AMERICA’S FIRST DAUGHTER: Things That Didn’t Make It Into The Book (Part One)
Patsy Jefferson’s Later Life
By Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie
Today we are absolutely thrilled to be celebrating the release of our new book, America’s First Daughter, which portrays the relationship between Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph and her famous father, Thomas Jefferson, and explores the sacrifices Patsy made and the lies she told to protect him, his legacy, and the new nation he founded.
America’s First Daughter is more than six hundred pages long and we still couldn’t fit it all in, so as we mentioned in our author’s note, some very painful omissions were made. Thankfully, we can post about things that aren’t in the book, but that we think will are historically significant and will be interesting to readers.
Because we wanted to frame the novel with the Jefferson family’s letters--the writing, reading, editing and publishing of them, our novel ends in 1830, years before Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph’s death. As a consequence, a number of things about her later life never made it into the book because they occurred after this date.
The Death Bed Denial
Among the things that happened after our novel ends include an event in the springtime of 1835, when an ailing Patsy Jefferson believed she was near death and called her children to her bedside. Patsy wanted to make a division of what was left of her property--including her human property--and she said she wanted to do it while her head was still “perfectly clear.”
She had a plan for dividing her cash, stocks, and items that had belonged to her father. She also had a plan for her slaves; she wished to emancipate two of the daughters of Burwell Colbert, who had been Jefferson’s personal butler and valet at the end of his life. Patsy also directed her children to give Sally Hemings, Betsy Hemings and the gardener, Wormley Hughes, “their time.” This was a method by which Virginians could free slaves without forcing them to leave the state, as was required under the law at the time. All three had lived in Virginia as free people since Jefferson’s death, but Patsy wanted this understood by her children.
And yet, she did not free all her slaves, nor did she forget her lifelong mission to protect her father’s reputation even at the expense of those who he’d held in bondage. We were struck by the fact that as her own mortal life came to a close, Patsy Jefferson’s mind was fixed on her father’s immortal legacy. Clearly, she remained worried about the Sally Hemings scandal until the very end.
She told her grown children that Jefferson’s farm records would prove that he and Sally Hemings were far apart when Sally’s son Eston (who was rumored to look very much like Jefferson) was born. Patsy told her sons to always remember this and defend the character of their grandfather.
In fact, Jefferson’s farm records weigh in favor of the proposition that he was at Monticello (and presumably near to Sally) within nine months of the birth of each of her children. And today most historians--as well as the Thomas Jefferson Foundation--believe that the weight of the historical evidence supports the idea that Jefferson fathered the children of Sally Hemings. If true--and we believe it is--it is simply not credible that his daughter did not know about it.
And if she knew, then Patsy Jefferson was the kind of person who was willing to lie to her own children with what she believed might be her very last breath.
To us, that spoke volumes about her, coloring every choice we made in the novel.
The Death of “Randolph of Roanoke”
Though Patsy and John Randolph were foes, his death presented her with a dilemma. In his last will, the colorful and acerbic politician who had fought with Patsy’s husband, her father, and even formed his own political party, formally emancipated his slaves, nearly four hundred in all. They weren’t just emancipated, but also given land in Ohio upon which to resettle. John’s heirs and assigns--Martha’s relations--urged her and her financially struggling children to join the lawsuit to void this will, keep the slaves in bondage, and divide “the plunder.”
Patsy said she would never support any effort to keep those slaves in bondage, and persuaded her children to follow her example. And as Virginian politics shifted away from anti-slavery sentiments to advocating slavery as a biblically condoned societal good, she and her children did not want to be part of a slave-holding society, and sought to leave, concluding that Virginia was “no longer a home for the family of Thomas Jefferson.”
But when it came to slavery, Patsy was susceptible to the same moral failings as her father, as yet another incident proves…
Martha Ann Colbert and the Whipping of Sally
The enslaved woman named Sally that is most famously associated with the Jeffersons is Sally Hemings. However, it’s a different Sally altogether who was at the receiving end of Patsy Jefferson’s discipline in 1833. The incident is notable because it’s the only documented instance of Patsy disciplining the enslaved human beings she said she felt “bound by the most sacred of all duties to protect.”
According to Patsy’s daughter, Cornelia, this enslaved girl named Sally was sent to a constable to be flogged after some infraction. But when she later stole a pair of stockings, the sixty-one year-old Martha Jefferson Randolph decided to take up the whip herself. “What disciplinarians we have turned out to be,” Cornelia wrote, adding that a Hemings relation judged the whipping to be “not enough” to change Sally’s behavior.
As earlier mentioned, in 1835, Patsy Jefferson thought she was dying. And having called her children together, she directed the emancipation of several slaves including Martha Ann Colbert. Poor fortune indeed for Martha Ann that Patsy did not actually die in 1835. The next year, as Patsy’s children began to disperse and ask for her financial help--presumably in the form of gifting them slaves--Patsy wrote that she had “no right to sacrifice the happiness of a fellow creature black or white.”
And yet, like her father, knowing that she didn’t have that right didn’t stop her. In the end, acknowledging it was “an evil” to separate this young woman from her family, Patsy agreed to give Martha Ann to her son, Lewis, who was moving to Arkansas. The ultimate fate of Martha Ann Colbert isn’t known--since Lewis died soon after--but it is clear evidence that like her father before her, in the crucible of financial difficulties, Patsy Jefferson put the interests of her white children ahead of moral principles. When she did so, perhaps she justified it as her father did when he wrote: “justice is on one scale, and self-preservation on the other.”
Stay tuned for more posts in this series of Things That Didn’t Make It Into The Book. And thanks for reading!
~Stephanie and Laura
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.
Advanced Praise for America’s First Daughter:
“America’s First Daughter brings a turbulent era to vivid life. All the conflicts and complexities of the Early Republic are mirrored in Patsy’s story. It’s breathlessly exciting and heartbreaking by turns-a personal and political page-turner.” (Donna Thorland, author of The Turncoat)
“Painstakingly researched, beautifully hewn, compulsively readable -- this enlightening literary journey takes us from Monticello to revolutionary Paris to the Jefferson White House, revealing remarkable historical details, dark family secrets, and bringing to life the colorful cast of characters who conceived of our new nation. A must read.” (Allison Pataki, New York Times bestselling author of The Accidental Empress)
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.
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, 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.