The most recommended books about Sally Hemings

Who picked these books? Meet our 12 experts.

12 authors created a book list connected to Sally Hemings, and here are their favorite Sally Hemings books.
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Book cover of The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family

Kathleen DuVal Author Of Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution

From my list on the American Revolution beyond the Founding Fathers.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a professional historian and life-long lover of early American history. My fascination with the American Revolution began during the bicentennial in 1976, when my family traveled across the country for celebrations in Williamsburg and Philadelphia. That history, though, seemed disconnected to the place I grew up—Arkansas—so when I went to graduate school in history, I researched in French and Spanish archives to learn about their eighteenth-century interactions with Arkansas’s Native nations, the Osages and Quapaws. Now I teach early American history and Native American history at UNC-Chapel Hill and have written several books on how Native American, European, and African people interacted across North America.

Kathleen's book list on the American Revolution beyond the Founding Fathers

Kathleen DuVal Why did Kathleen love this book?

Annette Gordon-Reed’s book introduces readers to the enslaved family of a Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson.

What I love about this book is that it upends the traditional picture of Jefferson while neither vilifying nor excusing him. It’s a full picture of a complicated man and the fascinating people who were part of his life. After all, the historian’s task is not to make heroes or villains but to show the full complexity of human beings.

At the center of the story is Sally Hemings, the half-sister of Jefferson’s wife and the mother of some of Jefferson’s children. The book also shows how a careful historian can interpret and evaluate different kinds of evidence, including documents, oral history, and DNA.

By Annette Gordon-Reed,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Hemingses of Monticello as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This epic work-named a best book of the year by the Washington Post, Time, the Los Angeles Times, Amazon, the San Francisco Chronicle, and a notable book by the New York Times-tells the story of the Hemingses, whose close blood ties to our third president had been systematically expunged from American history until very recently. Now, historian and legal scholar Annette Gordon-Reed traces the Hemings family from its origins in Virginia in the 1700s to the family's dispersal after Jefferson's death in 1826.


Book cover of Jefferson's Secrets: Death and Desire at Monticello

Francis D. Cogliano Author Of Emperor of Liberty: Thomas Jefferson's Foreign Policy

From my list on Thomas Jefferson from a historian's view.

Why am I passionate about this?

I've spent three decades teaching the history of the United States, especially the American Revolution, to students in the UK. Invariably some students are attracted by the ideals they identify with the United States while others stress the times that the US has failed to uphold those ideals. Thomas Jefferson helped to articulate those ideals and often came up short when it came to realizing them. This has fascinated me as well as my students. I'm the author or editor of eight books on Jefferson and the American Revolution including, Thomas Jefferson: Reputation and Legacy and The Blackwell Companion to Thomas Jefferson. I'm currently completing a book about the relationship between Jefferson and George Washington.

Francis' book list on Thomas Jefferson from a historian's view

Francis D. Cogliano Why did Francis love this book?

Beginning with Jefferson’s death in 1826 Burstein seeks to answer some of the most vexing questions that confronted Jefferson (and have preoccupied historians) including the consequences of mortality, the nature of Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemings, Jefferson’s attempts to reconcile his dependence on slavery with his belief in liberty, and his attitudes toward women. Drawing on a subtle and sophisticated study of Jefferson’s library and his reading habits, Burstein offers an original and engaging book that helps us to understand Jefferson’s heart by studying the thoughts in his head. A remarkable book.

By Andrew Burstein,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Jefferson's Secrets as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Thomas Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, he left behind a series of mysteries that have captured the imaginations of historical investigators for generations. In Jefferson's Secrets, Andrew Burstein draws on sources previous biographers have glossed over or missed entirely. Beginning with Jefferson's last days, Burstein shows how Jefferson confronted his own mortality. Burstein also tackles the crucial questions history has yet to answer: Did Jefferson love Sally Hemings? What were his attitudes towards women? Did he believe in God? How did he wish to be remembered? The result is a profound and nuanced portrait of the most complex…


Book cover of America's First Daughter

Julia Amante Author Of Let Us Begin

From my list on parent/child relationship leading to redemption.

Why am I passionate about this?

Women’s fiction is about relationships and issues that women deal with daily. I wish I could write thrillers or fantasy—those are so much fun to read, but I’m most fascinated by people and the life-changing choices they make. Being the daughter of immigrants has made me obsessed with two things, one is identity and the second is success. My books touch on the discovery of self and how that leads to success. And if we're honest, our relationships with our parents have a massive effect on who we become and our beliefs. I’ve explored parent/child relationships in all my novels, but most intimately in Let Us Begin which is based on my father’s life.

Julia's book list on parent/child relationship leading to redemption

Julia Amante Why did Julia love this book?

