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

Not in stock or not yet published
Expected: October 2005

Northeastern University Press
2005 • 288 pp. 6 x 9"
Biography / New England History / Women's Studies

$22.95 Paperback, 978-1-55553-660-2

"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

The evolving relationship between men and women in the early nineteenth century, as lived by the Sedgwick family of Massachusetts.

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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"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


“Timothy Kenslea's work on the Sedgwick family of Berkshire County offers a sophisticated analysis of how American marriages changed during the post-Revolutionary generation. By focusing on the long courtship of Harry Sedgwick and Janet Minot, Kenslea provides an absorbing account of how members of the new generation constructed their own ideals of marriage, and prepared themselves for a more affectionate type of personal relationship.”
Thomas H. O'Connor, University Historian, Boston College and author of The Hub: Boston Past and Present

"Kenslea writes with elegance and sympathy about the private lives of a notable American family. In these thoughtful, moving studies of courtship and marriage, he illuminates both the particular culture of the early United States and some of the more enduring issues of intimate relationships." Michael McGerr, author of A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America

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.

Thu, 7 Feb 2013 10:21:04 -0500