Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Jefferson’s Sons: A Founding Father’s Secret Children

Jefferson’s Sons: A Founding Father’s Secret Children

This book focuses on the children that resulted from the relationship* between Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson. It most specifically tells the story of two of those children – Madison and Beverly.

I absolutely loved this book. It’s a really good story, even though it doesn’t have much of a plot. I found myself picking up the book when I had a spare moment, even though it’s really a book for middle-grade children. By focusing on the children of Sally Hemings, it tells a story of slavery that discusses the unfairness of slavery, and the sadness of slavery, without exposing the horrifying brutality that slavery was for most. The author shows how the Jefferson children were treated differently than most other slaves at Monticello. It talks about a whipping at Monticello, a friend who was sold away, and about how some of the Jefferson children could “pass,” and some couldn’t. It’s really a story about a family, and how they dealt with the situation that had been handed to them by the color of their skin and their biological father.

Given that the author had to rely on a topic that was covered very little by official historical documents, the book really needs to be considered historical fiction. Still, I think the author created a very plausible narrative and an engaging story.

*(I recognize that many struggle with the idea of Hemings and Jefferson as a relationship. For the purposes of the term here, Jefferson did father her children. We don’t know what form that relationship took, and the book makes the assumption that Hemings had some agency. I think the book acceptably covers the topic at a middle-grade level.)

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