Martha Jefferson Randolph, Daughter of Monticello: Her Life and Times

Martha Jefferson Randolph, Daughter of Monticello: Her Life and Times

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by Cynthia A. Kierner
     
 

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As the oldest and favorite daughter of Thomas Jefferson, Martha "Patsy" Jefferson Randolph (1772-1836) was extremely well educated, traveled in the circles of presidents and aristocrats, and was known on two continents for her particular grace and sincerity. Yet, as mistress of a large household, she was not spared the tedium, frustration, and great sorrow that most…  See more details below

Overview

As the oldest and favorite daughter of Thomas Jefferson, Martha "Patsy" Jefferson Randolph (1772-1836) was extremely well educated, traveled in the circles of presidents and aristocrats, and was known on two continents for her particular grace and sincerity. Yet, as mistress of a large household, she was not spared the tedium, frustration, and great sorrow that most women of her time faced. Though Patsy's name is familiar because of her famous father, Cynthia Kierner is the first historian to place Patsy at the center of her own story, taking readers into the largely ignored private spaces of the founding era. Randolph's life story reveals the privileges and limits of celebrity and shows that women were able to venture beyond their domestic roles in surprising ways.
Following her mother's death, Patsy lived in Paris with her father and later served as hostess at the President's House and at Monticello. Her marriage to Thomas Mann Randolph, a member of Congress and governor of Virginia, was often troubled. She and her eleven children lived mostly at Monticello, greeting famous guests and debating issues ranging from a woman's place to slavery, religion, and democracy. And later, after her family's financial ruin, Patsy became a fixture in Washington society during Andrew Jackson's presidency. In this extraordinary biography, Kierner offers a unique look at American history from the perspective of this intelligent, tactfully assertive woman.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Thomas Jefferson’s eldest surviving daughter, Martha (1772–1836), joined her mother and Jefferson’s slave-mistress Sally Hemings as one of three prominent women in the third president’s life of public prestige and personal tragedy. Kierner, a professor of history at George Mason University, describes how Martha, educated in a Parisian convent, witnessed the births of the American and French Revolutions and later served as her father’s confidante, balancing multiple concerns while following the era’s approved societal and marital constraints. Even when married with 11 children and conflicted over slavery, resourceful Martha remained entangled in her father’s world, from serving as hostess at the White House (in place of her late mother) to overseeing a cadre of Monticello’s female slaves spinning cotton to reduce the family’s financial strain. With an emphasis on the complexities of the extensive relationships among the Jeffersons, Randolphs, and Wayleses (the family of Jefferson’s wife), Kierner succeeds in presenting a well-cited clear view of Martha’s role both behind the scenes of a notable historical figure and as an example of the rarely chronicled contributions of women during the early American era. 30 illus., 1 map. Agent: Lisa Adams, Garamond Agency. (May)
From the Publisher
[The] definitive biography of Thomas Jefferson's oldest and favorite daughter. The fascinating, well-researched work is a three-dimensional look at a person who was usually seen in history as no more than Jefferson's hostess.—Rocky Mount Telegram

Cynthia Kierner's intriguing new biography of Martha Jefferson Randolph . . . is the first to tell her story from her point of view. It gives depth to the history of elite white southern women and their responsibilities, liabilities, and possibilities in the Early National period and illuminates the family ripples widening from the splash Jefferson created by taking up with his slave, Sally Hemings.—Women's Review of Books

[A] thoroughly researched and thoughtfully written account. . . . This will have wide appeal to students of American history, women's studies, and biography.—Library Journal

A nicely written, amply documented book that renders both the mundane and the exciting aspects of Randolph's life engrossing.—West Virginia History

In Kierner's capable hands, Martha Jefferson Randolph (1772-1836) emerges from her famous father's shadow as an intelligent, well-educated, pragmatic, and 'tactfully assertive' woman who brought up eleven children, managed a large and complex household, weathered a turbulent marriage, and coped with both financial reverses and family scandals.—Journal of Southern History

Library Journal
Historians most often discuss Martha Jefferson Randolph (1772–1836) obliquely as "Patsy," favorite daughter and lifelong companion to her father, Thomas Jefferson. In this thoroughly researched and thoughtfully written account, Kierner (history, George Mason Univ.; The Contrast: Manners, Morals, and Authority in the Early American Republic) tells Martha's story, looking at her directly and offering much insight. Kierner shows us a well-educated, self-assured woman who, as both Jefferson's daughter and the wife of Thomas Mann Randolph in a sometimes troubled marriage, navigated her way through both domestic and political life. Possessed of what Kierner refers to as a "perfect temper," Martha centered her life in the everyday domestic sphere but was also a well-known figure in Washington social circles. Throughout, Kierner offers nuanced glimpses of the limits and possibilities of women's roles in the early American Republic, casts light on Thomas Jefferson (including on his relationship with the enslaved Sally Hemmings) and his reputation, and informs our understanding of late 18th- and early 19th-century American history. VERDICT This will have wide appeal to students of American history, women's studies, and biography.—Mark G. Spencer, Brock Univ., St. Catharines, Ontario

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780807882504
Publisher:
The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date:
05/14/2012
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
376
Sales rank:
693,368
File size:
5 MB

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Martha Jefferson Randolph and her family lived in the shadow of a towering genius. With the descriptive skills of a novelist and thorough research of a first-rate historian, Cynthia Kierner penetrates that shadow to illuminate the choices and constraints that shaped Martha's eventful life, unhappy marriage, and extended family. This is a fascinating biography, informed by social history to portray both the remarkable and the conventional experiences of the unusually typical plantation mistress of Monticello.—Jon Kukla, author of Mr. Jefferson's Women and A Wilderness So Immense: The Louisiana Purchase and the Destiny of America

Meet the Author

Cynthia A. Kierner is professor of history at George Mason University.

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Martha Jefferson Randolph, Daughter of Monticello: Her Life and Times 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
good writing