Stephanie Dray Interviews Patsy Jefferson from America’s First Daughter

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Released March 1, 2016


Today we are absolutely thrilled to share our new book, America’s First Daughter, which portrays the relationship between Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph and her famous father, Thomas Jefferson, and explores the sacrifices Patsy made and the lies she told to protect him, his legacy, and the new nation he founded.


In order to have a chat with Patsy, we imagine ourselves not at Monticello, where we doubt she would ever be so candid, but at the house she would share with her daughter late in life, in Washington City, where we can imagine she was in a mood to reflect on her life…and the book we wrote about her.


SD: Thank you for extending your hospitality to us, Mrs. Randolph. Laura and I have some questions for you. We’d like to know what influence your birth family had on you, your choices, your life? Explain why and how.


MJR: I was only 3 years old when my father, Thomas Jefferson, wrote and signed the Declaration of Independence. Thus, from the youngest age, I had to learn what it meant to be the daughter of a revolutionary and the man who would become the third president of the United States. A widower, my father depended on me in my mother’s place, and so I took on his mission, and his legacy, as my own.


LK: One of the challenging things about writing a book about you in 18th Century vernacular was getting the language right. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?


MJR: When something vexes me or surprises me, I cry ‘How provoking!’ But that was the style of the day. Everyone said it. Even Abigail Adams. Look it up.


SD: Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Outside of my father? I suppose I would have to say the Marquis de Lafayette. As you imagined it in your book, there was a particularly difficult decision I had to make when I lived in Paris with my father at the start of the French Revolution. And at the moment I had to make this choice, there was Lafayette on the street, torn between his duty and the sympathies of his heart. I felt torn that way too and he became my touchstone, as he would remain all my life.


SD: How did you feel when you first saw the love of your life?


MJR: Such things aren’t really spoken of for public consumption, so I’ll keep my secrets. But if we presume that your version of me is correct, though I was married only once, I never loved only one man. I suppose, like my father, I had a trinity of men I most admired. One was Papa, who, of course, I knew all my life. One was the most handsome and passionate man I ever met–who quite literally took my breath away the first time I saw him riding up to our front porch. The third was my father’s protege, an important but forgotten Founding Father, who was always with us, right from the start, so much so that the love I bore him just snuck up on me.


LK: Tell us why you believe women really are/are not the weaker sex?

I can’t imagine any of the men in my life bearing with silence and stoicism the sort of deprivation and trials endured by the women in their lives. When men get angry, they lash out, or they pick up pistols and duel each other. Women have to fight their battles in far subtler ways and I learned young that I could never, ever fall to pieces. Because I couldn’t count on a man to hold me together.


SD: What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done? Why?


MJR: I’m sure that you would say it was that I played a primary role in the erasure of Sally Hemings and her children from the story of my father’s life, and from the history of the nation.


LK: On what occasion would you tell a lie?


MJR: I’m afraid that the sacrifices I made–and that my family made–to build a new nation will all be for naught. That the losses we suffered won’t mean anything in the end. Every sin I ever committed was born of that fear, and lying is the first amongst them.


SD: What do you most dislike about your appearance?


MJR: I look so much like my father that I’m a delicate rendition of his features. And I’ve sometimes wondered if the men who loved me, loved me not for myself, but because I reminded them of him.


LK: Which living person do you most despise?


MJR: Do I have to pick just one? I’ve had many enemies in my day, but my drunken abusive son-in-law has done the most damage to me and mine. From beating my children to blood spilled on the floors of Monticello…he’s such a villain that I hoped to lock him in a room with all the whiskey he could desire, and let him drink himself to death.


SD: What is true about you that wasn’t revealed in the novel?


MJR: I’m afraid you both left out quite a bit. I met many more important people than they ever explored in the telling of my life story. You never told readers about the fascinating and cranky Aunt Marks, who lived with us for much of our time at Monticello. Nor the competent and omnipresent John and Priscilla Hemings, who helped me raise my children, and are often overshadowed by their more famous family members. And your novel just scrapes the surface of my relationship with the Duke of Dorset, the British ambassador to France. Given that my years in Paris were some of the most interesting and eventful of my life, maybe you’ll write a novella capturing that episode and exposing the depths of my friendships with the other girls at my convent school.


STEPHANIE DRAY is an award-winning, bestselling and two-time RITA award nominated author of historical women’s fiction. Her critically acclaimed series about Cleopatra’s daughter has been translated into more than six different languages and won the Golden Leaf. Her focus on Ptolemaic Egypt and Augustan Age Rome has given her a unique perspective on the consequences of Egypt’s ancient clash with Rome, both in terms of the still-extant tensions between East and West as well as the worldwide decline of female-oriented religion. She’s also fascinated by the founding of the American Republic and its roots in ancient Rome. It’s her mission to illuminate the stories of women in history and inspire the young women of today.

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Laura KamoieLAURA KAMOIE has always been fascinated by the people, stories, and physical presence of the past, which led her to a lifetime of historical and archaeological study and training. She holds a doctoral degree in early American history from The College of William and Mary, published two non-fiction books on early America, and most recently held the position of Associate Professor of History at the U.S. Naval Academy before transitioning to a full-time career writing genre fiction as the New York Times bestselling author, Laura Kaye. Her debut historical novel, America’s First Daughter (March 1, 2016), co-authored with Stephanie Dray, allowed her the exciting opportunity to combine her love of history with her passion for storytelling. Laura lives among the colonial charm of Annapolis, Maryland with her husband and two daughters.

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