Set in late 18th-century Salem, Massachusetts, first of a projected trilogy (to trace three generations) in which a quilt made by three sisters is the central motif. Hannah, the eldest, is the glue that keeps the troubled Chelmsford family from flying apart. Autocratic Father, embittered by a single infidelity by his deceased wife (whom he abused), favors bratty daughter Thankful and rejects illegitimate son Cabot. Hannah and her brother Lawrence conspire in sister Abigail's planned elopement with South Carolina sea captain Nate Videau. Hannah's own earlier romance, squelched by her father, enables her to realize her love for poor but ambitious Richard Lander. Hoping to prevent her from revealing Abby's plans, Hannah encourages their father to take Thankful to the Ohio Territory -- where she is captured by Indians and ultimately chooses to remain with them. Meanwhile, each sister works on a piece of the quilt, which Hannah has decided will symbolize trusted people in their lives. Mr. Chelmsford becomes a partner in an early cotton mill; Hannah is drawn into social work on behalf of its exploited workers. Though Rinaldi's research (detailed in a note) occasionally intrudes, it also keeps the setting and flavor authentic. Characteristically for this writer, dialogue is an awkward mix of contemporary and period idiom (Videau's southern accent is particularly inconsistent). Still, the memorable characters and their historically accurate context balance the flaws, raising the story from the soap-opera level. Bibliography.