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The Sea Captain's Wife: A True Story of Love, Race, and War in the Nineteenth Century

3.63  ·  Rating Details  ·  276 Ratings  ·  64 Reviews
Award-winning historian Martha Hodes brings us into the extraordinary world of Eunice Connolly. Born white and poor in New England, Eunice moved from countryside to factory city, worked in the mills, then followed her husband to the Deep South. When the Civil War came, Eunice's brothers joined the Union army while her husband fought and died for the Confederacy. Back in Ne ...more
ebook, 384 pages
Published February 7th 2011 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published January 1st 2006)
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She was a poor female born into a hardscrabble New England family in 1831. Little did she know that she would go on to live a life that would later be examined by a 21st-century author via letters handed down as family heirlooms.

I'm Nobody! Who are you?
Are you - Nobody - too?

(Emily Dickinson)

Eunice Richardson had a harsh early life. Her father was an alcoholic who abandoned his family so he could go live up the way with another woman and his new bag of children. Mother Lois was strong and kept t
I found this book incredibly interesting, but at the same time kind of dry. I thought maybe the author repeated things too much, in order to flesh the book out. However, it was well researched. The book did much to explain how things were in New England during the industrial revolution. You don't tend to think in terms of the first settlers having so much land, and so many kids that as parcels get split up upon death and bequeathed to thier lot of children...that by the time the mid 1800's rolle ...more
The story of a pretty normal white Yankee woman who lived through the Civil War and struggled with poverty. But, then the story changes, and she marries a colored man from the West Indies - something white women just did not do! The book was well researched and well written; and especially timely given the recent news articles about a white woman who has passed herself off as black for years. Turns out, that was fairly common for white women who married black men during the Jim Crow years since ...more
James Eckman
An interesting history but a bit thin in spots, the actual romance between Smiley and Eunice is hidden in the folds of time with the letters probably destroyed by relatives. Good bits about New England mill towns and Mobile along with the Cayman's and an unusual woman who went her own way in a time that was considered beyond the pale.
Aug 01, 2015 Dianne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a simply fascinating read, well researched and really interesting. A collection of family correspondence provided the bulk of the author's information, though some gaps at crucial points have left us with a very good mystery.

Eunice Richardson, born to a poor family in Massachusetts before the Civil War, moved with her family from their rural home to the city, hoping for a better life. However, the industrialization of America was now underway, causing huge problems for her father, who e
I read this book at exactly the moment I needed it! Hodes work provides a useful model for (some) of my own work on emotions history and 19th century lives. Like other reviewers have emphasized, the book follows Eunice Connolly from New England poverty, to the Deep South prior to the Civil War, back to New England as a poor widow, and finally to the Cayman Islands as the wife of a black man. The book explores the complicated relationship between race and class in the US and in the Cayman Islands ...more
Lissa Notreallywolf
This was a real page turner, and not the diary of a seafaring woman, as I expected from the title. A historian of interracial relationships, romantic relationships explores Eunice life through the letters she wrote to her family, and they to her. The letters are fascinating because depression and despair are decribed poetically, in pre-psychological terms. Hodes does a nice job of interpreting what the families don't say, the racism Eunice doesn't confront after moving from New England milltowns ...more
Jun 19, 2008 Stacey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, biography
I've started this book because I went to a lecture at the Navy Museum, where Martha Hodes spoke on the topic of love and race in the nineteenth century, as exemplified by this exceptional woman, who lived an unconventional life and defied racial categorization...

