE CHILDREN OF THOMAS JEFFERSON AND SALLY HEMINGS
586
RETIREMENT FOR ONE NOT FOR ALL
606
ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS
629
Epilogue
655
Acknowledgments
663
Notes
669
Selected Bibliography
737
Index
755
Copyright

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About the author (2008)

Annette Gordon-Reed grew up in east Texas. She majored in History at Dartmouth College, graduating in 1981, and then attended Harvard Law School. Gordon-Reed worked as an associate at Cahill Gordon & Reindel and was Counsel to the New York City Board of Corrections before becoming a professor of law at New York Law School in 1992. Gordon-Reed wrote the book Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy after first becoming interested in the president as a child. She co-authored Vernon Can Read!: A Memoir and wrote Race on Trial: Law and Justice in American History. Gordon-Reed is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Hemingses of Monticello.

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