This is a captivating look at the first "First Four First Ladies", the women behind the men, influencing the way the country is governed and having the perfect seat for the great history that was happening around them. This novel looks at Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Sally Hemings (no she wasn't technically a first lady, but she was the perhaps the second love of Tomas Jefferson), and Dolley Madison.
Poor Martha suffered the worst. For the eight years of the Revolution, she wintered with George Washington wherever he was and left her family and homes to be run into the ground and be ungoverned. She loved George more than words can say and would have followed him anywhere, even to Philadelphia, where the first center of government was when Madison convinced him to be President because the states were all attacking each other and needed to be unified. She knew this task would probably kill him, but she went with him and didn't stand in his way. Later in life, George had a change of heart about slavery and decided to free his slaves upon her death. When he dies a year and a half after his Presidency, she now has to worry about a possible slave revolt. Slaves had already started disappearing when they lived in Philadelphia a place where things were looser for slaves. Interestingly, she is not referred to as the First Lady, but as Presidentress, and later, Lady Washington.
For Abigail Adams, "One answered the call of one's country first. One defended its rights, and all other things came secondarily. Farm, family, wishes, husbands, wives." She tried to instill this into all of her children. The eldest, "Johnny" Quincy Adams, would be an Ambassador to several countries, a President, and a Senator in his lifetime. The Adams were the first to live in the drafty White House in the middle of Adams' term. They only had six servants to help out around the house. Abigail hung laundry in one of the sitting rooms so no one would see it hanging up outside. She suffered her entire life from rheumatism and her travels with John as he worked first in London, then in Paris, affected her terribly. She would also have to suffer with her husband the lies told about him in the press, which would cause him to enact the Sedition Act, which made it illegal to print untruths about the President in the press. This enraged Jefferson and his supporters (which is funny because, when he becomes President and the tables are turned on him, he decries the press) when reporters became arrested. But through it all, her and John had a real love for each other, that held, even when they were separated for six years during the war.
Sally Hemings, while a slave, she was the half-sister of Tomas Jefferson's wife Patsy, and the two looked a lot alike. When Patsy died, she made Jefferson promise not to marry again and to raise their three daughters. Jefferson was a complex man. He had the "inability to see any inconsistency in hating slavery and giving his daughter twelve families of living human beings as a wedding-present." He believed in education and taught all his slaves to read and write. Sally, a house slave, who worked in the nursery, became close to him through their mutual love of books. When Jefferson is sent to Paris as Ambassador, he and Sally become lovers. Patsy, his eldest daughter, and first in his heart, knew about it, and did everything she could to undermine it.
On the morning of the march on the Bastille, Sally intends to run away from Jefferson, because blacks are free in France, and she is carrying his baby and doesn't want it to grow up in slavery. But she just can't leave him. He does promise to free her child. Jefferson thinks the Revolution is great and wants to stay, but his daughter Patsy, eager to get him away from Sally, convinces him to go back home to Virginia. "Much as he strove to transform the world, and alter how men lived their lives, in his own life he feared and hated change."
When he comes home he runs for President and loses to Adams, and under the rules at that time, it made him Vice President. By this point, him and Adams hated each other. Jefferson wanted America to help the French overthrow the monarchy and go to war, while Adams knew we had not the money nor the manpower to do so. Jefferson spends much of his time as Vice President at Monticello, and has nothing to do with Sally, because she has not responded to the letters he sent to her enclosed in the envelope with his letters to Patsy. For some reason, he refuses to believe that Patsy does not know. After four years of listening to Patsy lie about Sally, Jefferson discovers the truth and they reunite and go on to have several more children.
Dolley Madison grew up in Virginia, but her father moved them to Pennsylvania and freed their slaves, as they were Quakers. Dolley watched as her father slowly go broke and was kicked out of the Quakers for not being able to make a living. Dolley's sister marries outside of the faith and is cut off, until her mother has nowhere else to go and goes to stay with her. Dolley's first marriage is to a Quaker named John. During the horrible yellow fever epidemic in 1893, in Philadelphia, he and their seven-week-old child die. She still has two children to raise. Eventually she meets the older shorter James, "Jemmy", Madison, known as the kingmaker, for he was behind Washington and Jefferson getting elected. Though they never had children together, Madison raised her children as his own. Dolley would remain through the day and most of the night in 1814 when the British were once again at war with the Americans and were encroaching on the capital. She was determined to stay and use one of the antique sabers to fight them off. She packs up all official documents, the famous Washington painting, and her precious red drapes, but no clothes or silverware. Only the most important things. She finally leaves when she receives word from Madison to leave. Shortly thereafter the looting, the British burned it to the ground.
Dolley was the ultimate hostess and acted as one for Jefferson, who didn't believe he needed one. She was said to know the blood lines of every horse in Virginia and half the mules. She knew how to steer conversation back to something less fiery as hot topic political buttons. Even when after Madison's death, she loses all her money, she is taken in by the many friends she had made over the years in what was for a long time called Federal City, before being named Washington D.C.
Two things these women had in common were a Torrey sympathizer named Sophie, who grew up with Dolley in Virginia and watched her grandparents home burn to the ground leaving them with nothing and her father and brothers die in battle against the Patriots. She gets a job after the Revolution as a lady's companion in Paris during the time of their Revolution and meets both Abigail Adams and Sally Hemings. Being from Virginia she is also invited into Martha Washington's home, as well as, of course, Dolley's. No one, seems to question how this now seamstress, is able to hobnob with high society even though she is was a Torrey.
The other thing the women have in common is sadly the wretched lives of their children. Martha's daughter Patsy dies of epilepsy at age seventeen and her son Jacky dies a drunkard. Abigail's daughter makes a poor choice of husband and lives in poverty, while her brother Charley drinks himself to death. Dolley's eldest son, a wastrel, steals money from her to waste on gambling and drink and dies before her. Sally's children, on the other hand, oddly enough, end up fine upstanding citizens, which some might find surprising because they were born slaves.
I really enjoyed this book for many reasons, but one was that I don't know much about the Founding Mothers. I barely know anything about the Revolution and the start of this country. This book is a tale of brave women who fought alongside of their men, if possible, and tried to make a difference to this new country. You can't help but feel proud to know that they existed and endured such hardship so we can have the freedoms we have today. This book really is a must read, especially for women, who should know these women who came before them.
They said the Devil called you in the voices of your loved ones. What he offered you in trade for your soul was whatever you wanted.
-- Barbara Hambly (Patriot Hearts: A Novel of the Founding Mothers p 30)
…while one doesn’t always remember, one never forgets.
-- Barbara Hambly (Patriot Hearts: A Novel of the Founding Mothers p 263)
She understood that even the worst days contained only twenty-four hours. One did what one had to do to get through them, and afterwards, one slept.
-- Barbara Hambly (Patriot Hearts: A Novel of the Founding Mothers p 259)
Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Patriot-Hearts-Novel-Founding-Mothers/dp/055338337X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1467206095&sr=1-1&keywords=patriot+hearts