Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph’s relationship with her father, the third president of the United States, not only defined her life but also shaped the identity of our nation. For everything we know of the author of our independence was shaped by what she let pass to us in posterity.
She came of age in a time of war. Colonial girls of her age and social station scarcely left the plantation, but she accompanied her father across the country and to foreign shores. At a time when women were dissuaded from involvement in politics, her father made her witness to two revolutions and the secret torments of the men who fought them.
Intelligent, highly educated, and fiercely loyal, she lived an extraordinary life of her own, while defending her father’s legacy. And in his shadow, she became one of the most quietly influential women in American history.
At the time of this writing, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation and most historians believe that given the weight of the historical evidence—including DNA testing—Jefferson fathered the children of Sally Hemings. If true, it’s all but impossible that Jefferson’s daughter didn’t know about it. And if she knew, a very different picture emerges. A picture painted in America’s First Daughter.
In her time, Patsy was known as a conventional woman of perfect temper, but research revealed her to be as complicated a heroine as any writer could wish for. She was a privileged, passive-aggressive, morally conflicted, gritty survivor with a facile relationship with the truth. She was also heroically devoted and capable of both enormous compassion and sacrifice.