March 3, 2016

New Book For Women's History Month

By Brandon Marie Miller
[Activity: Dip a Candle]

Happy Women's History Month!

I have a new book to celebrate-- Women of Colonial America, 13 Stories of Courage and Survival in the New World (Chicago Review Press). The 13 stories add spice and detail to the larger story of what it meant to be a woman in America's fledgling days-- a Native American woman, an African woman, a European woman. As often as possible I relied on women's own words and on period documents to tell these stories.

Life seemed a blur of never-ending work for women, both free and enslaved and indentured. Courtship, marriage, childbirth, education, building a community, joys and suffering, often basic survival-- all this is part of the story. Lives changed forever for both the new-comers and for the native women who already lived in a well-loved land. It was a world defined entirely by men where recording what a woman said or thought seemed unnecessary.

Let me introduce you to a few of the resourceful and resilient women you'll meet.

Cecily Jordan Farrar, one of my ancestors, who survived the early days at Jamestown, Virginia, wed several husbands (not at the same time!) and was sued in the first breach of promise case in the colonies.

Pocahontas, bright, brave and curious, her kidnapping by the English has received much less playtime than the legend that she saved John Smith's life. This is not the Disney story.

Anne Hutchinson, faced off in two trials against the Puritan authorities who banished her from Massachusetts, "as being a woman unfit for our society." Anne had dared to preach and question the Puritan ministers.

Anne Hutchinson preaching in her home, 1637. Painted by Howard Pyle, c. 1901. Library of Congress.

Mary Rowlandson, held captive by the Wampanoag, she wrote a narrative of her ordeal that became a best-selling book for decades.

Weetamoo, a Wampanoag woman and war leader, who died escaping from an English ambush. When the English placed her severed head on a pike, minister Increase Mather wrote her people saw this, "and made a most horrible and diabolical Lamentation, crying out that it was their Queen's head."

Elizabeth Ashbridge, an abused indentured servant who suffered deep depression, she eventually raised herself to become a respected Quaker preacher.

A Quaker woman preaching

Margaret Hardenbroeck Philipse, a hard-driving "she-merchant" who thrived in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam and learned to negotiate continued success when the English took over and renamed the colony New York.

Martha Corey, accused, arrested, tried and hanged as a witch in Salem Village, 1692. She showed great courage in a helpless and hopeless situation.

A woman faces the court, accused of practicing witchcraft. U.S. History Images

Eliza Lucas Pinckney, intelligent, witty, hard-working, she ran her father's plantations in South Carolina while dreaming schemes that included producing a new cash crop-- valuable indigo dye.

Eve, an enslaved woman belonging to the Peyton Randolph family in Virginia, twice tried to escape to freedom. Randolph family wills and a runaway slave advertisement help tell Eve's story.

Anne Bradstreet, wife, mother of eight, and skilled poet who penned both epic works and simple lines about her life, love, and family.

A re-creation of Mrs. Vobe's tavern in Williamsburg, built on the original foundations.

Jane Vobe and Christiana Campbell, competing tavern keepers in Williamsburg, Virginia, served the colony's movers-and-shakers including George Washington.

Sarah Kemble Knight, a business woman who traveled on horseback from Boston to New York. She left us a journal of her rousing adventures and pointed observations.

I hope you'll give Women of Colonial America a look! And try your hand at the colonial art of making dipped candles, taken from my book Benjamin Franklin, American Genius.

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