This is a fascinating historical novel about Thomas Jefferson’s oldest daughter, Patsy Jefferson. Aside from learning much more about history than I ever did in high school or college, I enjoyed reading about the relationship that she had with her father. 

It’s difficult, I think, to have a relationship with a man like Jefferson who was devoted to his ideals and dreams first and to his family second. He had goals that were so immense that there was no competing with them. And yet, Patsy is completely devoted to her father and his goals. It’s a story about loving an imperfect man and making sacrifices.

It gave me a different perspective on a historical figure, but it also made me think about my own relationship with my father because I could relate to coming second or third in the life of a father you love. I know what it’s like…

By Stephanie Dray, Laura Kamoie,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked America's First Daughter as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE NEW YORK TIMES & USA TODAY BESTSELLER

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…


Book cover of My Monticello: Fiction

Marilyn K. Easter Author Of Resilience: Bravery in the Face of Racism, Corruption, and Privilege in the halls of Academia

From my list on empowerment and hope.

Why am I passionate about this?

As with many people, my life has been full of twists and turns. I know what it means to be an outsider and to be cast aside as though my voice and presence doesn’t matter. But, with grit and determination, I battled systemic racism head-on, and with my good L.U.C.K (labor under correct knowledge), encouragement, and faith, I am thriving in an environment that was designed to be non-inclusive for People of Color. Currently, I am the only Black female professor in the 94-year history in the college where I am employed.

Marilyn's book list on empowerment and hope

Marilyn K. Easter Why did Marilyn love this book?

Jocelyn Nicole Johnson’s My Monticello is a title to be treasured. Through a series of masterfully woven stories, Johnson brings forth and highlights the deep-rooted racial inequalities in our country. Having my debut novel published later in life, I feel a special connection because Johnson’s recent release is about resilience and passion for the arts – and it proves that ageism has no place in the art world. This is another fiction title I would highly recommend. There’s a lesson to be learned from every character and every story penned in My Monticello.  

By Jocelyn Nicole Johnson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked My Monticello as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“A badass debut by any measure―nimble, knowing, and electrifying.” ―Colson Whitehead, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Nickel Boys and Harlem Shuffle

"...'My Monticello' is, quite simply, an extraordinary debut from a gifted writer with an unflinching view of history and what may come of it." ― The Washington Post

Winner of the Weatherford Award in Fiction
A winner of 2022 Lillian Smith Book Awards

A young woman descended from Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings driven from her neighborhood by a white militia. A university professor studying racism by conducting a secret social experiment on his own son. A single mother…


Book cover of Women Holding Things

Catherine Ricketts Author Of The Mother Artist: Portraits of Ambition, Limitation, and Creativity

From my list on smart and artful books about motherhood.

Why am I passionate about this?

Parenting books bore me. I don’t like reading instruction manuals, and don’t have time to weigh others’ opinions about how to raise my kids. But when I read books about motherhood forged in self-reflection and told with literary elegance, I become a more self-reflective parent and have the eyes to see beauty in my ordinary maternal experiences. Books like this are few and far between. It’s hard for mothers to make art; when our resources are spread thin in parenthood, why do work that may not pay? How to find time for creative rumination? But here’s a list of books written by mothers who persisted in their creative work to show us motherhood in all of its mundanity, mania, and magic. 

Catherine's book list on smart and artful books about motherhood

Catherine Ricketts Why did Catherine love this book?

Here’s an art book I adore, filled with paintings by Maira Kalman that depict just what the title suggests: Women holding things.

Women hold so much—our children, our aging loved ones, watering cans and zucchini, schedules and lists, grief and gladness. I love how this collection of images cumulatively illustrates the weight that women bear, the joy and burden of it all. Interspersed throughout are brief, poignant reflections that frame the visual concept.

By Maira Kalman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Women Holding Things as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the critically acclaimed artist, designer, and author of the bestsellers The Principles of Uncertainty and My Favorite Things comes a wondrous collection of words and paintings that is a moving meditation on the beauty and complexity of women's lives and roles, revealed in the things they hold.

"What do women hold? The home and the family. And the children and the food. The friendships. The work. The work of the world. And the work of being human. The memories. And the troubles. And the sorrows and the triumphs. And the love."

In the spring of 2021, Maira and Alex…


Book cover of The Women Jefferson Loved

Francis D. Cogliano Author Of Emperor of Liberty: Thomas Jefferson's Foreign Policy

From my list on Thomas Jefferson from a historian's view.

Why am I passionate about this?

I've spent three decades teaching the history of the United States, especially the American Revolution, to students in the UK. Invariably some students are attracted by the ideals they identify with the United States while others stress the times that the US has failed to uphold those ideals. Thomas Jefferson helped to articulate those ideals and often came up short when it came to realizing them. This has fascinated me as well as my students. I'm the author or editor of eight books on Jefferson and the American Revolution including, Thomas Jefferson: Reputation and Legacy and The Blackwell Companion to Thomas Jefferson. I'm currently completing a book about the relationship between Jefferson and George Washington.

