Thomas Jefferson had three daughters: Martha and Maria by his wife, Martha Wayles Jefferson, and Harriet by his slave Sally Hemings. Although the three women shared a father, the similarities end there. Martha and Maria received a fine convent school education while they lived with their father during his diplomatic posting in Paris—a hothouse of intellectual ferment. Once they returned home, however, the sisters found their options limited by the laws and customs of early America. Harriet Hemings followed a different path. Born into slavery, she would eventfully escape it—apparently with the assistance of Jefferson himself. Leaving Monticello behind, she boarded a coach and set off for a decidedly uncertain future.
To share the stories of these women is Catherine Kerrison.
Catherine Kerrison is an associate professor of history at Villanova University, where she teaches courses in Colonial and Revolutionary America and women’s and gender history. She holds a Ph.D. in American history from the College of William and Mary. Her first book, Claiming the Pen: Women and Intellectual Life in the Early American South, won the Outstanding Book Award from the History of Education Society. Her most recent book is Jefferson’s Daughters: Three Sisters, White and Black, in a Young America.