Why did I love this book?
Gordon-Reed’s 1997 book, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, was a paradigm-shifting landmark that examined the different ways that historians had used the existing evidence for a relationship between Jefferson and Sally Hemings, a woman he enslaved. The next year DNA testing confirmed a genetic link between Jefferson and one of Hemings’s children. In The Hemingses of Monticello, Annette Gordon-Reed provides the most complete study we have of the many complicated relationships between the Hemings and Jefferson families.
It is a beautifully written, deeply-researched account that demonstrates, among other things, the degree to which slavery imprecated all aspects of Jefferson’s life. Most importantly, Gordon-Reed centers the Hemings family, not just Sally, in this book. We see them playing key roles in many aspects of life at Monticello making Jefferson’s mountaintop home was their mountaintop home. This is the book I recommend to everyone interested in Jefferson to start with. It’s a book I often return to.