Jefferson's Daughters

The Sisters, White and Black, in a Young America

by Caterhine Kerrison

Non-fiction, 2018


I’ve read historical fiction about Thomas Jefferson and his relationships with his daughters.  The reason this focus is story-worthy is that his wife died early leaving him to parent 12-year-old Martha and 9-year-old Maria.  He became a single father, single household manager and land owner, a single statesman during the formative years of a democracy, a single ambassador serving abroad and a single President.   Any one of those roles would be enough to break the spirit of a lifelong widower.


Kerison immersed herself in the thousands of letters left as Thomas Jefferson’s legacy.  She visited monuments and libraries that protect his memory.  She tracked down documents through court records and census files to prove or dispell the stories that have contributed to his bigger-than-life history.  What resulted is a detailed retelling of the family Jefferson. 

Not only do you learn about Thomas Jefferson, you learn what it meant to be a privileged white woman in the formative years of America as well as in European circles.  Details about etiquette, clothing, social acceptance and expectation.  Every part of this very human story is laced with transporting details that places you in another time and place. 

Exquisitely crafted for sustained interest, the author shows her skilled hand as an accomplished historian and culture commentator.  But she didn’t stop there.  The well-exposed story of Thomas Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemings and the daughter, Harriet, that resulted, is part of this story.  She traces the life of Harriet with the same tenacity she uncovered details about Martha and Maria.  But it is an unfinishable story because Harriet melted into the oblivion she probably sought.  

This is not an expose; it is historical exposition.  While she shines a light on the admirable, the questionable, and the unsavory; she is traditional journalist throughout and reserves her comments until the end.

I highly recommend this as a documentary look at the time when America was still young and innocent, and those who lived the story were in the middle of their own emerging identities as well.


I Also Read

America’s First Daughter

by  Stephanie Drayl and Laura Kamoie

Historical Fiction

While this book tells the same story, it tells it through oldest daughter, Martha's eyes,

filling in the blanks as only a novelist can do.

The Place of Help

by Oswald Chambers

Devotional, 1936 (originally)


The chapters are divided by sub-headings which allow us to take Chambers in bite-sized pieces.  And believe, on some days, that’s all we can handle. Over and over we have commented, “He could be writing this today!”

His grasp of theology and his ability to illustrate it is phenomenal.  I have come away with new understandings of the Garden, Gethsemene, the Cross, Redemption Life, and so much  

more.  Even though our version of this book is in original and very archaic language, there is something solid about it.  The language reminds us that it was written many years before we were born; but the principles as more current than any of our most popular Christian writers.

We’re not quite halfway through.  The journey is enlightening, convicting, securing, and takes us to Truth about Christ the way any Christian writing and preaching should.

I Also Read:

My Utmost For His Highest

by Oswald Chambers

Unlike The Place of Help, this is 365 daily readings.  Many will give you pause to think about God's irreplaceable love for you and your response to Him.

The Library Book

by Susan Orlean

Nonfiction, 2019


I can’t remember who recommended this book, but I am glad it found its way to my must-read list.  It is one of the most detailed, interesting, complicated, informative, and well-organized nonfiction books I have read.  The story reviews the historical tragedy of the mystery  of how the 1986 Los Angeles Library and 700,000 books were incinerated.  With information she gathered from interviews and documented research, Orlean to retells the step by step story that led to the fire, including the actions of the only suspect of the deliberate act.  However, along the way she tells the history of the Los Angeles library as well as the history of libraries as a permanent fixature in every major city in the United States.  I found the process for restoring books as interesting as trying to get into the mind of a suspected pyromaniac. 

In these days with closed libraries, this book has made me even more anxious to return to my local library and be mesmerzed by the rows of books and the millions of hours of reading enjoyment I can enjoy.


by Julian Fellowes

Fiction, 2016


I am not usually ahead of literature-to-film production, so I don’t know how I did it this time.  I was looking for an escape-read at the beginning of our shelter-in-place and had placed Belgravia by Julian Fellowes, the author of Downton Abbey, on my to-be-read list.  I checked out an audio digital copy and began listening.  Not long into my read, I recognized what made Downton Abbey such a hit.  Julian Fellowes knows how to write British soap opera for the sophisticated.  It was another story of inheritance interrupted, secrets, family dysfunction, marriage based on social standing, and the stark division between the upstairs family and downstairs servants.  My husband and I took advantage of a free trial of Epix, the cable network that produced it.  I was glad I had read the book first.  It helped keep the characters straight in the summarized version for television.  But we were not disappointed.  Though Belgravia is not as involved and deeply layered as Downton Abbey, it is every bit a successful peek into British Victorian life with all its affected angst and etiquette.


The Housemaid's Daughter

by Barbara Mutch 

Fiction, 2010

Story once again uncovers the perspectives, emotions, and divisions that result from a forced view about humanity that God never intended.  Told through the eyes and voice of Ada, daughter of a housemaid in South Africa, the story uses her devotion to the Harrington family in a way that leaves her and the child she bore as pawns in Apartheid.  History tells one story, but people take the story deeper.  This is a must-read for anyone who wants to know more than history can tell.

       The Gown

       by Jennifer Robson 

       Historical Fiction, 2018


This is the story about making the wedding gown for Princess Elizabeth who became Queen Elizabeth.  It is an intriguing read as told from three perspectives and two time periods. While telling smaller stories, the focus of the book is about making the wedding gown with meticulous hand embroidery.  Since Hartnell’s had been the company who dressed the royals, they were engaged to make this wedding gown of the century. Robson tells this story mainly from the perspective of two seamstresses who worked there in post-war Britain.  The contemporary story starts in Toronto, Canada with the death of Heather’s “Gran” and the box she left her granddaughter containing a mysterious scrap of hand embroidery.  This “inheritance” sent Heather on a journey to piece together the unknown story of her grandmother’s part in making the gown.  The story involved her French-Jewish grandmother’s frantic immigration to England to begin again in London with her Christian Dior references and another desperate immigration to Canada after a devasting experience.   

Don’t read this book if you want to know more about the royals because you won’t find out much.  Read this book for its story about tenacity, courage, friendship, and family ties in a period of rebuilding and how what we do for love is never lost.