Book Review: Caty A Biography of Catharine Littlefield Greene

The introduction begins with a scholarly look at the feminine sphere of women during the colonial period and society’s disapproval of women who were perceived to have stepped outside of it pre- and post- American Revolution. Caty Greene often defied this narrow perception of acceptable behavior. She also shouldered heavy financial burdens who her husband, General Nathanael Greene, one of George Washington’s most trusted and capable generals, shouldered as a direct result of the war until his early death in 1786.

Caty burned all her letters to Nathanael therefore their relationship is interpreted through Nathanael’s letters and responses to her.

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Caty Greene later in life, 1809

Review:

May 1761, six-year-old Caty Littlefield watched her mother’s burial on Block Island off the coast of Rhode Island, an isolated place where her ancestors had lived since the 1660’s free from Massachusetts dogma. Two years later, Caty was taken in by her namesake, her mother’s sister Catharine Greene, a dark-haired violet-eyed beauty who Caty resembled. Aunt Catharine was married to William Greene, Jr. a Rhode Island politician who was distantly related to Nathanael Greene. Nathanael was a frequent visitor to the house in East Greenwich.

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General Nathanael Greene

The Caty Nathanael met there was comfortable in the society of men and her “power of fascination was absolutely irresistible.” Nathanael and Caty wed on July 20, 1774. They settled in his home in Coventry, Rhode Island, but those early days of tranquility were short lived. The events in Massachusetts on April 19, 1775 changed all that and Nathanael left with Rhode Island militia to attend the siege of Boston.

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Greene Homestead in Coventry, Rhode Island today.

Caty was determined to spend time with her husband at camp no matter where that was. Pregnant, she traveled to Nathanael’s headquarters west of Boston. When she returned to Coventry, her lack of domestic skills, fear for Nathanael’s safety and pregnancy led to personal anxieties. She squabbled with her female in-laws.

Caty visited her husband at his headquarters as often as possible, with or without her children. As a general’s wife, she was naturally made the center of attention. She became close friends with Martha Washington and Lucy Knox. Her vivacious behavior elicited a spontaneous response from admiring gentlemen. She listened with genuine interest to stories told by men like General Israel Putnam. Young aides became smitten with her looks and playfulness, and Nathanael was delighted by their admiration.

In late spring 1776, whispers about Caty’s behavior circulated among her family members. In the winter of 1777, jealousies and insecurities surfaced between Caty and Nathanael—his admiration for Lady Stirling and Kitty, General Alexander Stirling’s wife and daughter, his reminder to watch her spelling when writing to the scholarly Lucy Knox, and his subsequent letter after he heard about Caty’s many parties:

“In the neighborhood of my quarters there are several sweet pretty Quaker girls. If the spirit should move and love invite who can be accountable for the consequences?” 

Leaving her children with in-laws, Caty arrived in Valley Forge in 1778 where she met men like Lafayette, Steuben, and Hamilton while her jealousy simmered over the Stirling ladies. It was here she met General Anthony Wayne. An incurable ladies man, his wife never came to camp. Caty was stimulated by the company of this charming man. The whispered gossip began yet Nathanael remained unconcerned.

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General Anthony Wayne

By the summer of 1780, she was back in Coventry. Nathanael’s new post was uncertain. Then, he was sent off to the deep South. The Greene’s had no cash; only land in Rhode Island. While Nathanael bore the horrors of the Southern Campaign, forbidding Caty to join him, she was enjoying the social life in Newport among French soldiers.

After the British surrender in Yorktown, Virginia in October 1781, she traveled to South Carolina to join Nathanael at his headquarters near Charleston. She witnessed the devastation Nathanael had warned her of. After a twenty-three month separation, she found her husband much changed and worn down from the war and debt. Only land grants for his service in the Southern campaign stood between their family and utter financial ruin—Mulberry Grove plantation and holdings on Cumberland Island off the coast of Georgia. Anthony Wayne was granted the plantation adjacent to Mulberry Grove.

In 1785, Caty gave birth to their sixth child, Catharine. The infant died of whooping cough. Caty lay for weeks despondent. Nathanael hired a tutor for the children, a twenty-one year old graduate of Yale, Phineas Miller. The family moved to Mulberry Grove in November. Caty was pregnant again. Tragically in April 1786, she fell and gave birth to a premature daughter who died soon after.

By then, the Mulberry Grove plantation was thriving. The Greenes had a promising new start which came to an abrupt end on June 19, 1786, when Nathanael died of sunstroke. Caty soon learned the worst. Her husband died before he had made the barest beginning toward paying off the huge debts he owed to his creditors after borrowing money to equip his Southern Army. She would have to make a claim of indemnity to the government for reimbursement.

