2008 National Book Award Winner,

Annette Gordon-Reed

The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family

W.W. Norton & Company

Annette Gordon-Reed at the 2008 National Book Award Finalists Reading



In the mesmerizing narrative of Annette Gordon-Reed’s American family saga, one feels the steady accretion of convincing argument: Her book is at once a painstaking history of slavery, an unflinching gaze at the ways it has defined us, and a humane exploration of lives—grand and humble—that “our peculiar institution” conjoined. This is more than the story of Thomas Jefferson and his house slave Sally Hemings; it is a deeply moral and keenly intelligent probe of the harsh yet all-too-human world they inhabited and the bloodline they share.


Annette Gordon-Reed is a professor of law at New York Law School and a professor of history at Rutgers University. She is the author of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, editor of Race On Trial: Law and Justice in American History, and coauthor with Vernon Jordan of Vernon Can Read: A Memoir. Gordon-Reed is a graduate of Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School. She lives with her family in New York City.

ABOUT THE BOOK (from the publisher)

This epic work tells the story of the Hemingses, whose close blood ties to our third president had been systematically expunged from American history until very recently. Now, historian and legal scholar Annette Gordon-Reed traces the Hemings family from its origins in Virginia in the 1700s to the family's dispersal after Jefferson's death in 1826. It brings to life not only Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson but also their children and Hemings's siblings, who shared a father with Jefferson's wife, Martha. The Hemingses of Monticello sets the family's compelling saga against the backdrop of Revolutionary America, Paris on the eve of its own revolution, 1790s Philadelphia, and plantation life at Monticello. Much anticipated, this book promises to be the most important history of an American slave family ever written.


Video: http://www.loc.gov/today/cyberlc/feature_wdesc.php?rec=4383
Annette Gordon-Reed discussed The Hemingses of Monticello at The Library of Congress. 

Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8QA24_T189U

Historian and legal scholar Annette Gordon-Reed speaks about The Hemingses of Monticello, which traces the Hemings family from its origins in Virginia in the 1700s to the family's dispersal after Jefferson's death in 1826.

Video (Part 1 of 7):http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3X07opk1g0E
Annette Gordon-Reed talks about her new book, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, and answers questions at Monticello's Jefferson Library. Ms. Gordon-Reed explains how and why she began writing about the Hemingses.

Talk of the Nation, NPR, Sept. 22, 2008
Historian Annette Gordon-Reed discusses her book 'The Hemingses of Monticello'



As Jefferson faded, his grandson Jeff Randolph and the others remembered, “he would only have his servants sleeping near him.”29 Randolph makes clear that more than one enslaved person was deeply involved with Jefferson’s care in his final days. That is not surprising. There were more than enough Hemingses to stand watch, and in those intense moments the attention of the entire place was riveted on the man who for over five decades had dominated the consciences, imaginations, and lives of everyone who lived on the mountain. Randolph did not name all the “servants” who attended Jefferson, but it is almost certain that they included, at the very least, Burwell Colbert and Sally Hemings, the only two people said to have taken care of his rooms and him. As is often the case with those on their deathbeds, Jefferson had trouble sleeping, and people took turns sitting up with him during the day and at night. He did not want to be alone, and insisted that his enslaved caregivers make pallets so that they could sleep in the room with him overnight. Only they were allowed in his bedroom after dark, and anxious members of the Randolph family took to making secret forays into his bedchamber to check on their own loved one.30

This is what it had come to. The people who had nursed him from the beginning of his life, whose energies he had harnessed for his own use up until this moment, were now called upon to care for him as he faced his last days on earth—sitting up with him at night, sleeping on pallets around his bed to be ready to hear when he called out in need, in fear, or out of simple loneliness. These African Americans, whom he had sentimentalized as having the best hearts of any people in the world, had given their lives to him—followed him about, cleaned up after him, no doubt worried about him, for his sake and their own—slept with him, and borne him children. He had held them as chattel, trying, in the case of the Hemingses, to soften a reality that could never be made soft. While he claimed to know and respect the quality of their hearts, he could never truly see them as human beings separate from him and his own needs, desires, and fears. In the end, all he really knew of their hearts was what they were willing to show him, and they carried enough knowledge in their heads to know his limitations and the perils of giving too much of themselves in the context of their society. The world they shared twisted and perverted practically everything it touched, made entirely human feelings and connections difficult, suspect, and compromised. What could have been in the hearts of any human beings living under the power of that system was inevitably complicated, inevitably tragic.

Excerpted from The Hemingses of Monticello © Copyright 2008 by Annette Gordon-Reed. Reprinted with permission by W. W. Norton. All rights reserved.