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Using Jefferson’s Letters in America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

We are absolutely thrilled to be celebrating the release of 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 writing this book, primary sources—and particularly Jefferson’s body of 18,000 letters—formed the foundation of the book, and we thought we’d tell you more about that today.

The letters of a person, especially of one whose business has been chiefly transacted by letters, form the only full and genuine journal of his life.

These words come from one of Jefferson’s own letters very much informed our approach to writing America’s First Daughter. One important way we made use of Jefferson’s letter was in the dialog of the book. As much as possible, we wanted Jefferson’s words to be his own. Fortunately, his opinions on many things survive, so we had plenty of material to pull from. The challenge, of course, was reading through all those letters to find what we needed. Where letters didn’t exist, we were able to discern a lot about the cadence and patterns of his speech by having immersed ourselves so deeply in his writing, so we were able to create what we hope was authentic dialog by our third president.

Another way we made use of Jefferson’s letters was in providing the framework for the book. One challenge of writing a book that spans sixty years and draws from a massive body of source material is figuring out how to fit everything in, or deciding what to cut or condense and where to skip time. History itself provided a guide for handling this question, because Patsy and her children edited Jefferson’s papers after his death. Since we know that not all of Jefferson’s letters survived (despite there being 18,000 that did!), we know some were destroyed.

We answered the questions of How? and By whom? by positing that Patsy herself destroyed his letters with a very particular purpose in mind—protecting Jefferson and defining his legacy. In the prologue, the reader finds Patsy sitting down to the task of going through his letters. Throughout the book, new letters that she’s reading provide the background for new scenes and chapters, thereby allowing us to skip time as defined by actual letters from Jefferson himself. Doing this not only gave us our framework for the book, but also an argument for Patsy’s historical significance in shaping her father’s legacy.

Letters also became important in an unexpected way—after we’d finished writing and revising the book, Monticello announced the discovery of a new set of letters to and from Patsy from her years in Paris. We were thrilled! Our editor readily agreed to let us go back into the manuscript to incorporate material from the new letters, allowing us to more deeply explore Patsy’s female friendships and many suitors—including a very intriguing duke!

We also hope that including excerpts from letters of the period will give readers an even more immersive experience into the incredible revolutionary era in which Patsy and her father lived. As authors, we wanted to be faithful to the characters, their words, and their world, and in reading widely and deeply in the existing sources we hope we have achieved that.

Thanks for reading,

Stephanie and Laura

About America’s First Daughter

In a compelling, richly researched novel that draws from thousands of letters and original sources, bestselling authors Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie tell the fascinating, untold story of Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter, Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph—a woman who kept the secrets of our most enigmatic founding father and shaped an American legacy.

From her earliest days, Patsy Jefferson knows that though her father loves his family dearly, his devotion to his country runs deeper still. As Thomas Jefferson’s oldest daughter, she becomes his helpmate, protector, and constant companion in the wake of her mother’s death, traveling with him when he becomes American minister to France.

It is in Paris, at the glittering court and among the first tumultuous days of revolution, that fifteen-year-old Patsy learns about her father’s troubling liaison with Sally Hemings, a slave girl her own age. Meanwhile, Patsy has fallen in love—with her father’s protégé William Short, a staunch abolitionist and ambitious diplomat. Torn between love, principles, and the bonds of family, Patsy questions whether she can choose a life as William’s wife and still be a devoted daughter.

Her choice will follow her in the years to come, to Virginia farmland, Monticello, and even the White House. And as scandal, tragedy, and poverty threaten her family, Patsy must decide how much she will sacrifice to protect her father's reputation, in the process defining not just his political legacy, but that of the nation he founded.

Advanced Praise for America’s First Daughter

“America’s First Daughter brings a turbulent era to vivid life. All the conflicts and complexities of the Early Republic are mirrored in Patsy’s story. It’s breathlessly exciting and heartbreaking by turns-a personal and political page-turner.” (Donna Thorland, author of The Turncoat)

“Painstakingly researched, beautifully hewn, compulsively readable -- this enlightening literary journey takes us from Monticello to revolutionary Paris to the Jefferson White House, revealing remarkable historical details, dark family secrets, and bringing to life the colorful cast of characters who conceived of our new nation. A must read.” (Allison Pataki, New York Times bestselling author of The Accidental Empress)

About the Authors:

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 eight different languages and won NJRW's Golden Leaf. As Stephanie Draven, she is a national bestselling author of genre fiction and American-set historical women's fiction. She is a frequent panelist and presenter at national writing conventions and lives near the nation's capital. Before she became a novelist, she was a lawyer, a game designer, and a teacher. Now she uses the stories of women in history to inspire the young women of today.

Stephanie’s Book Club | Stephanie’s Website | Facebook | Twitter | Newsletter

Laura 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, 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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