Patriot Hearts: A Novel of the Founding Mothers

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9780553804287: Patriot Hearts: A Novel of the Founding Mothers
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When Martha Dandridge Custis marries her second husband, George, she never suspects that the soft-spoken Virginia planter is destined to command the founding of a nation—or that she is to be “Lady Washington,” the woman at the first President’s side. Only a select inner circle of women will know the cost of sharing a beloved man with history . . . and each will draw strength from the unique treasure given to them by a doomed queen.

Seeing farm and family through each harsh New England season, Abigail Adams is sustained only by the fervent reunions stolen between John’s journeys abroad. She will face the terror of an ocean crossing to join her husband in France—and write her own page in history. And there she will cross paths with kings, commoners—and young Sally Hemings.

Just as Sally had grown from a clever child to a beautiful woman, so had her relationship with Thomas Jefferson grown from a friendship between slave and master to one entangled in the complexities of black and white, decorum and desire. It is a relationship that will leave Sally to face an agonizingly wrenching choice.

Dolley Madison, too, must live with the repercussions of a forbidden love affair—although she will confront even greater trials as a President’s wife. But Dolley will become one of the best-loved ladies of the White House—and leave an extraordinary legacy of her own.

A lushly written novel that traces the marriages tested by the demands of love and loyalty, Patriot Hearts offers readers a dazzling glimpse behind the scenes of a revolution, from adversity and treachery to teatime strategies, as four magnificent women shape a nation’s future.

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About the Author:

Barbara Hambly is the author of The Emancipator’s Wife, a finalist for the Michael Shaara Award for Excellence in Civil War Fiction. She is also the author of Fever Season, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and seven acclaimed historical novels.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One
Washington City.
Wednesday, August 24, 1814
9:00 A.M.

Crowds started to gather outside the President's House not long after breakfast.

" 'Tis a good sign," remarked Dolley Madison, setting down her coffee-cup with a hand she hoped wasn't visibly shaking.

When they were girls together in Hanover County, Virginia, Dolley had always striven to live up to her friend Sophia Sparling's elegance, and Sophie, she observed now, almost forty years later, awaited news of the invasion with perfect calm.

Because she hath less to lose?

Or for some other reason entirely?

It was true that Sophie was only a dressmaker these days, and Dolley the wife of the President–the man whom the British commander had sworn to bring back to London in chains.

Jemmy Madison had ridden out in the black predawn cool, to join the militia camped by the Navy Yard. Since first light, Dolley had been at the window with her spyglass, watching the road from the Chesapeake shore.

Sophie half-turned from the parlor window, raised an eyebrow. Even in the thick summer heat she wore her usual widow's black. "They're waiting to see if you'll flee. Taking bets, I shouldn't wonder."

"Excellent." Dolley touched the coffee-pot's gay green-and-cream cheek with expert fingers, poured another half-cup for her friend while the brew was still warm. In spite of the grinding millstone of anxiety behind her breastbone, she made her voice light. "If enough people remain in the town to loiter about watching what I shall do, the British can't be all that near. When they flee–" She nodded toward the windows, through which, beyond the ragged lawn and groves of half-grown poplar trees, could be seen the southern wall of the grounds topped with a frieze of boys and young men, "–I shall know to worry."

A gunshot cracked the morning air and Dolley's hand jerked, giving the lie to her calm. The coffee-pot's foot caught the handle of her cup and sent the smaller vessel and its saucer somersaulting to the floor. In her cage beside the open window, Polly spread her gaudy wings and screamed appreciatively, "Merde alors!"

The hall door flew open and Paul came in, fifteen, slender, and very grave in his new duties as valet. "It's all right, ma'am," he said quickly, hurrying to the table as if it were a point of honor to clean up the mess before his mistress could stir from her chair. "Some of those white gentlemen outside the house got guns, and more than one been drinkin' by the sound of it. That's all it is."

He whipped the folded towel from its place on his shoulder and wiped the spilled coffee from the woven straw mat that was the parlor's summer flooring. "If it was the British, you'd be hearin' more than one shot, that's for sure. I get you a clean cup, ma'am."

"Don't trouble thyself, dear," said Dolley. "Mrs. Hallam and I are quite finished here, are we not, Sophie?"

As she gathered the newspapers she'd been perusing when Freeman the butler had announced Sophie, her eye touched again the printed columns: We feel assured that the number and bravery of our men will afford complete protection to the city . . . It is highly improbable that the enemy . . . would advance nearer to the capital . . .

"Will you flee?" Sophie asked abruptly.

Dolley turned to face her. Grilling sunlight already made the yellow parlor uncomfortably hot, and her light muslin gown–fashionably "Greek" and mercifully appropriate for Washington City's swampy summer climate–stuck to her thighs. The parlor windows, open to catch the slightest whisper of breeze, admitted no sound but the occasional uneasy mutter of voices beyond the trees and the wall.

Further than that, silence lay on the Federal City's marshy acres of woods and cow-pastures like fevered sleep.

