2008 National Book Award for Nonfiction
Synopses & Reviews
In the mid-1700s the English captain of a trading ship that made runs between England and the Virginia colony fathered a child by an enslaved woman living near Williamsburg. The woman, whose name is unknown and who is believed to have been born in Africa, was owned by the Eppeses, a prominent Virginia family. The captain, whose surname was Hemings, and the woman had a daughter. They named her Elizabeth. So begins this epic work--named a best book of the year by the , , the , Amazon.com, the , and a notable book by the Annette Gordon-Reed's "riveting history" of the Hemings family, whose story comes to vivid life in this brilliantly researched and deeply moving work. Gordon-Reed, author of the highly acclaimed historiography , unearths startling new information about the Hemingses, Jefferson, and his white family. Although the book presents the most detailed and richly drawn portrait ever written of Sarah Hemings, better known by her nickname Sally, who bore seven children by Jefferson over the course of their thirty-eight-year liaison, tells more than the story of her life with Jefferson and their children. The Hemingses as a whole take their rightful place in the narrative of the family's extraordinary engagement with one of history's most important figures. Not only do we meet Elizabeth Hemings--the family matriarch and mother to twelve children, six by John Wayles, a poor English immigrant who rose to great wealth in the Virginia colony--but we follow the Hemings family as they become the property of Jefferson through his marriage to Martha Wayles. The Hemings-Wayles children, siblings to Martha, played pivotal roles in the life at Jefferson's estate. We follow the Hemingses to Paris, where James Hemings trained as a chef in one of the most prestigious kitchens in France and where Sally arrived as a fourteen-year-old chaperone for Jefferson's daughter Polly; to Philadelphia, where James Hemings acted as the major domo to the newly appointed secretary of state; to Charlottesville, where Mary Hemings lived with her partner, a prosperous white merchant who left her and their children a home and property; to Richmond, where Robert Hemings engineered a plan for his freedom; and finally to Monticello, that iconic home on the mountain, from where most of Jefferson's slaves, many of them Hemings family members, were sold at auction six months after his death in 1826. As makes vividly clear, Monticello can no longer be known only as the home of a remarkable American leader, the author of the Declaration of Independence; nor can the story of the Hemingses, whose close blood ties to our third president have been expunged from history until very recently, be left out of the telling of America's story. With its empathetic and insightful consideration of human beings acting in almost unimaginably difficult and complicated family circumstances, is history as great literature. It is a remarkable achievement.
"There is no clue in the life of this intertwined family that Gordon-Reed does not minutely examine for its most subtle significance....Ponderous but sagacious and ultimately rewarding." Kirkus Reviews
"[D]eeply researched, often gripping....Gordon-Reed has given us an important story that is ultimately about the timeless quest for justice and human dignity." San Francisco Chronicle
"[A] very important and powerfully argued history of the Hemings family....Gordon-Reed...has the imagination and the talent of an expert historian....[W]ith this book Gordon-Reed explores Jefferson's relationship to Sally Hemings and the rest of his household slaves with a degree of detail and intimacy never before achieved." Gordon S. Wood, The New Republic
(read the entire New Republic review
"Pathbreaking....and very moving" (Edmund S. Morgan) the multigenerational story of Thomas Jefferson's hidden slave family.
This epic work tells the story of the Hemingses, whose close blood ties to our third president had been systematically expunged from American history until very recently. Now, historian and legal scholar Annette Gordon-Reed traces the Hemings family from its origins in Virginia in the 1700s to the family's dispersal after Jefferson's death in 1826. It brings to life not only Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson but also their children and Hemings's siblings, who shared a father with Jefferson's wife, Martha. The Hemingses of Monticello sets the family's compelling saga against the backdrop of Revolutionary America, Paris on the eve of its own revolution, 1790s Philadelphia, and plantation life at Monticello. Much anticipated, this book promises to be the most important history of an American slave family ever written.
An epic saga of the Hemings family, whose bloodline has been mixed with that of Thomas Jefferson since our third president took slave Sally Hemings as a mistress.
