Published by William Morrow on March 1, 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction
Source: Blog Tour, Edelweiss
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.
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Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for AMERICA’S FIRST DAUGHTER by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie. Having enjoyed Stephanie’s work in the past, I was interested in seeing her tackle early American history. The tour is hosted by Inkslinger PR and you can visit all the stops here. After my review, there’s a tour-wide giveaway.
As much as I like historical fiction — which is a lot — I rarely read about American events. I’m much more interested in ancient times and lands, but when I saw Stephanie Dray as one of the authors of AMERICA’S FIRST DAUGHTER, I knew I had to look at the book. I enjoyed Dray’s stories in the collaborative historical fiction books A DAY OF FIRE and A YEAR OF RAVENS, so I was sure that if anyone could get me interested in America’s early days, it would be her.
AMERICA’S FIRST DAUGHTER is the story of Thomas Jefferson’s oldest daughter, Martha Jefferson Randolph, or Patsy, as she was called before her marriage. I knew absolutely nothing about her, and not much about Jefferson other than common facts. Now that I’ve finished AMERICA’S FIRST DAUGHTER, I’m blown away by how much I’ve learned. Not just about Jefferson and Patsy, but about America’s early political troubles, plantation life, slavery, and the role and expectations of women in Colonial America. The authors obviously did an immense amount of research, and they imparted that knowledge without letting it overwhelm the narrative.
The book starts off just after Jefferson’s death, with Patsy taking up what might be the most important task of her life: editing her father’s letters to preserve his image forevermore. In the process of sanitizing his words, she looks back at her entire life, detailing the incidents written of in the letters she burns. One example: the authors do believe Jefferson had a long affair with his slave, Sally Hemings, and that relationship threads through Patsy’s life, her views on it changing as she journeys from teenager to wife to mother. Sally’s predicament, and that of her children with Jefferson, also affect Patsy’s views on slavery.
The book is Patsy’s, but it’s also the story of Jefferson through the eyes of his devoted daughter. Patsy spends her entire life trying to protect and care for her father, sometimes at the expense of her own happiness. Because AMERICA’S FIRST DAUGHTER spans so many years, it’s a great way to see Patsy eventually come into her own, trying to embody her father’s ideals about independence in time where women were essentially the property of their husbands or fathers. It’s also interesting to see Jefferson as a father and man; I could see why Patsy idolized him, but I also wanted to shake some sense into her at times.
AMERICA’S FIRST DAUGHTER is quite long. But I appreciated the length, as it’s the epic saga of a famous family. The authors covered so many episodes of Patsy’s life that I can’t believe they left anything out. But they did, as they explain in the Author’s Note. I do think the beginning of the book, covering Patsy’s childhood, was a bit slow. But once the book got going, the authors hooked my attention, and I devoured the rest of it. I particularly liked the writing style: very readable, but with just enough old fashioned style to help set the historical period. There are a few difficult passages about domestic abuse, but the authors do present an argument for its historical accuracy. Lastly, it’s impossible to know that two people wrote this book, which is always a good thing with co-authored works.
In AMERICA’S FIRST DAUGHTER, the authors breathe life into a little known but very important historical figure. Martha Jefferson Randolph literally was America’s first daughter as she filled the role of first lady for her father. I can’t believe I didn’t know more about her before this book, so I’m grateful to the authors for writing such an engrossing character and interesting me in the history of America’s earliest days.
*giveaway is tour-wide
About the authors:
STEPHANIE DRAY is an award-winning, bestselling and two-time RITA award nominated author of historical women’s fiction. Her critically acclaimed series about Cleopatra’s daughter has been translated into eight different languages and won NJRW’s Golden Leaf. As Stephanie Draven, she is a national bestselling author of genre fiction and American-set historical women’s fiction. She is a frequent panelist and presenter at national writing conventions and lives near the nation’s capital. Before she became a novelist, she was a lawyer, a game designer, and a teacher. Now she uses the stories of women in history to inspire the young women of today.
Newsletter | America’s First Daughter Website
LAURA KAMOIE has always been fascinated by the people, stories, and physical presence of the past, which led her to a lifetime of historical and archaeological study and training. She holds a doctoral degree in early American history from The College of William and Mary, published two non-fiction books on early America, and most recently held the position of Associate Professor of History at the U.S. Naval Academy before transitioning to a full-time career writing genre fiction as the New York Times bestselling author of over twenty books, Laura Kaye. Her debut historical novel, America’s First Daughter, co-authored with Stephanie Dray, allowed her the exciting opportunity to combine her love of history with her passion for storytelling. Laura lives among the colonial charm of Annapolis, Maryland with her husband and two daughters.
Newsletter | America’s First Daughter Website