Pub. Date:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family

The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family

by Annette Gordon-Reed
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Hemingses of Monticello 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 122 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book's topic is what drew me to it. It is well researched however even the author states at times there was very little true data to go on. Therefore, I think the author got carried away with too much personal opinion, speculation, and even became too repetitive (as a sad example, how many times in one chapter did the author need to tell us that rape of slaves by their masters was an issue). She also started to build a case for one conclusion going on and on for pages, only then to change her point of view to something else with one paragraph! I found myself skimming paragraphs looking for her to get back to what was known and not opinion (the later chapters were better than the first half). This book would have been much more effective had it stuck with the facts and a historical analysis; there were far to few facts for this book to be over 600 pages! The author should have stayed focused on the factual pieces which would have resulted in a shorter yet more impactful story of the Hemings family. As a side note, given all the common names in the Jefferson-Hemings-Wayland family, it could have been helpful to provide a visual of the family tree each chapter- build the family as you go along with the subsequent chapters. Even though the family tree is at the front and back of the book, it became difficult to find whom the author was talking about at times given the common names/ nicknames. The author really wasn't helpful in this regard often jumping from one name/nickname to another as she went along. For example in chapter 28 the author introduces Jefferson's white grandson as Thomas Jefferson Randolph. In the following paragraph she starts talking about "Jeff" but didn't directly connect "Jeff" as the nickname of Thomas Jefferson Randolph. I am glad I read this book (slow reading and all) but I am disappointed at how the rare details were put together. Reader beware.
WildSouthernBelle More than 1 year ago
I read this about a month ago, and, it was a real slow go for me, which surprised me because, usually, I can plow through something I'm interested in in a couple of days, max, and this took me a bit over a week. I suppose in part, due to the academic nature of the writing, but, give it a go, it's well worth it, especially if you find historical writings interesting.

Ms Gordon-Reed is a very good writer, and, will draw you into the subject material. I do feel like she's a bit biased towards the Hemings family, and against the Jeffersons and Wayleses, but, that's just the impression that I get. Overall, it is a good read, and, interesting, and, you'll get a pretty good impression of living in the late 1700's-early 1800's in Virginia, and in the United States, and you'll learn a bit of how France saw things during that time that will surprise you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The story telling makes the families and individuals seem real, not a dry characters in a history book. I am amazed at the level of inter-relations among the families depicted in the book.
gina62 More than 1 year ago
While this book is well researched it is a slow read. It is far more academic than I was expecting - I felt like I was back in college reading this for a history class. You can't really lose yourself in the story because the author is too caught up in the research. I'm making my way through it but it is not enjoyable.
grayfoxx70 More than 1 year ago
To say the least, I highly enjoyed this book and recommend it! The author's usage of certain terms are needed in order to provide the reader with insight into what was occurring during those times and in some instances the "mindset" that is still seen today. The terminology "White Supremacist" is utilized to grasp the ordeal that African Americans were put through along with understanding how Caucasians perceived themselves. It was a history lesson that you cannot obtain in a traditional classroom. For those who did not realize the debilitating affects of slavery, this book brings it to the forefront. It showed Jefferson clearly in his own environment. His actions are nothing new and for those who choose to perceive his actions as right are clearly as wrong as he. For those who can not get through the book, perhaps you are not as "politically correct" as you thought you were. As the old adage says, "The Truth Hurts"!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent book by an extablished author; it is a natural follow up to her book about Sally Hemmings. It, of course, suffers the same shortfall as all previous books about Sally Hemmings and her families relationship with Thomas Jefferson; both of the main characters have left no first hand account of the actual nature of the relationship. Never-the-less the author does an outstanding job of dispassionately assembling circumstantial evidence which points to the most probable nature and extent of the relationship. (One should not forget that the DNA evidence to date is also circumstantial) I am satisfied that she comes very close to the truth.
History-sponge More than 1 year ago
This book is fascinating, well researched and a real eye-opener. I have read several biographies of Thomas Jefferson but after reading this book they all seem inadequate as it becomes obvious they all miss a huge part of his life. The question is why Jefferson biographers ignored the information that was out there all along. Or, maybe it's not such a mystery -- they were largely white men only interested in his political career. However, some of Jefferson's political moves are better understood by reading this book. It also gives the reader a better propective of the person he really was and why he remained a slave owner all his life. The characters in the book are alive and full of drama although at times the author's analyses of issues are repeated over and over again.