The rest of it was just as incredibly interesting. What a life story!
Jul 23, 2009 Jennifer rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Can a book be both interesting and boring? I don't know, but that's how I would describe this one. It reads like 300 pages of a history book about only one person and the people and times affecting her. I didn't get quite through it all but I'm moving on.
Sep 15, 2009 Linda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Eunice Richardson was born in 1831 and grew up in Manchester, NH. As a young woman she worked in the Amoskeag cotton mills there – the world’s largest such mill. She married William Stone, and in an effort to earn some money (hoping to buy a farm in New England) they followed Eunice’s older sister and her husband to Mobile, Alabama, in the years just before the Civil War. The two men eventually joined the Confederate army, and William was killed during the war. Eunice returned to New Hampshire w ...more
Mar 24, 2013 Richard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have to say I was stunned by the pull this book had on me. Originally bought for $1 from the local library bargain bin (for my old Mum), it was returned to me with the words "it's not my cup of tea". Well, after a few early bumps I could hardly put this down.

The true story of an extended family during the US Civil War, historian Martha Hodes has painstakingly tracked down archival material, descendants and letters to shine a light on a seemingly ordinary - yet in other ways utterly remarkable
May 29, 2011 Cheryle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Given to me on a recent trip South by my niece, this book is a rare story of a Northern woman who moved South, and whose husband enlisted in the Confederate army. She spent her life in search of respite from demeaning, low-paying work, amidst attempts to hold her family together. Eventually she married a man of color from the Cayman Islands, finally finding the life she sought far from home and family.

I was intrigued by the view of northerners over the question of slavery, as well as the hardshi
Jul 13, 2013 Karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hpl-book-club
“The Sea Captain’s Wife “by Martha Hodes is subtitled, “A True Story of Love, Race, and War in the Nineteenth Century,” which is as accurate and succinct as a description of the book can be. The book tells about the life of Eunice Richardson Stone Connolly, a white, working class, New England girl whose first marriage took her to the South just before the outbreak of the Civil War and who was eventually able to climb the social ladder by marrying across racial boundaries in her second marriage. ...more
Sam Poole
Fascinating subject matter but verrrrrry dry. Don't get a real thesis until page 186. The facts are enlightening but the analysis is sorely lacking. There is a treasure trove of identity politic issues at play- race, conceptions of race, sexuality, class and race as inherently intertwined, how setting changes identity etc. But Hodes is reluctant to go past the letters and truly analyze, which is unfortunate because the tedium is over bearing. I was actually counting down the pages til the end. S ...more
May 12, 2009 Kathy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is my favorite kind of book--a true story that has been put together from family letters and papers. Eunice Richardson Connolly had the unique experience of being a born & bred Northerner from Massachusetts who 1) moved to Mobile, Alabama with her husband during the Civil War and watched him march off to fight for the South, 2) returned North smack in the middle of the War (7 months pregnant and traveling through a country in upheaval) and 3) later married a part black sea captain and s ...more
Feb 03, 2012 Peggy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Eunice Richardson Stone Connolly was born white and poor in New England. She lived through the Civil War, having two brothers who fought for the North and a husband and brother-in-law on opposite side of the battlefield. For years Eunice struggled, working as a washer woman to support her two children while her first husband was off to war. It wasn't until she married her second husband, Sea Captain William Smiley Connolly, a man of African/European descent that she found true happiness and a go ...more
Shirley Brown
May 15, 2013 Shirley Brown rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Yes, this is my kind of book. I love the real life experiences of those who have gone on before and through their lives, even though very simple and not widely acclaimed, have perservered and lived their lives to the best and fullest that they could. Eunice Richardson was such a person, and even though she and her family lost their lives in a hurricane at sea, I think she was finally happy with her life and cirumstances, even though she missed her mother, sisters, and brother, Henry who disclaim ...more
Mar 12, 2014 Heather rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: school
Although this was a required reading for class, I actually liked it. Its not something I would have picked for myself but still. I enjoyed reading about eunice and her family; along with the struggles of life and poverty. i recommend this book to any history lover or anyone interested in a good read.
Betty McMahon
Oct 22, 2014 Betty McMahon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reads like a novel; thoroughly enjoyed this well-researched book. A true story of an impoverished woman in 19th century New England who bravely took matters into her own hands.
Dec 08, 2011 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read it for my History of American Women class, and I really enjoyed it. It starts off a little slow, but it's really readable. It's interesting both on a personal level - Eunice's story as a woman struggling with class, gender, and race in the nineteenth century is so sad and fascinating - but also the book gives a lot of insight into the general culture and social atmosphere of both the North and the South pre-,during, and post-Civil War. Captivating story, tons of historical detail and contex ...more
Russell King
Interesting perspective from a woman's view during civil war era. However, author had difficulty making a book out of too little detail. Too much redundancy and rehashing contained within.
Apr 17, 2012 Mary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I'd add at least a half star. The beginning a little slow because she is redundant at times.

