The best books about Sally Hemings 📚

Browse the best books on Sally Hemings as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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

Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy

By Annette Gordon-Reed

Why 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.
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Book cover of My Monticello: Fiction

My Monticello: Fiction

By Jocelyn Nicole Johnson

Why 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.  

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Book cover of America's First Daughter

America's First Daughter

By Stephanie Dray, Laura Kamoie

Why this book?

This novel traces the life of Patsy Jefferson Randolph, Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter, and highlights the disparity between status and power for women. Though a member of one of the nation’s most illustrious families, Patsy’s life alternates between glittering and nightmarish. She is tethered to her fragile and flawed father throughout her life, enemies with his mistress, Sally Hemings, who is technically Patsy’s aunt. Readers will admire her strength as she faces one tragedy after another, and mourn for the lost happiness she should have enjoyed. 

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Book cover of The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family

The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family

By Annette Gordon-Reed

Why this book?

Gordon-Reed is a masterful historian and nowhere is that more evident than in this exceptional, prizewinning book that explores the complexities of freedom and slavery during the early Republic. She traces the stories of several generations of this family, including the stories of Sally Hemings and her brother James, who together lived with Jefferson in Paris during the 1780s, a place where they might have obtained their freedom, albeit likely at the cost of never returning to the rest of their family in Virginia. But some of the most fascinating and surprising elements of the book touch on many other…
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Book cover of Jefferson's Daughters: Three Sisters, White and Black, in a Young America

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

By Catherine Kerrison

Why this book?

Kerrison’s triple biography of Thomas Jefferson’s daughters is a brilliant evocation of life in post-Revolutionary America—its exciting possibilities as well as the limitations that still bound most women, free as well as enslaved. The three women here stand for the lives of millions of women in early America as mothers, mortal beings, and mysterious absences in the historical record: Maria (Polly), like her mother Martha Wayles Jefferson, was doomed by fragile health to an early death; Martha (Patsy), who strongly resembled her father physically and temperamentally, had a large family as the matriarch of Monticello, but endured a vexatious marriage…
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