THE WAY OF DUTY: A Woman and Her Family in Revolutionary America by

THE WAY OF DUTY: A Woman and Her Family in Revolutionary America

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The exceptional biography--from letters, a diary, and reminiscences--of an unknown woman (1736-1818) whose life spanned the Great Awakening, the Revolution, and the first-score years of the 19th century. Father was a Stonington, Conn. minister whose authority, but not faith, was undermined by the dissension arising from the first Great Awakening. Mary, his beloved daughter, was sent at 15 to Sarah Osborn's school for young women st Newport, where ""the lessons of character"" instilled by her father were reinforced. In 1756, during a round of visits, she was introduced to unassuming young Joseph Fish of New Haven, whose proposal Mary accepted because ""he grew more and more amiable and agreeable to me and my friends."" Their first child, a girl, died in infancy: only the beginning of Mary's trials, Joseph himself, an epileptic, died in 1767, leaving her with three sons. These were difficult years in which Mary, by her own words, found herself ""in the valley, a valley dark and dismal, I could not see light in either world."" Despite several suitors, she did not rush back into marriage, and only st age 38 accepted Gold Select Silliman, of one of Fairfield's leading families. ""While Silliman and Mary wrote love letters, others had been more grimly engaged at Lexington and Concord."" Silliman received his marching orders; fought in several battles; then returned to secure the locality. But on May 2, 1779, he was forcibly abducted and held for almost a year in an enemy stronghold. All the while, Mary maintained a household that now comprised her first three sons, two sons by Silliman, and assorted hangers-on, On his eventual return, financial problems festered. Though (to Mary) mere ""trifles when set against the blessings of family,"" they may nonetheless have hastened his death, in 1789. Only slowly did Mary manage to extricate herself from her precarious financial position. In her later years, by contrast, she seemed (according to one son) ""to be travailing up instead of down the hill of life."" She even married again, a doctor acquaintance in Middletown; but she spent much of ben time staying with family members who needed her care. The suicide of a grandson tested her faith as had no other death. But she could be proud of her extended family, all of whom attested to her authority as matriarch. ""In Mary's hands,"" write the Buels, ""the family became as vigorous an instrument as institutions] religion for the maintenance of the faith which. . . provided a revolutionary generation with a link to their origins."" Engrossing family history, very well told.

Pub Date: Jan. 30th, 1983
Publisher: Norton