Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The deathbed promise of Martha (Patsy) Jefferson Randolf

Martha (Patsy) Jefferson Randolph was a daughter utterly devoted to her father, Thomas Jefferson. When her mother, Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson died, she made a death bed promise to take care of her father. Her father was a prominent politician, a southerner, and slave owner. She and her father moved to Paris as U.S. Minister to France when she was 12. Paris was not only cultural, but it was a political hotbed - anti-nobility and the dreaded guillotine and all that! Despite the fact they were staunch protestants her father enrolled her at an famous and exclusive convent after being reassured she would not have to indulge in any Catholic teachings. Patsy, however, took to convent life, and when she expressed a desire to become a nun, her father swiftly removed her. 
Upon their return to America, she married Thomas Mann Randolf Jr., a planter, a politician, and later the governor of Virginia. 

Thomas Mann Randolf Jr

Despite their often turbulent marriage, she bore him twelve children. Drinking, family scandals, financial problems, and resentment towards Patsy's unwavering and constant devotion to her father, took their toll. 

Thomas Jefferson
Founding Father

When her father was president, she shared her time between her home and the White House, as she balanced her large family, running a plantation and slaves, home schooling her children, and being a political wife. But she was always first and foremost in his life, hiding his scandals (that he was a slave owner and that he had a black mistress and illegitimate children). 
Her husband's drinking steadily became worse, and with it, he became unreliable, aloof, and mentally unstable. They separated. She then turned her entire focus to her beloved father until his death. He left her his entire estate, and their beloved home Monticello, along with his numerous, heavy debts. Upon the death of her estranged husband, Patsy struggled to make ends meet. 

In an effort to save Monticello from being seized by creditors, Patsy sold the 130 slaves that came with the estate. The state legislatures of South Carolina and Louisiana each donated $10,000 to her for her support. But sadly, it was not enough and she was forced to sell her family home several years later. She lived her later years modestly until she died at their Edgehill estate in Albemarle County, Virginia.
Her life story has been lovingly and impeccably recreated in an exciting new novel by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie. And it is definitely one of the best books I've ever read!


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.

I cannot stop raving about this book. Not only is it well-researched, it is filled with conflict, scandal, and secrets. As slave ownership was swiftly falling out of favor, Thomas Jefferson and his daughter Patsy did everything they could to keep their family secrets secret! Troubles always haunted this family, making this a terrific page turner. Coupled with gorgeously beautiful prose, I must say that this is one of the best books I have ever read! It is nothing short of brilliant! Get it! Get it now! You won't be sorry!


Sue Bursztynski said...

I would imagine that liaison with Sally Hemings would have been even more uncomfortable knowing that Sally was her aunt, as Martha's half sister. Heavens, that slave owning era was dreadful!

Mirella Sichirollo Patzer said...

That's an excellent observation. Can you imagine living with your father's mistress who is also your aunt (a betrayal to your mother) and with whom he had children with? The women of her era must have been really strong. I'm not sure I could have been.

Jennifer B said...

I just finished reading "America's First Daughter". What an excellent book. I've been to Monticello I want to go again after having learned even more about the family! Those women were definitely very strong back then and patient!

Kristina Paustian said...

I agree, excellent book! It is by far the best historical novel I have ever read, truly making the time and the characters come alive.

DonnaMarie said...

Can't put this down and will be sad when I finish reading it!