Sally Hemmings A Novel Author:Barbara Chase-Riboud One of the greatest love stories in American history is also one of the least known and most controversial. Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States and author of the Declaration of Independence, had a mistress for thirty-eight years, whom he loved and lived with until he died, the beautiful and elusive Sally Hemmings.But it was no... more »t simply that Jefferson had a mistress that provoked the scandal of the times; it was that Sally was a quadroon slave, and that Jefferson fathered a slave family, many of whose descendents, known and unknown, are alive today.
In this moving novel, which spans two continents, sixty years, and seven presidencies, Riboud re-creates a love story, based on the documents and evidence of the day, but giving free rein to the novelist's imagination.
The story opens in the Paris of 1787, two scant years before the start of the French Revolution and but a decade after the start of our own, where Thomas Jefferson is serving as the American ambassador to the court of France. A widower for five years, Jefferson's elder daughter, Martha, has been in France with him, but now he decides to bring over his younger daughter, Polly, as well. Sent with her as maid and servant is fourteen-year-old Sally Hemmings. Over the next several months, Jefferson grows increasingly infatuated with his slave, and before long becomes her lover. Highly intelligent and sensitive, and increasingly educated and sophisticated through her Paris sojourn, Sally Hemmings could have opted not to return to America when Jefferson was called home, could have chosen freedom on the basis that slavery had been abolished on French soil. But, she did return with Jefferson to Monticello, thus re-enslaving herself to him. She never left Monticello again, and Jefferson, despite pressures to do so, did not remarry; the reason, no doubt, was Sally Hemmings.
Woven into this rich story of love and enslavement is the story of the early Republic and of the personages of Aaron Burr, Dolley and James Madison, John and Abigail Adams, and John Trumbull. And like a series of somber counterpoints to the compelling love story are three salient themes: the slave rebellions of Gabriel Prosser and Nat Turner; murders, those of George Whythe, Jefferson's old professor and benefactor, and of George, the Lewis slave in Kentucky; and, above all, survival, that of Sally Hemmings but also that of her indomitable mother, Elizabeth. Here were two generations of slave mistresses: Sally Hemings, mistress to a president, and her mother, mother to a president's father-in-law.
The strange and complex ties between these two American families, the Jefferson's and the Hemmingses, one white, one black, form in a sense the underside of our history. In this brilliant novel, Barabara Chase-Riboud presents the remarkable love story of Jefferson and Hemmings as a poignant, tragic, and unforgettable addendum to the history of the races, and of the sexes, in America.« less
Although fictional it is fact based. The findings with genealogy gathered information and finally genetic testing in the end makes this a book I've read several times over. It shows the true love a man had for his first wife Martha and then his secondary wife Sally who was not acknowledged as his wife ever. Yet her and Martha were half sister's his despondence over Maratha's death led him more gently into Sally's arms. He did love the children Sally had and almost all reports say they were very light skinned looked exactly like him and had his red hair and freckles. Martha made him promise to never marry another but he did love. Sally was not released until after his death he couldn't bear to let her go she was a tender age when he took her barely the equivalent of an adult in our standards at the age of 16 she would give him many more. There is another book that accompanies this one by her, The President's Daughter that is very good as well.
I liked that this book was forthright did not hide thing's for the niceties of all thing's proper these days after all those children of his have as much right as to a name as any of us do. Sally and Thomas doted on each other till the end. It's a wonderful story.