• Leslie Spurrier

Founding Daughter


First of all, I want you to deeply appreciate the little photographic vignette I created for you with the flower (picked from my garden), candle, and book. What you don't see is the giant pincher bug that came in on the flower and just about gave me a heart attack. G-I-A-N-T. No exaggeration.

Weeks ago, a friend of mind loaned me this book, and I just finished it over vacation last week. And as the Fourth of July approaches, I couldn't think of a more fitting time to share a quick review of the read.

Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie provide a fictional account (based heavily in historical research) of the life of Martha Jefferson Randolph, the oldest daughter of iconic president, Thomas Jefferson. Spanning the brief moments before the Revolution in America all the way through President Jefferson's death, this book pulls back the veil on the inter-workings of Jefferson's life through the eyes of his devoted daughter.

But that's not even the half of it.

In America's First Daughter, Dray and Kamoie take on the Herculean task of chronicling the life of a loyal daughter feverishly at work behind the scenes for her country; the inception of the French Revolution; the long-debated relationship between Jefferson and his slave, Sally Hemmings; the tumultuous relationship between Martha Randolph and her husband Tom; the financial hardships encountered by many Southern plantation owners; the dysfunctional dynamics of genteel society; and the crippling hold of a male-dominated society on women.

Whew. Those are just a few of the topics addressed in the book, which is also peppered with cameos of historically weighty people like Abigail Adams, the Marquis de Lafayette, Andrew Jackson, and more.

Sound intimidating or too heady? Not a chance. The authors follow Martha's (affectionately known as Patsy before being married) life as she grows from "daughter of Thomas Jefferson" to an influential woman in her own right. Patsy grapples with the institution of slavery, her loyalty to her father and family, and the daily, relentless responsibilities of being a woman in the 1800s.

Though I felt like it started out a little slow, I soon found myself completely wrapped up in both the charm and injustice of Pasty's life and surroundings. The book's portrayal of Thomas Jefferson was fresh - an intimate look at one of our most beloved Founding Fathers. And the harsh realities for women during this period of time became real to me in ways I've never encountered in a book before.

So in celebration of our nation's independence, I encourage you to pick up America's First Daughter and get to know some of the not-so-famous players in our country's history.


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