She poured her heart out to Jeremiah Wadsworth, one of Nathanael’s creditors and a man she had been attracted to for years. Wadsworth was married and had past indiscretions. Jealousy ignited between Miller and Wadsworth for Caty’s affections and Wadworth’s support in settling her estate in Congress began to wane.

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Jeremiah Wadsworth

In 1791, she stood before Congress with her indemnity claim that Alexander Hamilton had helped her prepare. Anthony Wayne held a seat in Congress and fought furiously for her settlement. On April 27, she was awarded $47,000 and for the first time since the war, her family was solvent. Soon after, Wayne disappeared from her life. He went west to join the military there. He died of complications from gout on December 15, 1796 during a return trip to Pennsylvania from a military post in Detroit.

By this time, Caty and Phineas Miller had drawn up a legal agreement concerning their relationship and prospective marriage. All five of her children were living at Mulberry Grove, but her oldest child, George, drowned soon after coming home from France.

 

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Eli Whitney

Enter Eli Whitney, who came south to accept a teaching position. Miller and Whitney formed a business partnership with Caty as a silent backer to finance Whitney’s cotton gin invention. However, the venture needed more capital than Caty could provide. Caty and Phineas invested in a land scheme—the Yazoo Company. The company collapsed and Caty once again faced poverty. She married Phineas later that year much to Whitney’s chagrin for he was in love with her.

In 1800, Mulberry Grove was sold and the family moved to Cumberland Island at Dungeness where Nathanael, fourteen years before, had begun construction of his family’s future home. The island yielded everything the family needed to survive, but three years later at age thirty-nine, the gentle and faithful Phineas died of blood poisoning after pricking his finger on a thorn.

Caty was faced with selling Phineas’ part of the Miller estate which was tied up in his company with Whitney. There were also the settlements against her estate for legal fees, loans, etc. For a time, she sold live oaks to a lumber company in an effort to salvage the cotton gin company.

Eli Whitney was tormented by his love for Caty, but she was now past childbearing age and he wanted a family. She made a failed attempt at matching him with her youngest daughter, Louisa. On July 5, 1814, Caty wrote her last letter to Whitney who was in New Haven, Connecticut:

“We have a party of eighteen to eat Turtle with us tomorrow. I wish you were the nineteenth. Our fruit begins to flow in upon us—to partake of which I long for you… ”

She had grown and found as Nathanael once suggested, that self-pity made a sad companion. In the last week of August, Caty was struck with a fever. The same week the capital city of Washington lay in ruins. Caty never knew. She died on September 2, 1814.

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Greene-Miller Cemetery on Cumberland Island at Dungeness

Despite history’s proverbial finger pointing about what she may have done during her marriage to Nathanael, I highly recommend this book that highlights the strengths and weaknesses of a woman who faced the consequences of war and met them head on the rest of her life.

 

Book Review: Memoir of a Revolutionary Soldier, The Narrative of Joseph Plumb Martin

“Through much fatigue and many dangers past, The Warworn soldier’s braved his way at last.” ~~ Joseph Plumb Martin

I could think of no better way to express my love for this narrative except to offer a review. I’ve read countless quotes from Joseph’s memoir in books about the Revolutionary War and have written about him in my own novels. But to read his memoir in it’s entirety plunged me into his world during his nearly eight years of service with the Continental Army.

Joseph wrote and published his memoirs in 1830 at the age of 70. The book was lost to history, rediscover in the 1950’s, and published again in 1962. Like many memoirs, he may have embellished it, but it’s rooted in the experiences endured by the common soldier instead of the heroic accounts of men like Washington, Greene, and Knox. Nevertheless, this is an eye opening tale of suffering, endurance, and patriotism.

Joseph was born in Massachusetts on November 21, 1760, therefore he was just a teenager when he joined the army in 1776. At the time, he lived with his grandparents in Connecticut and had difficulty gaining their permission to enlist. He and his company were soon sent to New York where they saw action at Long Island, Kipp’s Bay, Harlem Heights, and White Plains.

Later in the war, he was at Germantown, the siege of Fort Mifflin, and the Battle of Monmouth. His company was shipped off to the Hudson Highlands and West Point. He spoke of Benedict Arnold’s treason and John Andre’s execution. He was with the unit of sappers at Yorktown who dug the parallel entrenchments used to besiege Cornwallis’ army.

In his memoir, Joseph paints a picture of camaraderie between he and his “messmates.” Their shared struggles with constant starvation, nakedness, lack of shelter, sickness, fatigue, and hard duty is a theme throughout.