Denise Stevens More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. Criticisms I read in others' reviews, mostly rhat it reads like a dissertation, erring on the side of precision in language over the finesse of story-telling, are true. The author often drives the point home about how the laws of the time were set up to create absolute control over the African slaves and to remove any sense of dignity and societal worth. Sometimes this point is made ad nauseum, but it is a major point. If you can get past the "dissertation style," it is an excellent read about how our 3rd president maintained slaves, many of whom he was related to by his marriage to his beloved Martha. Also how those slaves related to him were treated more favorably, while making no mistake of their status in life. While President Jefferson is often criticised by the author, he is still treated fairly.
stuffNC More than 1 year ago
This book is perfect for anyone who wants the truth of the history of slavery in this country and what power a young beautiful slave girl can actually have!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was very impressed by the detail in this book. The author presumed many of the thoughts and feelings by the characters. Interesting and provocative as well as intellectually written.
osaggie More than 1 year ago
Well, this is an enlightening book about the dark aspects of the life of one of the "great enlightened" founding fathers, and the amazingly complicted life of his wife's half-siblings and their children fathered by him, all who were in servitude to his household and to his person when he traveled, etc. The social hierarchies of the free and the enslaved are considered in depth. For Jefferson, Monticello, Revolutionary War, history of slavery "buffs," etc. Highly recommend for those interested in a wonderful density of information.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed that book. It is a long read but it reflects the amount of research and time the author spent on it and it provides a lore of information. I found it very informative in its depiction of the background and context of slavery and the way slavery impacted the daily life of both slave owners and slaves. What I liked the most is that through the assembly of little puzzle pieces about the life of the Hemings family, the author manages to give them a life and an identity as a very real family, something that was obviously denied to them at the time the events happened and seems to have been carefully buried for convenience afterwards.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This work by Annette Gordon-Reed is riveting from the momement you start. If you are interested in the slave families of TJ or what the typical life during this time was like for slaves (or not so typical for the Hemingses), then this book will shed light on many things scholarship up until now doesn't talk about.

And as for it being biased, she simply states the disgusting facts of Slavery, period. How it was and how it was used against the people it enslaved. There is no unbiased way of getting around the ugly face of this 'peculiar institution'.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You can take all of the actual facts found in this book and put them on a total of 5 pages. The rest of it is speculation on the part of the author. If you don't have enough facts to fill a book, don't fill it with questions and suggestions. I love history when there is actually enough to read about. This book sheds no factual light on Sally Hemmings daily life, just a lot of guessing by the author.
19314432 More than 1 year ago
A book that claims to be American History, SHOULD be based on facts! This 'history" book is based on very little researched "facts". It is more the personal bias of the author. She obviously has an ax to grind. All the researched facts could have been covered in about three or four pages. The book could have been about half as big. The author spends most of the book repeating and repeating and repeating the same information. Again most of the information is speculation by the author. I can not understand how this book could have won any awards unless it was a FICTION award. Don't buy this book, it is a waste of money!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ms Reed has done an excellent job gleaning every bit of information from limited resources. Her analysis is exhaustive, producing insights into the roots of racism. I got very involved with the characters and wanted to know much more about them. This book has changed the way I percieve this era in history and has given me greater insight into the issues of race and gender.
LEVjr More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the book very much; however, it did seem lengthy and repititious at times. A great deal of material I had never seen before. It seemed, and I understand why, to be more about TJ than the Hemingses.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is years of History. I could not put it down. I didn't know when I bought it that it would be a history book. I have always been fascinated by Montecello and all the stories surrounding it. Thomas Jefferson has also held my interest after many visits to the area. Mitche Tavern. Charottesville, Va.This writer is excellant and has a style that really holds your interest and makes you want to keep reading late into the night. Long after lights out. Bravo !!!
Joanne53 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A well researched and fascinating book about the entangled families of Thomas Jefferson and Elizabrth Hemings.
jeanie1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Exhaustive study of the Hemings, slaves of Monticello, President Jefferson's home.
cbl_tn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Although stories about Thomas Jefferson's children by his slave, Sally Hemings, have been in circulation for over 200 years, new attention has been given to Sally and her children in the last decade following the publication of the results of a DNA analysis of descendants of Jefferson's father's brother, Jefferson's Carr nephews, and Sally Hemings' son, Eston. Annette Gordon-Reed reconstructs the lives, not just of Sally and her children, but also of Sally's mother, Sally's siblings and half-siblings, and other slave families who were integral to life at Monticello.Sally's mother, Elizabeth Hemings, was the daughter of an apparently full-blooded African slave and an English sea captain named Hemings. Captain Hemings tried to buy his daughter, but her owner refused to sell her to her father. Elizabeth was part of the marriage settlement of Martha Eppes and John Wayles, parents of Martha Wayles Jefferson. After Wayles was widowed for the third time, he did not remarry, but had several children by Elizabeth Hemings. The youngest, Sally, was born the same year that Wayles died. When John Wayles' estate was divided, Elizabeth and her children were included in Martha Wayles Jefferson's portion of the estate, the beginning of their decades long association with Thomas Jefferson and Monticello.Gordon-Reed presents evidence that Jefferson treated Elizabeth Hemings and her children and grandchildren differently than he treated his slaves who were not related to her. A succession of Hemings males served as Jefferson's personal attendants. The Hemings women had fewer duties than other slave women, and were spared the rigors of field work. The few slaves that Jefferson freed during his life or upon his death were all descended from Elizabeth Hemings.Inevitably, Gordon-Reed's book is as much about Thomas Jefferson as about the Hemings family. The inescapable reality of slavery is that much of what is known about Elizabeth Hemings and her children comes from Jefferson's records and correspondence. The Jefferson that the Hemings knew was a man who desired to be liked by those around him and who hated confrontation and interpersonal conflict. He seems to have kept promises he made. No matter how agreeably Jefferson tried to conduct himself, he was still the master and controlled the lives and destinies of the slaves.The main flaw in the book is perhaps its repetitiveness. Since there are many people who are not convinced that Thomas Jefferson was the father of Sally Hemings' children, or who just refuse to believe it, maybe Gordon-Reed thought the repetition was necessary. However, the readability of the author's prose makes it a quick read for a book of its size, so potential readers shouldn't be discouraged by its length.
