The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family [Review]

The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family [Review]

The Journal of American History
Volume 98, Issue 1 (2011)
Pages 154-155
DOI: 10.1093/jahist/jar004

Brenda E. Stevenson, Professor of History
University of California, Los Angeles

The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family. By Annette Gordon-Reed. (New York: Norton, 2008. 802 pp. Cloth, ISBN 978-0-393-06477-3. Paper, ISBN 978-0-393-33776-1.)

Annette Gordon-Reed’s much-lauded book (it has won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, and was a national best seller) is an ambitious attempt to re-create the lives of several generations of one slave family in the American South. Gordon-Reed traces this family from one of their original African ancestors, who arrived in Virginia during the colonial era, through the antebellum decades. This is not just any extended enslaved family, however. Her black and mixed-race subjects are the Hemingses—the founding father Thomas Jefferson’s slaves and family, by marriage and blood.

Building on the research and analysis of her book, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy (1997), Gordon-Reed, a legal scholar by training, adds admirably to her primary- and secondary-source research base for this work, carefully synthesizing the historiography descriptive of the social relationships in American slavery and drawing on the rich data and analysis supplied by historians and archeologists at Monticello. Gordon-Reed treats readers to a journey of no short distance (the book is almost seven hundred pages in length!) in which she explores several avenues of possibility that might shed light on the social lives, relationships, and family ties…

Read or purchase the review here.

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