“To have to lie, as I did, almost every other night on the cold and often wet ground… without a blanket, and with nothing but thin summer clothing, was tedious.” 

“The army was now (Valley Forge) not only starved but naked; the greatest part were not only shirtless and barefoot, but destitute of all other clothing, especially blankets.”

“…I have often been so beat out with long and tedious marching, that I have fallen asleep while walking the road, and not been sensible of it till I have jostled against some one in the same situation;…”

He candidly wrote about the officers who made bad decisions, quartered in homes and ate well — “for they must have victuals, let the poor men fare as they would.” His detailed descriptions of the army’s failure to provide pay and provisions, his food foraging expeditions, and food sometimes provided to the soldiers by civilians underlies the desperation he experienced enduring starvation.

Yet amid all these descriptions of misery, Joseph demonstrates a sense of humor, compassion, courage, mischief, and admiration for “handsome ladies.” He refers to those who are killed or dies as “Poor young man!” or “Poor fellow!” When his regiment returns to White Plains, he sees that the Hessians who died at the battle there the year before are ill-buried and he feels sorry for them. “Here the Hessian sculls as thick as a bomb shells; — poor fellows! they were left unburied in a foreign land…”  

When the war ended in 1783, he wrote that the happiness he had anticipated was not realized. “….there was as much sorrow as joy transfused on the occasion. We lived together as a family of brothers for several years (setting aside some little family squabbles, like most other families,) had shared with each other the hardships, dangers and sufferings incident to a soldier’s life…”

He concludes with after the war the soldiers were never given the land they were promised nor their yearly clothing allowance. But the heart rending message was how the country vilified them — the army was idle during the war or the militia could have done the job. The soldiers’ hardships were debased and underrated.

“President Monroe was the first of all our Presidents, except President Washington, who ever uttered a syllable in the ‘old soldiers’ favor.”

Of the voices of slander, he wrote:

“It was very easy for them to build castles in the air, but they had not felt the difficulty of making them stand there.” 

“And now, kind Reader, I bid you a cordial and long farewell.” ~~ Joseph Plumb Martin

 

 

Book Review: Martha Washington An American Life

Martha Washington An American Life by Patricia Brady

This is a refreshing and endearing portrait of Martha Washington as few people see her. She was a strong, beautiful, passionate, family-oriented woman, who had a deep loving relationship with both her husbands, Daniel Parke Custis and George Washington. Her graciousness shined and despite her longing to live a quiet private life, she stood by George’s side throughout their marriage. She met the challenges as wife of the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, and the first president of the United States.

Martha was born Martha Dandridge on June 2, 1731 on her parent’s plantation, Chestnut Grove, in New Kent County, Virginia. The author, Patricia Brady, describes the places, events, and expectations of the times with a level of detail that gives the reader a clear picture of the things Martha would have done and experienced—domestic, social, political, and religious expectations for a woman who came from a fairly well-to-do family.

Martha married Daniel Parke Custis in 1750, a man twenty years her senior whose father was abusive and controlling. This seemed to be a pattern. George Washington’s mother, Mary, was abusive and controlling, as well. As a reader, this suggests to me that Martha’s capacity for kindness and emotional support may have been one of the things that attracted both Daniel and George.

She and Daniel had four children. The two eldest died as toddlers. Daniel’s sudden death in 1757 left her, at the age of 26, the wealthiest widow in Virginia, with a 17,500 acre estate to manage and two very young children to raise alone: a three-year-old son, Jacky, and a one-year-old daughter, Patsy. This set a precedence. There was no male trustee to control her property. She was independent and free to make her own decisions, and she did so with confidence.

George Washington, whom she married on January 6, 1759, recognized this strength and rarely questioned her decisions while he was away.

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The Marriage of George and Martha Washington

In 1773, Patsy died of a seizure at age seventeen. It was terrible blow to Martha, as well as, George, who was a loving stepfather to Patsy and Jacky (Martha and George had no children of their own). Seven years later during the Siege of Yorktown, she would lose Jacky (who was married with children) to “camp fever”. Martha surrounded herself with family. Many young nieces, nephews, and grandchildren lived at Mount Vernon which was a great comfort to her.

Of course, the American Revolution greatly affected every facet of her life. The author describes the events of the war accurately and succinctly. George was away from the Washington’s home, Mount Vernon, in Virginia, the entire eight years. Martha spent every winter with her husband at the Continental Army camp, often accompanied by nieces, nephews, and grandchildren.

