The Sedgwicks in Love: Courtship, Engagement, and Marriage in the Early Republic

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Overview

On a spring day in 1774, in western Massachusetts' Berkshire County, Pamela Dwight and Theodore Sedgwick were married. Theodore--destined to become one of the Federalist party's leaders in the U.S. Congress in the 1790s and later an influential judge on Massachusetts' highest court--was almost twenty-eight, and three years a widower. Pamela, not quite twenty-one, was marrying Theodore Sedgwick over the clearly stated objections of her widowed mother. In the course of her thirty-three-year marriage to Theodore, Pamela gave birth to ten children, seven of whom--four sons and three daughters--survived to adulthood. All but one of them would marry. The courtships, engagements, and marriages of the sons and daughters of Theodore and Pamela are the subject of this book.

Kenslea's richly researched account of Sedgwicks in and out of love comprises three parts. In Part 1, he examines Theodore and Pamela's marriage, characterized by Theodore's long absences and Pamela's depression and mental illness. He also looks at the courtships and marriages of their three oldest children, Eliza, Frances, and Theodore. These complex sets of relationships illuminate, among other things, the changing perceptions of the parental role in matchmaking, the vulnerability of wives abused by husbands, and the tenuous financial situation of widows in the early republic.

In Part 2, Kenslea turns to the Boston-based courtships of Harry and Robert Sedgwick, when the brothers courted "the friendlies," a group of young women who taught them some important lessons, including the difficulties of navigating the subtle rules of social etiquette among the Boston elite. Harry met his future wife Jane among the friendlies. At the end of 1816, the two began a seven-month engagement, during which they were separated but kept up a voluminous correspondence. Part 3 highlights this correspondence, which shows a young couple envisioning for themselves a relationship of equals, despite the legal and cultural impediments of the day.

Kenslea's epilogue considers Catharine Maria Sedgwick, the youngest sister and the best-known member of this generation of Sedgwicks. Catharine's reflections on her single state, both published and private, enrich this history of the married Sedgwicks by offering an early nineteenth-century alternative to the marriage plot.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"It was an era when arranged marriages, especially among the wealthy, was giving way to the choices of young hearts. Kenslea's nonfiction narrative account of the role of marriage choices in this brave new world is an American incursion into Jane Austen territory, whose classic novels examined the tension between money and love in matchmaking during a similar period in England." --Boston Globe

"Timothy Kenslea...craft[s] a lively portrait of a complicated family falling into and out of love... Jane Austen would approve."--Northeastern University Magazine

"The mortar that gives structure and depth to Kenslea's mosaic is his deep sympathy for, and reading in, the era's social, political, and artistic culture. . . . He has breathed life into it in this learned, sympathetic, and wisely unsentimental book about how men and women once practiced love."--Boston College Magazine

"[Kenslea's] careful study of the private lives of two generations of Sedgwick men and women helps support ideas advanced by previous scholars about changing family relations in the early American republic."--New England Quarterly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555536602
  • Publisher: Northeastern University Press
  • Publication date: 5/10/2006
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

TIMOTHY KENSLEA has been a history teacher in Massachusetts high schools for a dozen years, first at Norwell High School and now at Needham High School. He graduated from Yale University, earned master's and doctoral degrees in history at Boston College, and worked for many years as an editor of high school and college textbooks.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments The World of the Sedgwicks Nature and Custom: Five Marriages and a Ghost, 1774-1842
The Harvest Moon: The Unhappy Life and Mysterious Death of Pamela Dwight Sedgwick The Power to Bind: Eliza, Frances, and Theodore Bitterness in the Cup of Joy: A Stepmother, a Death, a Will Brutal Conduct: The Watsons Trifling and Badinage: Four Courtships, 1813-1816
The Heart That's Worth Possessing: Two Disastrous Courtships The Perils of Badinage: Harry and Robert among the Friendlies No Small Surrender: The Engagement Correspondence of Harry Sedgwick and Jane Minot, October 1816-May 1817
The Only Consolation of Absence: Love Letters That I Might Be Worthy of You: Roles and Responsibilities To Translate Hope to Certainty: Setting the Date Epilogue: Volumes Could Say No More Appendix: Archival Sources Notes Index
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