Harriet Hemings, Thomas Jefferson, and the Pursuit of Happiness

Sep 22nd 2016 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM

Leading Jefferson scholar, Catherine Kerrison presents her groundbreaking research on one of the most contested chapters in the history of any American Founding Father. Professor Kerrison’s lecture at once unravels a mystery and offers critical new insights by unpacking the story of Harriet Hemings, Sally Hemings’s only surviving daughter.  At age twenty-one, Harriet left Jefferson’s Monticello, boarded a stagecoach bound for Philadelphia, and disappeared from the historical record.  But in spite of her efforts to erase her documentary tracks, a dramatic story unfolds of an enslaved girl who grew up to claim the right to shape her own life; who refused to be limited by the options her father’s world presented to her; who weighed carefully the gains and chose to suffer the losses of passing; and whose secret seems to have died with her. 

Kerrison is a Professor of History at Villanova University. She is the author of Claiming the Pen, an intellectual history of women in the Colonial and Revolutionary South. She is currently completing a book on Thomas Jefferson’s daughters.

This lecture will take place at Stage Right, Auburn Public Theater.