The Sea Captain's Wife: A True Story of Love, Race, and War in the Nineteenth Century

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A finalist for the Lincoln Prize, The Sea Captain's Wife "comes surprisingly, and movingly, alive" (Tina Jordan, Entertainment Weekly).
Award-winning historian Martha Hodes brings us into the extraordinary world of Eunice Connolly. Born white and poor in New England, Eunice moved from countryside to factory city, worked in the mills, then followed her husband to the Deep South. When the Civil War came, Eunice's brothers joined the Union army while her husband fought and died for the Confederacy. Back in New England, a widow and the mother of two, Eunice barely got by as a washerwoman, struggling with crushing depression. Four years later, she fell in love with a black sea captain, married him, and moved to his home in the West Indies. Following every lead in a collection of 500 family letters, Hodes traced Eunice's footsteps and met descendants along the way. This story of misfortune and defiance takes up grand themes of American history—opportunity and racism, war and freedom—and illuminates the lives of ordinary people in the past.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Hodes reconstructs the intriguing and unusual life of Eunice Richardson Stone Connolly. a mill laborer in mid-19th-century New England who went South with her husband to seek their fortune; homesick, even as her husband fought for the Confederacy, she returned to New Hampshire, where she was reduced to working as a washerwoman. The only thing that brought an impoverished Eunice respectability was her white skin. But then she heard of her husband's death, and in 1869, mystifying some of her relatives, Connolly put that respectability at risk, too, marrying a well-to-do black sea captain from Grand Cayman Island and moving there with him. Hodes, a historian at NYU (White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth-Century South), relies on a rich cache of Connolly's letters, which are housed at Duke University. Unfortunately, the letters don't reveal how Connolly met her second husband or explain in depth why she decided to marry him. Hodes's prose, though sometimes a bit affected ("In place of fiction, I offer the craft of history, assisted by the art of speculation"), is lucid and her account is engaging, though for readers steeped in the subject not pathbreaking; what Hodes has to tell us about the 19th century-that race was socially constructed and complicated, for example-is nothing new. 47 b&w illus., 2 maps. (Sept.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In this gem of historical writing and research, Hodes (history, NYU) shows how a 19th-century white, working-class woman coped with the upheavals precipitated by industrialization, immigration, civil war, and racism. Eunice Connolly, born in New England in 1831, sought a marriage that would fulfill her dream of upward mobility and stability. Instead, she found a hardscrabble existence that led her to two dramatic choices. In the first, she abandoned a husband sympathetic to the South (where the couple had moved) to return to New England during the Civil War. In the second, as a war widow, she defied an increasingly racist society to marry a black sea captain and follow him to the West Indies. Ultimately, this marriage brought the status and stability that she sought. Hodes, who won the Allan Nevins Prize for her previous book, White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth-Century South, has produced another outstanding work showing the complexities of 19th-century racism. Highly recommended for academic libraries; however, the compelling story and graceful writing will appeal to general readers who enjoy American history.-Linda V. Carlisle, Southern Illinois Univ., Edwardsville Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393330298
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/17/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 662,743
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Martha Hodes, a professor of history at New York University, is the author of White Women, Black Men, which won the Allan Nevins Prize for Literary Distinction. She lives in New York City and Swarthmore, Pennsylvania.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 3, 2012

    You have to check it out

    I found it a little confusing at times, but enjoyed the end chapters.

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  • Posted May 17, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    An Intriguing Story for Anyone Who Appreciates History

    When I picked up this book I had no idea I was about to delve into such an intriguing story. The affect of social and familial expectations on women's lives in Civil War era America is brought to light with fresh perspective. The book ties in the industrial revolution and political atmosphere to provide a multi-layered view of the circumstances that influenced women's roles. The complexity of life for women without a husband or son to assume responsibility for them, the struggle to maintain a middle class lifestyle and the prejudices that determined a person's fate all combine to creat an compelling story of one women's life.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 12, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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