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American Grit

American Grit: A Woman's Letters from the Ohio Frontier

Edited by Emily Foster
Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: 1
Pages: 360
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  • Book Info
    American Grit
    Book Description:

    In 1826 thirty-year-old Anna Briggs Bentley, her husband, and their six children left their close Quaker community and the worn-out tobacco farms of Sandy Spring, Maryland, for frontier Ohio. Along the way, Anna sent back home the first of scores of letters she wrote her mother and sisters over the next fifty years as she strove to keep herself and her children in their memories. With Anna's natural talent for storytelling and her unique, female perspective, the letters provide a sustained and vivid account of everyday domestic life on the Ohio frontier. She writes of carving a farm out of the forest, bearing many children, darning and patching the family clothes, standing her ground in religious controversy, nursing wounds and fevers, and burying beloved family and friends. Emily Foster presents these revealing letters of a pioneer woman in a framework of insightful commentary and historical context, with genealogical appendices.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4941-7
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Series Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)

    The Ohio River Valley Series, conceived and published by the University Press of Kentucky, is an ongoing series of books that examine and illuminate the Ohio River and its tributaries, the lands drained by these streams, and the peoples who made this fertile and desirable area their place of residence, of refuge, of commerce and industry, of cultural development and, ultimately, of engagement with American democracy. In doing this, the series builds upon an earlier project, “Always a River: The Ohio River and the American Experience,” which was sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the humanities councils...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    In the panorama of human events, the story of Anna Briggs Bentley occupies a quiet corner. In 1826, Anna and her husband, Joseph, left a close-knit settlement in Maryland for the sparsely populated frontier of Columbiana County, Ohio, where they raised a large family and Anna worked as she had never worked before. Circumscribed by geography and the demands of a nineteenth-century farm and a house full of children, their lives were simple and unremarkable.

    Things might have been otherwise.

    Anna came from a prominent Maryland family that once owned thousands of acres in Montgomery County. Her father, Isaac, was...

  6. ONE 1826—1827
    (pp. 21-70)

    Joseph, thirty-seven, Anna, thirty, their children, and a black servant named Henry left Maryland for Ohio in the spring of 1826. The six Bentley children were Granville, twelve, Franklin, ten, Maria, eight, Thomas, four, Hannah, three, and Deborah, an infant. They took turns walking over the mountains, probably along the well-used Cumberland Trail across Maryland and western Pennsylvania with their belongings in an ox-drawn wagon. They headed for Columbiana County, Ohio, a destination of Quakers from the beginning of the century. There the Bendeys looked forward to finding comradeship and assistance as well as religious kinship. One of Hannah’s cousins,...

  7. TWO 1828—1830
    (pp. 71-118)

    In 1828, the Society of Friends, whose governance was based on unity and consensus, split wide open. Polite differences of opinion grew into open hostility. The rift had both religious and social components. In cities like Philadelphia, urban Quakers who had become prosperous and influential eventually wanted to be a little less “different” from the rest of the Christian world. The religious revivals of the period, such as Methodism, popularized enthusiastic styles of worship. Some Friends wanted their religion to be on a firmer doctrinal footing than the concept of the mystical, personal Inner Light and sought religious revelation from...

  8. THREE 1831—1835
    (pp. 119-171)

    A chronic problem for farmers in many areas of Ohio was how to get their goods to a market. The lack of transportation meant a shortage of ready money and capital. Even in the late 1840s, William Lloyd Garrison noted as he traveled around Ohio trying to raise money to fight slavery, “Money here is not usually plenty, although they have every thing else in abundance.” Joseph Bentley seemed to be forever in debt or seeking to raise cash to pay taxes.

    Canals linking the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to the Great Lakes had great potential for bringing Midwest products...

  9. Illustration insert
    (pp. None)
  10. FOUR 1836—1842
    (pp. 172-205)

    In the 1830s, the Bentleys were joined in Ohio by more relatives. Among them were “Uncle Sammy” Brooke, Hannah Briggs’s older brother, and his family. They were ardently anti-slavery. His four sons—William, Abraham, Samuel and Edward—threw themselves into the cause, both in the village of Marlborough, Stark County, where Samuel Jr. settled, and in Clinton County, where Abraham and Edward lived for a number of years.

    In 1837, Ohio was the second most active abolition state in the Union, after Massachusetts. It had 213 anti-slavery societies with more than 17,000 members. There were 90 members of the Ohio...

  11. FIVE 1843—1847
    (pp. 206-252)

    In early 1843, Hannah Bentley apparently bolted from Sandy Spring. On April 8, Elizabeth Briggs wrote to her brother Isaac in Georgia, “We have not heard a word from Hannah since she left Washington, so cannot tell thee what has become of her, whether she has gone to Iowa or really to Green Hill or not.”

    At some point in her stay with the Brooke family Hannah had become deeply unhappy. Life there may have been harder than she expected it to be. Perhaps she was simply homesick, especially after the deaths of her brother and sister. While Anna dropped...

  12. SIX 1850—1858
    (pp. 253-286)

    There is a break in the letters between 1848 and 1850. As Anna had hoped, her youngest sister, Margaret, and her husband, William Farquhar, visited Ohio in the spring of 1848. Elizabeth Briggs quoted from a letter she received from her brother-in-law at Green Hill dated May 19: “‘We have been here several days,’ he says, ‘arrived safe & a little fatigued, I reckon, as every two persons were travelling the same distance…. At Salem ville I went into coal mines that extend 1/2 a mile under ground & saw some great salt works in operation, & heard about a well from which...

  13. SEVEN The Later Years
    (pp. 287-308)

    While never politically active, Anna was politically aware. She would have shared in the excitement generated by John Brown’s raid on the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry in 1859, followed by the trial and hanging of Brown and his men. Not only was there a great deal of sympathy in Salem for the aims of “Martyr John Brown,” as the diarist Daniel Hise termed him, but one of Brown’s young followers, Edwin Coppock, was a local boy of Quaker origins. After Coppock was hanged, some anti-slavery Friends paid for his body to be returned to Salem for burial. About six...

  14. Epilogue
    (pp. 309-312)

    After a long old age at Green Hill, the matriarch of her extended family, Anna left the world quietly, age ninety-four, on August 1, 1890. “She was a remarkable woman in several respects,” said her obituary in theSalem Republican-Era. “Mrs. Bentley was a lady of more than ordinary intellectual ability, and being a great reader, possessed a vast fund of general information, and her faculties remained unimpaired until near the close of her long life. She was a lady of fine colloquial powers, being at one time, without doubt, one of the finest conversationalists in Columbiana county.”

    She is...

  15. Appendix One: The Children of Roger Brooke IV and Mary Matthews Brooke
    (pp. 313-314)
  16. Appendix Two: The Children of Isaac Briggs and Hannah Brooke Briggs
    (pp. 315-316)
  17. Appendix Three: The Children of Joseph E. Bentley and Anna Briggs Bentley
    (pp. 317-320)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 321-328)
  19. Index
    (pp. 329-344)