"No," she answered quietly. "No, I am staying."

"To meet Admiral Cockburn? I'm sure he'll be flattered." Fifteen months ago, Cockburn's marines had sacked and burned the Maryland port of Havre de Grace. In addition to parading James Madison through the streets of London as a trophy, the Admiral had announced his intention to bring Dolley Madison–the Presidentress, they called her, and foremost hostess of the upstart Republic–to walk in fetters at her husband's side.

When Jemmy had come back late last night from a day in the saddle at the militia camp, he'd been so exhausted he could barely speak: A forced journey even under the mildest of conditions would surely kill him.

And she knew, from her own experience and that of a dozen of her acquaintance, how swiftly situations could deteriorate to violence, among armed men savage with victory.

"Not the admiral," she replied. "To meet Jemmy." She moved into the cavernous gloom of the Presidential Mansion's long central hall. "And the Generals of the militia, and the members of the Cabinet, will be coming here to dine–"

"Don't tell me you believe that newspaper pap about how the British will turn north to Baltimore." Sophie strode to catch up. She did so easily–she and Dolley had been the two tallest girls in Hanover County and had suffered together through nicknames like "maypole" and "giraffe." In her impatience she caught her friend's wrist halfway to the little stair that wound its way up to the bedrooms on the second floor; beside them, one of Mr. Jefferson's iron heating-stoves, coyly concealed behind a concrete vase, gave forth the ghostly whisper of last winter's ashes. Through the doorway of the great oval parlor, the full-length portrait of George Washington, like a grave king in black velvet, watched them with wise and weary eyes.

"The British are angry, Dolley, and quite rightly so. After those Massachusetts imbeciles burned the Canadian Parliament buildings in York last year, they'll not settle for sacking a lesser town."

"Dost thou know this?" Dolley's eyes searched her friend's.

If Sophie read anything into the tone of her voice she didn't show it by so much as the flicker of an eyelid. "I should be a fool if I didn't guess."

Dolley turned from her, and ascended the stair. And why should I think that Sophie should know? Because her father was a Loyalist? Because her family was ruined and driven out of this country, for adhering to the King?

Before he had left this morning, Jemmy himself had told her that the troops were far fewer than needed to resist invasion: twenty-five hundred from Baltimore when six thousand had been frantically requested; seven hundred from Virginia in place of the two thousand promised.

Sophie is my friend, and hath been so for forty years.

She would not betray me.

When they reached the upper hallway, Sophie's mobile eyebrows quirked again, for here, out of the sight of whoever might come to call, hastily filled trunks lined the corridor.

"As the Arabs say, Trust in Allah, but tie up thy camel," Dolley told her. "I spent yesterday packing all the Cabinet papers into the carriage. Sukey is like to shake me, for there isn't a cranny now in which to thrust so much as a rolled-up petticoat, and our gardener hath been out since dawn. He hath yet to find another cart or wagon for the rest of the State papers, and a valise of clothing. But whatever he doth find, I will not leave this house until Jemmy comes back."

"Do you really believe you can save him?"

"I believe I can be there to care for him, if he is . . ." Dolley's voice faltered at possibilities her mind wouldn't face.

No President of the country had ever taken the battlefield as President. Sickly and subject to seizures, migraines, and debilitating rheumatism, Jemmy had not been well enough to carry a gun against the British thirty-nine years before. Now, at sixty-three . . .

"I can be there for him if he is taken ill," she finished. "He is not strong."

"Neither apparently are the men who swore they'd guard this house." There was an edge of contempt in Sophie's retort. "Unless they've concealed themselves in the trees and I simply missed seeing them. You'll–"

She bit off her words with instinctive caution as they entered the bedroom and Dolley's maid Sukey turned from the northeastern window, spyglass in hand. "No sign yet, ma'am." Still handsome, though now in her sixties, Sukey had been Dolley's first concrete intimation of the ongoing dilemma of marriage to a plantation-owner. Jemmy had presented her with the woman upon their marriage. As a Quaker born and bred, Dolley abhorred the idea of owning another woman. As a Virginia politician's wife, it was not a sentiment she could ever make publicly known.

"I thank thee, Sukey. Not even smoke?"

The maid shook her head. "Miz Jones's butler Lou says they got that bridge over Goose Creek heaped up with gunpowder an' brushwood, ready to burn if'n they's drove back."

"Provided they can find some brave soul to go back under musket-fire and light the fuse," Sophie commented. "They'd have done better to burn it first."

"I told Jemmy that as well," Dolley said. "General Armstrong hath it that to do so would impede our pursuit of them."

"I shall be sorry indeed to miss the spectacle of veterans who held their ground at Waterloo fleeing in panic before the Virginia militia," said Sophie drily. "Dolley, you should at least make room in the carriage for one trunk of clothing–"

"I told her that, ma'am! We may not get a chance for clean clothes, 'twixt here an' Leesburg–"

"We shall see," temporized Dolley, a...

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