But once into the history you find yourself not only involved in Eunice's life, her family's and communities but also getting new insights to the social attitudes,relationships and worries of the mid 1800s.

Rather than fictionalizing what she couldn't document about the family, she described the different attitudes, different customs, etc which Eunice might have follow.

For me her world became real, losing
Jul 07, 2013 Julie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Historical nonfiction that reads like historical nonfiction. The author wanted to stay true to history and only gave known facts. To fill in the pieces she used a lot of "maybe" and "perhaps" qualifiers, but I think it detracted from the overall story of Eunice Richardson Stone Connolly's unique life.

Honestly, this would have made great historical fiction if the author had given herself the liberty to embellish and fill in the story's blanks creatively. Martha Hodes is a professor of history af
Dec 11, 2015 Donia rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I didn't realize when this book was recommended to me that it was non fiction and that it would read as if it was a doctoral thesis. I appreciate the research and time it must have taken to put this book together but I did not enjoy this book. It was stilted, drawn out and repeated so much common history. As someone else pointed out, it would have made a great historical novel. Much of the history contained in Sea Captain's Wife has been extensively explored in the literature except for the inte ...more
Jul 02, 2013 LeeAnn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical
After initially dismissing this book as merely interesting, my opinion deepened to calling it an enthralling book. The author weaves Eunice's letters into historical information and painstaking research into the times of one woman, opening the reader's eyes to realities of pre- and post-Civil War realities of poorer women and the harsh economic realities they entertained as well as the realities of crossing the color line in love and marriage. It was interesting to me to realize how little love ...more
Margaret Sankey
Jul 23, 2011 Margaret Sankey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Eunice was a New England working-class woman who married a no-good carpenter who relocated her and their children to Alabama in 1860 and then signed up with the confederacy. Widowed, Eunice went back to New Hampshire poor and worked in the textile mills until being swept off her feet by and handsome, rich, kind sea captain from the Cayman islands....who was black. The author uses a remarkable set of letters in the Duke University archive to make Eunice's life an ideal vehicle for exploring race, ...more
Probably a 3 &1/2 stars
I thought this would be a historical fiction when I bought it, but it is more of a family history mixed with historical background, the author/historian says the history is "assisted by the art of speculation". It was a little difficult to get caught up in, and took me longer to read, but the story based on family letters made it much more interesting than a history text book. The abrupt ending to her life was sad, I wanted to read more! I wish I had a book like this b
Aug 02, 2009 Pamela rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Surprisingly readable, this book demonstrates fabulous research (I would love for this author to research my own family). Although the account of a daring interracial marriage in the 1800's was impressive, I found most interesting the hardships endured by this Northern family during the Civil War and the strong class distinctions in the North. Also memorable was the background on a prominent family in the Caymans before commercial development began.
Aug 07, 2007 Noreen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This account of Eunice Richardson Stone Connolly b. 1931 d. 1877 is well-researched. But I found the author was more concerned with proving her research than telling the story which almost overshadowed the subject of the book. So this wasn’t really told in story, but within the explanation of the times. However, the book is interesting as Eunice was an ordinary woman who ended up with a good life.
Claudia Mundell
Mar 26, 2012 Claudia Mundell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was interesting if you like to follow genealogy...the race relations of the Civil War period...or just see how families work. This woman was interested in climbing out of her class and did so but only by paying the price of crossing the color line in the 1800's. The backdrop of textile factories in New England is a little bonus.
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