The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family Paperback – September 8, 2009
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- Motoko Rich, New York Times
“A monumental and original book.”
- Fergus Bordewich, Washington Post
“A brilliant book…It marks the author as one of the most astute, insightful, and forthright historians of this generation.”
- Edmund S. Morgan and Marie Morgan, New York Review of Books
“[A] very important and powerfully argued history of the Hemings family…[Gordon-Reed] has the imagination and talent of an expert historian.”
- Gordon S. Wood, The New Republic
“A riveting and compassionate family portrait that deserves to endure as a model of historical inquiry…stands dramatically apart for its searching intelligence and breadth of humane vision…We owe Annette Gordon-Reed tremendous thanks.”
- Kirk Davis Swinehart, Chicago Tribune
“The Hemingses of Monticello makes a powerful argument for the historical significance of the Hemings family not only for its engagement with a principal architect of the early Republic, but also for the ways the family embodies the complexities and contradictions of slavery in the United States. ”
- James Smethurst, The Boston Globe
“The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed, a historian and law professor, is a doorstop corrective to early American history, painting a composite portrait of a family that stood at the wellspring of the Jefferson, slave Sally Hemings, their children and kin fascinate and surprise. ”
- Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Because of Gordon-Reed, Hemings and her ancestors and descendants achieve full personhood. For that, the author deserves praise and lots of readers. ”
- Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“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. ”
- Dallas Morning News
“Gordon-Reed has pulled off an astonishing feat of historical re-creation, involving equal measures of painstaking archival detective work, creative historical imagination, and balanced judgment.”
- François Furstenberg, Slate
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This book is extremely valuable, I believe, in the depth with which Gordon-Reed develops the psychology and sociology of the complex and emotionally-charged topic of the sexual interaction between Caucasian masters and their female slaves. Obviously, everyone knew that there was a great deal of forced intercourse, but the nuances of "consent" and the development of genuine relationships and bargains is an area where very little transparency actually existed.
The relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings was much better known in the early 19th Century during Jefferson's terms as President than the "history" I was taught led me to believe. Indeed, I was very well aware of the sensationalism around the "discovery" of the Hemings affair in the 1980's, shortly after I took up residence in Atlanta, GA. In retrospect, I'm sure that the underlying reason for this sudden upsurge of interest was indeed related to the progress of the Civil Rights Movement and, even more especially, the Supreme Court decision in Loving vs Virginia which struck down miscegenation laws.
In any event, although this book is perhaps a bit more detailed, and certainly more focused on the sociology of slavery and the interactions between Jefferson and the various descendants of Elizabeth Hemings (who eventually ended up as his "property" after his marriage to Martha Wayles Skelton, through whom he inherited them) than some readers might prefer, I found it fascinating. I recommend it highly to anyone who is interested in "how it really was" during the early days of our Republic, especially with respect to our slave-owning "Founding Fathers"