Francis' book list on Thomas Jefferson from a historian's view

Francis D. Cogliano Why did Francis love this book?

The study of Jefferson has been dominated by men and has largely focused on politics and Jefferson’s relationships with men. Scharff presents an alternative perspective. She focuses on the women in Jefferson’s life—his mother, sisters, wife, sisters-in-law, daughters, granddaughters, and the enslaved mother of his mixed-race children. The result is an original entry in the vast corpus of books on Jefferson. It’s beautifully written, imbued with sympathy for its subjects. Scharff offers a new perspective on Jefferson but also sheds light on the varied experiences of women of different races and classes in early America. The result is a study about much more than a “Founding Father.”  

By Virginia Scharff,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Women Jefferson Loved as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“A focused, fresh spin on Jeffersonian biography.” —Kirkus Reviews

In the tradition of Annette Gordon-Reed’s The Hemingses of Monticello and David McCullough’s John Adams, historian Virginia Scharff offers a compelling, highly readable multi-generational biography revealing how the women Thomas Jefferson loved shaped the third president’s ideas and his vision for the nation. Scharff creates a nuanced portrait of the preeminent founding father, examining Jefferson through the eyes of the women who were closest to him, from his mother to his wife and daughters to Sally Hemings and the slave family he began with her.


Book cover of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy

Ann Little Author Of The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright

From my list on biographies of American women.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been fascinated by American women’s lives my whole life, reading and writing women’s biographies from high school through graduate school and into my career as a professional historian. I was raised in the Great Lakes region of the United States, and was educated at Bryn Mawr College and the University of Pennsylvania. I teach early American history, women’s history, and the history of sexuality at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, and am at work on a book about women’s lives in the generation after the American Revolution.

Ann's book list on biographies of American women

Ann Little Why did Ann love this book?

Not a biography in the strict sense, this book is an investigation into “an American controversy” by a legal scholar that demonstrates the value of historical research and analysis by showing how Jefferson’s grandchildren, and white scholars and biographers following their lead, effectively conspired to hide the truth of Jefferson’s 30+ relationship with a woman he owned. And Gordon-Reed published this book a full year before the DNA-based analysis showed that Jefferson was overwhelmingly likely to have been the only father to Hemings’s four children.

By Annette Gordon-Reed,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Annette Gordon-Reed's groundbreaking study was first published, rumors of Thomas Jefferson's sexual involvement with his slave Sally Hemings had circulated for two centuries. Among all aspects of Jefferson's renowned life, it was perhaps the most hotly contested topic. The publication of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings intensified this debate by identifying glaring inconsistencies in many noted scholars' evaluations of the existing evidence. In this study, Gordon-Reed assembles a fascinating and convincing argument: not that the alleged thirty-eight-year liaison necessarily took place but rather that the evidence for its taking place has been denied a fair hearing.

Friends of Jefferson…


Book cover of Jefferson's Daughters: Three Sisters, White and Black, in a Young America

Cassandra Good Author Of First Family: George Washington's Heirs and the Making of America

From my list on the fascinating families of America’s founders.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a child, I loved reading books about time travel, and now as a historian, I do a sort of time travel for my job. I have always been especially drawn to reading women’s correspondence, particularly when the women involved were pushing against gender roles and finding ways to access political power. I approach doing history as if it’s an ethnography of a group of people with entirely different beliefs, norms, and even emotions from us today; after all, the past is a foreign country. I’m especially intrigued by uncovering how personal relationships worked in the past and how relationships with political figures allowed family and friends to access power.

Cassandra's book list on the fascinating families of America’s founders

Cassandra Good Why did Cassandra love this book?

Kerrison brings careful scholarly research and even detective work to this fluidly-written story of Jefferson’s two white daughters, Martha and Maria Jefferson, and one Black daughter, Harriet Hemings. The book offers a more detailed chronicle of Martha and Maria, but Kerrison reveals for the reader her search for what happened to Harriet after she left Monticello and why that story ultimately remains a mystery.

By Catherine Kerrison,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Jefferson's Daughters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The remarkable untold story of Thomas Jefferson’s three daughters—two white and free, one black and enslaved—and the divergent paths they forged in a newly independent America
 
FINALIST FOR THE GEORGE WASHINGTON PRIZE • “Beautifully written . . . To a nuanced study of Jefferson’s two white daughters, Martha and Maria, [Kerrison] innovatively adds a discussion of his only enslaved daughter, Harriet Hemings.”—The New York Times Book Review

Thomas Jefferson had three daughters: Martha and Maria by his wife, Martha Wayles Jefferson, and Harriet by his slave Sally Hemings. Although the three women shared a father, the similarities end there. Martha…