I recently read the book, America’s First Daughter written by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie.
The book begins during the American Revolution and details the life of Thomas Jefferson’s oldest daughter Martha otherwise known as Patsy and her respective family, friends, political associates, household slaves, and the climate of the tumultuous time period. We get to meet Patsy’s mother and sisters however brief their lives were, and her friends from the time she spent at the convent in France. Patsy associated with many interesting historical figures from William Short who was her father’s protege to other revolutionaries such as Lafayette and John Adams. Patsy also had a close friendship with two American presidents, their wives, and families. Patsy’s life seemed to stay in politics even in her marriage as her husband was a statesman with whom she had many intelligent children and with her in-laws in politics as well.
Beginning with the Jefferson family’s flight from their home, when “Patsy” was about 9, to France in her teens and to her Virginia farmland home in her adult life. We learn about how heavily influenced Thomas Jefferson was by the women in his life, but yet how little influence they were allowed to publicly offer in society. The book shows how health issues that are run of the mill today were then terribly life-threatening and how mood disorders ruined many lives in a time when there was little to no information to address those issues.
In the book, we get to see how it was to grow up the daughter of an important man, a revolutionary, ambassador, the third president of the United States of America, and plantation owner. How it must have been to see the young cities and government of America change and grow. How exciting it must have been to come of age in France, attending balls with dignitaries and seeing the revolution there come to a head. How interesting and exhausting life was for landowners in Virginia and demoralizing. How exciting and interesting it would have been to be close friends with Dolley Madison.
Patsy learns at a young age to survive, she must not only be strong physically but strong in spirit. Patsy lived through the American Revolution and the French, she lost many who she loved and suffered through political scandals of her father and husband. Her life was one of the ethical contradictions which plagued many of the old plantation-owning families of Virginia. The closeness of her family’s household slaves was a comfort and a burden to her all her life and we learn about how the pride of the slave institution did to bring ruin to some of the men of that time.
Patsy was a faithful, loving, clever daughter, sister, wife, mother and friend. I really enjoyed reading her story and I think that I would have liked to have known her.
In my opinion, it is evident that a book of historical fiction has been well written if you feel excited to learn more about the people and/or era. I want to know how it was for the other early president’s families, I want to learn more about how intertwined the plantation owners and slaves lives were and what we can learn to repair the damage that the old practice caused and seems to still be causing hundreds of years later.
What books have you read or recommend on these subjects? Drop me a line in the comments with your thoughts or recommendations. I would love to hear from you!