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America's First Daughter: A Novel
by Stephanie Dray, Laura Kamoie

Published: 2016-03-01
Paperback : 587 pages
66 members reading this now
179 clubs reading this now
25 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 18 of 22 members
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" ...
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Introduction

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 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.

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.

Excerpt

Confrontation

It was my haste that made me stumble halfway down the stairs. Only a wild, wrenching grasp at the carved wooden rail saved me from a broken neck. Alas, the heavy fall of my feet echoed up the staircase and drew my father from his rooms.

“Patsy?” he called, peering over the bannister.

I froze, breathless, my belly roiling with shock and anger and revulsion. I ought to have pretended that I didn’t hear him say my name. I ought to have hurried on, leaving him with only the sight of my back. I ought never to have looked up at him over my shoulder.

But I did look up.

There on the landing my father loomed tall, a tendril of his ginger hair having come loose from its ribbon, his shirt worn without its neck cloth, the stark white linen setting off more vividly the red flush that crept up his throat. Was it shame for his behavior with Sally or . . . ardor?

On the heels of giving witness to his behavior, the thought was so excruciatingly horrifying that heat swept over me, leaving me to wish I’d burn away to dust.

“Are you hurt?” Papa asked, hoarsely.

I couldn’t reply, my mouth too filled with the bitter taste of bile. Finally, I forced a shake of my head.

He glanced back to the door, then back at me, his hand half-covering his mouth. “Were—were you at my door just now?”

“No,” I whispered, as much as I could manage under my suffocating breathlessness. And how dare he ask if I’d been at his door when neither of us could bear the honest answer? Even if Papa didn’t know what I’d seen, he knew what he’d done.

He ought to have been downstairs with us, reacquainting himself with the little daughter who still didn’t remember him. He ought to have been sipping cider with the young man who fancied me, giving his permission to court. He ought to have been doing a hundred other things. Instead, he was preying upon my dead mother’s enslaved half-sister—and the wrongness of it filled my voice with a defiant rage.

“No, I wasn’t at your door.” I held his gaze, letting him see what he would.

My father paused on the precipice, clearing his throat, absently smearing the corner of his lips with one thumb. “Well—well. . .did you need something?” As if my needs were at the forefront of his thoughts.

My fingers curled into fists as a lie came to me suddenly, and sullenly. “I was coming up to fetch my prayer book.” Surely he knew it was a lie, but I didn’t care. If he challenged me, I’d lie again, without even the decency of dropping my eyes. I’d lie because between a father and a daughter, what I’d witnessed was unspeakable. And I’d learned from the man who responded with silence to my letters about politics or adultery or the liberation of slaves. . . .

Papa never spoke on any subject he didn’t want to.

Neither would I.

“Are you certain you weren’t hurt,” Papa finally murmured, “ . . . on the stairs?”

Rage burned inside me so hotly I thought it possible that my handprint might be seared upon the railing. I bobbed my head, grasped my skirt, and took two steps down before my father called to me again.

“Patsy?”

I couldn’t face him, so I merely stopped, my chest heaving with the effort to restrain myself from taking flight. “What?”

A heavy silence descended. One filled with pregnant emotion. I feared he might be so unwise as to attempt to explain himself, to justify or confess his villainous lapse in judgment, but when he finally spoke, it was only to ask, “What of your prayer book?”

Swallowing hard, I forced words out despite the pain. “I’ve reconsidered my need of it. I’m not as apt as some people to forget what it says.”

About America’s First Daughter:

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. view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

1) If Thomas Jefferson's wife hadn't died, how might he and his daughter have lived different lives?
2) Was Jefferson a good father?
3) In what way did Patsy shape her father's legacy and our own?

Suggested by Members

Would Patsy's life had been different if she would not have made the deathbed promise to her Mom?
How did you view Patsy's love/adoration toward her father?
If Patsy would have married Willian Short, would she have been able to mold his career to a higher standing?
by [email protected] (see profile) 09/20/16

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

“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

“[A] triumphant, controversial, and fascinating plunge into the complexities of Revolutionary America, where women held power in subtle ways and men hid dangerous secrets. You’ll never look at Jefferson or his legacy the same way again.” — C.W. Gortner, bestselling author of Mademoiselle Chanel

“Authors Dray and Kamoie have performed tireless research. Whether it’s detailing Patsy’s life as a debutante in Paris, where she dances with Lafayette and witnesses the first flickers of the French Revolution, or recounting the world of a Virginia plantation, they’ve done their homework.” — Kirkus Reviews

“This is a stunning historical novel that will keep you up late, hoping the engaging story never ends. Highly, highly recommended!” — Historical Novel Society, Editor's Choice

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
  "great discussion"by jcjwalbye (see profile) 08/31/20

Rated 9 out of 10. Thoroughly enjoyed by all members of the club. Lots to talk about.

 
by [email protected] (see profile) 05/29/20

Beautiful and interesting account. Loved the details and author’s perspective.

 
by mindysauve (see profile) 02/28/20

 
by Hanknlori (see profile) 12/01/19

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