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Sisters of Fortune: Being the True Story of How Three Motherless Sisters Saved Their Home in New England and Raised Their Younger Brother While Their Father Went Fortune Hunting in the California Gold Rush
     

Sisters of Fortune: Being the True Story of How Three Motherless Sisters Saved Their Home in New England and Raised Their Younger Brother While Their Father Went Fortune Hunting in the California Gold Rush

by Nancy Coffey Heffernan, Ann Page Stecker
 

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In 1850 , James Wilson, a widowed congressman from Keene, New Hampshire, left his three daughters and young son to seek his fortune in the California gold rush. During his twelve year absence, the daughters wrote their father almost 350 letters filled with accounts of daily life and lively observations on local and national events. The daughters -- Mary Elizabeth, 24,

Overview

In 1850 , James Wilson, a widowed congressman from Keene, New Hampshire, left his three daughters and young son to seek his fortune in the California gold rush. During his twelve year absence, the daughters wrote their father almost 350 letters filled with accounts of daily life and lively observations on local and national events. The daughters -- Mary Elizabeth, 24, Annie, 18, and Charlotte, 16, when their father left -- were conventional, upper-middle-class young women struggling to keep up appearances in a society that accorded them few rights. These letters and the story they tell constitute a valuable social and cultural document and offer readers a vivid description of mid-19th century American life.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In 1850, widower and U.S. Congressman James Wilson Jr. joined the California gold rush, leaving behind for 12 years in Keene, N.H., his four children: 24-year-old Lizzie, 18-year-old Annie, 16-year-old Charlotte and 13-year-old Jamie. Dependent on the inadequate funds James supplied, the women sent him detailed letters describing the family left behind. Heffernan and Stecker ( New Hampshire: Crosscurrents in Its Development ), who form these letters into a fairly continuous narrative, see the women as ``obsessed . . . with their father and convinced . . . that only a patriarchal family could provide them with security and identity,'' apparently taking these often dissembling letters at their word. In fact, these texts can challenge parental authority, as when Annie discusses James's flair for persuasion: ``I have only to hear you say black was white to be thoroughly convinced of the truth thereof.'' The editors allow only that there is ``a certain ambiguity'' in this barbed comment. Major events of the period pale in importance when compared to the household budget; when Charlotte comments on the seizure of an escaped slave, she apologizes for her interest in politics. The result is likely to appeal primarily to the serious student of the period. (Nov.)
What Nancy Coffey Heffernan and Ann Page Stecker have done in Sisters of Fortune is to edit these letters into a remarkable documentary history of the Wilson daughters . . . the girls paid the bills, harvested the crops. They grew up, because women, and then wives, and then mothers. They steered young Jamie into Harvard. They did survive, as a family and as individuals; and Sisters of Fortune is an extraordinary account of this survival.
Library Journal
In 1850, James Wilson Jr., a lawyer, adventurer, and Whig politician, resigned his seat in Congress to seek his fortune in California. He did not return for 12 years. Meanwhile, back in Keene, New Hampshire, his daughters Mary Elizabeth (age 24), Annie (17), and Charlotte (16) raised their young brother Jamie and dodged their father's creditors. Trying to hold their family together, the sisters wrote their father nearly 350 letters, in which they described their daily lives and begged for money. The editors have compiled these letters and supplied well-integrated connective material to create a compelling domestic narrative of mid-19th-century New England. Like Sally L. Kitch's This Strange Society of Women (Ohio State Univ. Pr., 1992), the work is a fine example of recent historical scholarship using the private documents of women's lives. An excellent choice for academic libraries.-- Carolynne Myall, Eastern Washington Univ. Libs., Cheney

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780874516517
Publisher:
University Press of New England
Publication date:
10/01/1993
Pages:
311
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.91(d)

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