Patricia Brady expertly guides the reader through the eight years George was president and Martha’s outlook and influence on those years when the Washington’s longed for a private life that was not to be. After George’s death in 1799 and forty-one years of devoted partnership, Martha never truly recovered from the pain. She remembered her husband’s admirers and those who had hurt him, like Thomas Jefferson. When Jefferson was elected president in 1800, “she commented freely and acidly on his presidency.”

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Martha Washington, 1796

In the first week of May, 1802, Martha became ill with one of her frequent stomach upsets. She died at Mount Vernon on May 22.

I highly recommend this historical and spiritual book that contains elements of a great romance.

My award-winning historical fantasy book series:

Angels & Patriots Book One. Sons of Liberty, Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill is available on Amazon in paperback, Kindle eBook, or read for free on Kindle Unlimited. Angels & Patriots Book One

Angels & Patriots Book Two. The Cause of 1776 is available on Amazon in paperback, Kindle eBook, or read for free on Kindle Unlimited. Angels & Patriots Book Two

Book Review: “Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early America” By Amy Belding Brown

51HBuaNAc3L._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early America is largely based on the historical published account of Mary Rowlandson’s experience as a captive of Native Americans in 1676 during King Phillip’s War. Amy Belding Brown has transformed historical documents into the mind and heart of this Puritan woman who suffers many trials during her 11 week captivity. Spoiler alert.

I chose to read this novel for its parallels to my historical fantasy work in progress. My WIP (which I plan to be the first volume in a series surrounding the American Revolution) takes place in the first half of 1775 in and around the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It follows the actions of the Sons of Liberty, in particular Dr. Joseph Warren, British General Thomas Gage, and a brotherhood of banished angels who ally with the patriots as the Revolutionary War dawns.

Those parallels are:

~~~Flight of the Sparrow takes place in 1670’s colonial America in and around the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The subject matter addresses Puritan values at that time. These Puritans were ancestors to men like John Adams, Samuel Adams, and Joseph Warren, and their beliefs remained an influence in late colonial America.

~~~Mary Rowlandson’s narrative A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson was first published in 1682. It was republished in 1771 and twice more in 1773. In his speech commemorating the second anniversary of the Boston Massacre in 1772 and the fifth anniversary in 1775, Dr. Joseph Warren invokes the image of the Indian as a devil, which was a familiar description in Puritan writings and may have been taken from Rowlandson’s narrative.

~~~The work is clearly historical fiction/fantasy which is my beloved genre.

Historical examination aside, Flight of the Sparrow is written to keep the reader immersed in the time period and the role of women in Puritan society.  Mary Rowlandson is depicted as a free-thinking woman who knows her place, but is constantly challenging that place in her heart and mind. The Puritan revulsion for the Indian savages is a mythological subject matter often discussed with perverse curiosity among the women as they work.

Mary, her three children, and friends and family are captured by Native Americans in January 1676, during a raid on the town of Lancaster where she lives with her husband, Joseph–a Puritan minister.  Joseph is in Boston to plead for protection from the Indians at the time of the raid.

Mary’s terrible struggle with her dying 6-year-old daughter, Sarah, is heartbreaking as she carries the body of her mortally wounded child through the wilderness for days until the child finally dies in an Indian wetu.  The suffering of some of the other captives, such as Ann Joslin who is heavy with child and subsequently clubbed to death by Indians when she begs to be released, is difficult to take.

Mary’s constant worry for her captive children, Joss and Marie, is not portrayed in my opinion, as being as much of a burden as her starvation, wavering faith in God, and sexual attraction to an Indian man named James.  Her enlightenment to the manner in which Indians raise their children with open love and tolerance, and the freedoms the native people enjoy, is a recurring theme even after her redemption.

Her husband, Joseph, is portrayed as unfeeling, even emotionally cruel, toward his wife as she struggles with her return and assimilation into society. He suspects her of being “violated” by the Indians although she assures him time and time again that she has not. Her husband’s sexual aloofness, in a manner, justifies her continuing longing for James and the realization that she is in love with this Indian man who was raised and educated among the English, participates in her redemption, and comes to her in the dark of night to taut her feelings for him.

The Puritan minister, Increase Mather, asks her to write a narrative of her experiences that he will transform into a lesson of God’s will. She hesitates to do so, but eventually gives in under a barrage of encouragement from Joseph, who tells her that this is a way for her to be socially accepted once again. It will allow those who gossip and look down on her, to see that God guided her during her captivity.

Mary doesn’t mourn Joseph’s sudden death in 1678. Instead, she sees his death as freedom from the chains that bind her.  Indeed, she later marries, Samuel Talcott for love and the opportunity to mother his 8 children.

Flight of the Sparrow is beautifully written and emotionally exhausting as Mary Rowlandson bravely follows her heart to a happy ending.