Sunday, December 29, 2013
Dames and Daughters of Colonial Days by Geraldine Brooks
Published April 2005 by Kessinger Publishers
Source: the copy I read was loaned to me by my mom
These narrative sketches of certain dames and daughters of our colonial days are designed to illustrate the different types, epochs and sections that made up our early American history. Contents: Anne Hutchinson, of Boston, Founder of the First Woman's Club in America; Frances Mary Jacqueline La Tour, the Defender of Fort La Tour; Margaret Brent, the Woman Ruler of Maryland; Madam Sarah Knight, a Colonial Traveller; Eliza Lucas, of Charleston, afterwards Wife of Chief-Justice Charles Pinckney; Martha Washington, of Mount Vernon, Wife of General George Washington; Abigail Adams, Wife of John Adams and Mother of John Quincy Adams; Elizabeth Schuyler, of Albany, afterwards Wife of Alexander Hamilton; and Sarah Wister and Deborah Norris, Two Quaker Friends of Philadelphia.
Yes, that Geraldine Brooks. A lady who knows how to do historical research and tell a story. So, despite the less than interesting cover of this book, I was eager to find out which women Brooks had chosen to write about.
I read the Preface, really I did, which clearly states that these are narrative sketches and doesn't make any claim to having chosen women of particular merit. Yet, somehow, that's not what I expected once I started reading. Throughout the book, I was continually surprised by the storytelling writing style and kept waiting for Brooks to tell me what made this particular woman worth writing about. Because I didn't get what I was expecting, I must admit that I was disappointed by the book; if I'd been paying better attention, I'm certain I would have enjoyed it more.
There are absolutely women here whose place in history is notable: Anne Hutchinson who formed the first women's club in the colonies (for which she was banished), Martha Washington, Abigail Adams (wife of one president and mother of another), and Elizabeth Schuyler (who married Alexander Hamilton). An equal number of women here are included specifically chosen because their lives represent a particular period of colonial development and are well documented through diaries and letters.
I knew of Anne Hutchinson from reading Sarah Vowell's The Wordy Shipmates earlier this year and was interested to read more about this remarkable woman who was not afraid to speak her mind even when those she most respected turned against her. I discovered Margaret Brent who was the first woman so claim a woman's right to sit and vote in a legislative assembly. Perhaps the woman who most grabbed my attention as Madam Sarah Knight nee Kemble. Kemble is my maiden name, a name you'll rarely see any where. Of course this means that I'm now bound to try to learn more about Ms. Kemble Knight!