American Grit: A Woman's Letters from the Ohio Frontierby Anna Briggs Bentley
"My beloved friends," writes Anna Briggs Bentley, "How often do I wish that you could peep in at us and hear the sound of cheerful voices issuing from our lowly cabin? I have not yet sufficient leisure to tell you how we got here, but it was without accident..." Thus begin the letters of a woman on the Ohio frontier, far removed from the comforts and privilege of her family's Maryland estate. In 1826, Anna and Joseph Bentley and their children made the perilous journey westward -- like many other Americans -- in search of new opportunities for themselves.
Determined not to lose contact with her mother and sister, Anna began writing them long letters detailing the ordinary activities of her days and the trials of life on the frontier: building a house, growing crops, raising a large family, and bartering for clothes and furniture. Often, the only time she had to write was very early in the morning or late at night when everyone else slept. Having grown up with servants to tend to the housework, Anna often interrupts her letters with words like, "I must go and get supper. I have biscuits to bake." In order to save paper, Anna spared no empty space in her letters for punctuation, and sometimes when she had filled an entire page, she turned the page sideways and wrote over the earlier lines.
As devout Quakers, Anna and her husband Joseph were tied to a community with strong opinions about how its members should live. Anna moved smoothly through this strict community with her own kind of self-assurance, sharing stories of her friends and neighbors, discussing the lives and welfare of her children. Anna's letters not only provide us with a revealing look at the life of a pioneer woman, but they also teach much about the medical practices, the religious and political goings-on of the day, and even about the structure of the pioneer family. Her passion to share the daily details of her life with her distant family provides the modern reader with a new insight into the determination, strength of character, and optimism it took to settle and survive on the early Ohio frontier. American Grit is part of the Ohio River Valley Series, which examines and illuminates the Ohio River and its tributaries, the lands drained by these streams, and the peoples who made this fertile and desirable area their place of residence, of refuge, of commerce and industry, of cultural development, and ultimately, of engagement with American democracy.
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