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Ties That Bound

Founding First Ladies and Slaves

Behind every great man stands a great woman. And behind that great woman stands a slave. Or so it was in the households of the Founding Fathers from Virginia, where slaves worked and suffered throughout the domestic environments of the era, from Mount Vernon, Monticello, and Montpelier to the nation’s capital. American icons like Martha Washington, Martha Jefferson, and Dolley Madison were all slaveholders. And as Marie Jenkins Schwartz uncovers in Ties That Bound, these women, as the day-to-day managers of their households, dealt with the realities of a slaveholding culture directly and continually, even in the most intimate of spaces.

Unlike other histories that treat the stories of the First Ladies’ slaves as separate from the lives of their mistresses, Ties That Bound closely examines the relationships that developed between the First Ladies and their slaves. For elite women and their families, slaves were more than an agricultural workforce; slavery was an entire domestic way of life that reflected and reinforced their status. In many cases slaves were more constant companions to the white women of the household than were their husbands and sons, who often traveled or were at war. By looking closely at the complicated intimacy these women shared, Schwartz is able to reveal how they negotiated their roles, illuminating much about the lives of slaves themselves, as well as class, race, and gender in early America.

By detailing the prevalence and prominence of slaves in the daily lives of women who helped shape the country, Schwartz makes it clear that it is impossible to honestly tell the stories of these women while ignoring their slaves.  She asks us to consider anew the embedded power of slavery in the very earliest conception of American politics, society, and everyday domestic routines.

416 pages | 12 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2017

Biography and Letters

History: American History

Women's Studies


“Absorbing. . . . The story of the Founders and slavery is one of the most vexed in American history, analyzed and debated generation after generation. Ties That Bound doesn't unravel the moral or sociological underpinnings and consequences of those tangled connections, but it does contribute a fresh and valuable dimension to that long argument with its fine-grained portraits of domestic life in the South in the early republic.”

New York Review of Books

“An inventive, integrated portrait of black and white. . . . Her fierce research is distilled into engaging prose. . . . Secrets and lies ensnared these braided lives, and Ties That Bound offers vivid insight into these entangled stories.”

Times Higher Education

“Both general readers and scholars will benefit by having their knowledge rather uncomfortably enhanced by this substantive study. Highly recommended.”


Ties That Bound provides enlightening depictions of both the savvy that aristocratic women utilized to achieve as much power as their husbands did (even though it was a different kind of power), as well as the disheartening distractions from self-empowerment that these women had to negotiate. . .Schwartz’s expertise clearly shines when she is analyzing the various ways that both black female slaves and white female aristocrats negotiated the man’s world of early nineteenth-century America. . . .A fine and worthy contribution to intersectional studies.”


Ties That Bound's most important contribution is refocusing our attention on First Ladies as slaveholders and revealing how slaveholding influenced their roles. . . .This book deserves a wide readership.”

Journal of Southern History

“In Ties That Bound, Schwartz provides a necessary corrective to the popular and scholarly literature on the First Ladies, accounts that tend to focus on their roles as fashionable hostesses. In this fascinating study, Schwartz shows how deeply slavery was embedded in the Founders’ households and explores in exquisite detail the fraught relationships between these Patriot mistresses and the men and women and adults and children whose labor they commanded.  A lively and insightful book that complements—and at times contradicts—works glorifying the Founding Fathers and their wives and (white) daughters.”

Jacqueline Jones, author of A Dreadful Deceit: The Myth of Race from the Colonial Era to Obama's America

"Fascinating. . . . A thought-provoking explication of the thorny personal relationships between slaveholding and enslaved women, and Schwartz succeeds in depicting these relationships 'as a lived experience'."

Virginia Magazine

"Many books have been written about America’s First Ladies over the last several decades, but for the most part they have addressed only tangentially the issue of slavery. In Ties that Bound: Founding First Ladies and Slaves, historian Marie Jenkins Schwartz
corrects that significant omission. . . . Schwartz is a fluid writer who provides rich details about the daily lives of this
group of Founding First Ladies and the enslaved people who made their privileged lifestyles possible and with whom they interacted on a daily basis. . . . The book is a solid synthesis that enlarges our understanding of gender, class, race, and the institution of slavery in the early republic."

North Carolina Historical Review

Table of Contents

Author’s Note
Introduction     Seen and Unseen

Part 1          Washington

1                      The Widow Washington
2                      Martha Dandridge
3                      Married Lady
4                      Mistress of Mount Vernon
5                      Revolutionary War
6                      First Lady
7                      Slaves in the President’s House
8                      Home Again

Part 2          Jefferson

9                      Martha Wayles
10                    Mistress of Monticello I
11                    War in Virginia
12                    Birth and Death at Monticello
13                    Patsy Jefferson and Sally Hemings
14                    First Lady
15                    Mistress of Monticello II
16                    The Hemingses
17                    Death of Thomas Jefferson

Part 3          Madison

18                    Dolley Payne
19                    Mrs. Madison
20                    First Lady
21                    Mistress of Montpelier
22                    Decline of Montpelier
23                    The Widow Madison
24                    Sale of Montpelier
25                    In Washington
26                    Death of Dolley Madison
Epilogue          Inside and Outside

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