Praise for : "Annette Gordon-Reed has broken a path into territory that has hitherto eluded historians: what happens to intimate human relations, those between lover and loved, parent and child, brother and sister, when one among them is enslaved to another. The result is not simply a fascinating story in itself, but a new perspective on how the humanity of slaves and a slave owner could adjust and survive in circumstances designed to obliterate it." --Edmund S. Morgan, author of "Thomas Jefferson often described his slaves at Monticello as 'my family.' Annette Gordon-Reed has taken that description seriously. Surely more seriously than Jefferson ever intended! The result, the story of the Hemings family, is the most comprehensive account of one slave family ever written. It is not a pretty story, but it is poignant beyond belief. And it demonstrates conclusively that we must put aside forever and begin to study Faulkner's " --Joseph J. Ellis, author of "This is not only a riveting history of a slave family on a grand scale, it is also a rarely seen portrait of the family in the Big House, with a remarkable account of the relationship of white and black families. This work catapults Gordon-Reed into the very first rank of historians of slavery." --John Hope Franklin, author of "From years of painstaking research, Annette Gordon-Reed has crafted a brave, compelling, and moving family saga about slavery and freedom. This work is a beautifully written, textured story about race, tragedy, and sometimes hope--America's story. If this country has a modern Shakespeare looking for material, Gordon-Reed has provided it." --David W. Blight, Yale University, author of "Annette Gordon-Reed's splendid achievement will have the last word on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, for one cannot imagine another historian matching her exhaustive research and interpretive balance." --David Levering Lewis, author of "Annette Gordon-Reed is a prodigiously gifted historian and is her masterpiece. Bringing the Hemings family out of the shadows and into vibrant life, Gordon-Reed restores them to their proper role at Thomas Jefferson's mountaintop home. Jefferson's Virginia--and Jefferson himself--will never look the same." --Peter Onuf, author of
Winner of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize: "[A] commanding and important book."--Jill Lepore,
The immensely rich biography of an American house--Sylvester Manor, on Shelter Island, New York--and of the unknown creole way of colonial life it reveals
Acclaimed author and landscape historian Mac Griswold brings alive both the house, a 17th-century provisioning plantation for the West Indies, and its remarkable English-Dutch founders--a tale uncovered in the course of her ten years of research in the Manor's family vault and barely disturbed grounds. Nathaniel Sylvester and his sixteen-year-old bride Grizzell, converted Quakers, were at the center of early New England radicalism. And yet they owned twenty-two African slaves, living in intimate connection with the family. Astonishingly, as revealed through the on-site work of highly trained archaeologists--excavations that are themselves an engaging subtext of Griswold's story--there was an encampment of Manhansett people less than a hundred yards from the house. A number of these people, too, served the plantation. The book's fascinating illumination of these three cultures fused in an extraordinary and fleeting creole way of life has never before been documented in early American history.
The immensely rich biography of a houseand#8212;Sylvester Manor, on Shelter Island, New Yorkand#8212;and of the unknown Colonial way of life it reveals The acclaimed author and landscape historian Mac Griswold brings alive the story both of the seventeenth-century provisioning plantation for the West Indies and of its English-Dutch foundersand#8212;the existence of which Griswold uncovered in her ten years of research in the secret family vault, beautiful Georgian house, gardens, and burial grounds. Nathaniel Sylvester and his seventeen-year-old bride, Grizzell, converted Quakers, were at the center of early New England radicalism. And yet they owned twenty-four African slaves, who lived in intimate connection with the family. On-site archeological excavations illuminating 350 years of habitationand#8212;the longest span one family has continuously occupied the same property north of the Mason-Dixon lineand#8212;are themselves a fascinating subtext of Griswoldand#8217;s story. The digs reveal, astonishingly, a Manhansett encampment less than a hundred yards from the house. A number of these people, too, labored on the plantation. The bookand#8217;s story of this forced merger of three cultures, fused in an extraordinary way of life, has never before been so powerfully documented.
About the Author
Mac Griswold, the author of Washington's Gardens at Mount Vernon, is a cultural landscape historianandnbsp;whose numerous awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship in architecture and design.andnbsp; She has been contributing editor for House and Gardenandnbsp;andandnbsp;has written forandnbsp;the New York Times, Wall Street Journal,and Travel and Leisure.andnbsp;