curls_99 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The controversy surrounding the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and his slave, Sally Hemmings, had its beginnings while Jefferson was still alive, but has to the forefront of Jefferson scholarship in recent years with the development of DNA technology that could potentially support or disprove (or muddle!) the controversy. Annette Gordon-Reed's book, The Hemingses of Monticello, is her second on the subject - the first being Thomas Jefferson & Sally Hemings: An American Controversy (1997). Her first discussed the specific relationship between Jefferson and Hemings. The Hemingses of Monticello examines the vast interconnectedness between the two families leading up to Jefferson and Hemings and on a little further into the decendents, especially of Hemings. There are a LOT of names, places, and dates in this book. Gordon-Reed clearly did a great deal of research into the papers of Thomas Jefferson and those around him. She places a heavy emphasis on the need to recognize slaves as people with real feelings and reactions during this time period, which I found to be very interesting. I do think it is important to always remember that, but I also think that in her attempt she also dismisses the historical fact of the law and slavery as not necessarily accurate depictions of how life really was. In do this, she often seems to place the social values of today on characters living in a different time and social context. While slaves were human and had true human emotions, white society treated them as if they were less than human (often regardless of personal beliefs). White men felt that they could take advantage of slave women because slave women were not as human as they were (in their own eyes). This is what truly made slavery such an abomination. Gordon-Reed, though, tries desperately to prove, using the social logic of today, that Jefferson must have loved Hemings. When I was in college I wrote one of my major papers on this subject and use Gordon-Reed's first book as one of my sources. Because of that, I was very interested to see what more she had to say. While the stories of the two families and how they come in and out of each others' lives is very interesting, she can be repetitive and a bit tedious. Gordon-Reed makes many assumptions along the way based on deduction but not necessarily fact, which continually reminded me that, as unsatisfying as it is, we will probably never really know what happened between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings.
NewsieQ on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A fascinating family saga of the enslaved men and women who served Thomas Jefferson at Monticello -- and were blood kin of his wife Martha Sayles Jefferson. Although I had heard of Sally Hemmings, the slave who was Jefferson's concubine for many years, the details of her and her family's lives give a glimpse into the world of slavery and to the character of one of our founding fathers. There are few written references to the Hemingses, so the author uses other sources and her rich imagination to fill in the blanks. (Although "imagination" doesn't really do justice to the resources she brings to her writing of the tale and making it come alive for readers.)I particularly liked the author's explanation of the myriad laws and customs that governed slaves and slavery, both in the U.S. and in France.
mks27 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is extremely well researched and offers a glimpse into the lives of this unique family in American history who were slaves, but connected to their white owners by blood and in many cases close relationship. The author presents a convincing arguement in terms of the relationship between Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson, but reveals the extraordinary lives of many of Sally's relatives. This book is not just an answer to the question of who is the father of Sally Hemings' answers the question: who were the members of this slave family and how did they live in and survive this condition.
ElizabethChapman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There aren't many books that open a whole new world of understanding on well-known people and historical periods. "The Hemingses of Monticello" did that for me. It's an uttering fascinating account of Thomas Jefferson, his slave / mistress / lover Sally Hemings, and the time in which they lived. I understand the frustration of many reviewers with Gordon-Reed's speculations about the motivations of both Jefferson and Hemings, but to my mind she backs up her interpretations with compelling (if sometimes indirect), examples and data.I felt more anger and sympathy for Jefferson than before, as well as more admiration and mystification over Sally. Gordon-Reed's tremendous scholarship and research made the 18th century seem as familiar and explicable as the present day. As odd as it sounds, I missed Tom, Sally, and all the Hemingses when I finished the book.