This is an amazing look into the life of a strong woman behind a famous and influential man. This is the story of Martha Jefferson Randolph (Patsy), the longest surviving child of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, third president of the United States, philosopher, patriot, ambassador, and founder of the University of Virginia.
A man of fierce passions, unwavering dedication, and a “do as I say, not as I do” kind of attitude to life, being Thomas Jefferson’s oldest and longest surviving child could not have been easy. Patsy devoted her entire life to her luminary father, guiding him through the misery that followed the death of his wife, through fortunes high and low, all the way to the presidency and beyond. Jefferson pushes Patsy hard in the early years, expecting much of her in the way of manners and learning, often treating her more as a companion than a daughter. He forces her to grow up very early – catering to his whims and leaning on her in the grief that followed the death of her mother. His stern but disconnected parenting style is tempered by his secretary, Mr. William Short, who is the only one who counsels Patsy to think of her own joy from time to time.
Patsy assumes the role of daughter-in-chief, protector, nursemaid, and almost that of jealous lover who zealously guards her father’s reputation, health, and well being. She comes to idolize the man, as many others do, but she can’t reconcile the paragon (the monument) with the flawed individual who (although he swore on his wife’s deathbed to never remarry) still goes about pursuing married women. This confuses Patsy, a sheltered, innocent girl schooled in a convent.
As an ambassador in Paris and beyond, we find that Jefferson is a man of contradictions: he schools his daughter at a Catholic convent but is highly critical of Catholicism, a once devoted husband he now carries on numerous love affairs sometimes with married women and then his slave Sally Hemings, a loving father who can’t bridge an emotional gap between himself and his youngest child, a defender of personal freedoms who owns slaves, and a principled and moral thinker who doesn’t always apply the same rules to his own personal conduct. The man who urged for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” does not always apply that to those closest to him, including his daughters and slaves. He even goes so far as to come between Patsy and her first love, Mr. Short, using selfish wiles to dash their hopes of marriage in order to keep Patsy with him and marry a man of his choosing.
Patsy marries a good man utterly devoted to her – the man her father intended for her. But Tom Randolph is a man not unlike his father-in-law. He is filled with passion, a short temper, a tendency to drink, and is someone always in the shadow of and indebted to his famous father-in-law. The Randolphs’ growing financial problems are complicated by their rapidly growing family, Tom’s unruly rages and injured ego, and Patsy’s dedication to her father. The marriage begins happily but ends up delivering much grief rather than the stable family life Patsy so craves.
Patsy is a pillar of strength, holding up all the men and women around her in good times and bad, always doing her duty and overlooking their shortcomings to spare those she loves pain. But it is only once she steps outside of those shadows – which life eventually forces her to do – that she recognizes her true strength and comes into her own as a woman and as a public figure.
The book is terribly bittersweet. Patsy is a worthy heroine – witty, strong, independent, and smart. In a strange way it is she, rather than her father, who is the ultimate patriot because her service to her country ends up consuming all she holds dear. She pays an inordinately high price as supporter-in-chief, hostess, anchor, nurse, as well as first daughter. Although she would rather avoid the public eye, she ends up enabling those in her family to pursuit it, even as it poisons the very family she so desperately wants to protect.
A moving look into the life of one who stood behind a Founding Father, you will be rooting for Patsy until the very end.
*I received a free copy from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
This book releases tomorrow, March 1st! Amazon link is here.