Susanna Haswell Rowson (ROWZ-uhn), a prolific author and educator, lived during the years of the early American republic. She was the daughter of Susanna Musgrave Haswell, who died giving birth, and of William Haswell, whose family had lived in Portsmouth since the early 1600’s. Her father, a British naval lieutenant, left his daughter under a nurse’s care when he was sent to Massachusetts in 1763. William Haswell met and married Rachel Woodward, whose father was a successful merchant living in Hull on the Nantasket peninsula. In 1766 Haswell returned to England to bring Susanna back to Massachusetts, but the return voyage on the sailing brig proved dangerous. The ship’s provisions ran out when it navigated off course because of storms and flat winds. When the brig finally entered Boston Harbor, the wind, ice, and snow created treacherous conditions so that young Rowson was tied and lowered down the side of the ship. These dramatic events influenced her to include perilous sea adventures endured by characters in the novels Mary: Or, The Test of Honour, Rebecca, and Trials of the Human Heart.
During the years in Hull, Rowson began her self-education by reading historical, geographical, and literary works from her father’s small library. William Haswell’s loyalty to England resulted in confiscation of his property. The family was sent back to England in 1778, where Rowson and her father attended numerous theatrical performances. This began her long interest in writing and performing plays. By age sixteen, Rowson was the chief financial support for her family. Working as a governess, she developed her talents and skills in teaching and conversing, in singing, in needlework, and in knowledge of history, geography, and literature. Teaching concerned Rowson throughout her life, as both her fiction and nonfiction included social and moral lessons for readers, particularly young women readers.
Three key events in Rowson’s life occurred in 1786, the first when William Haswell and other loyalists petitioned claims for confiscated property and for imprisonment. He received a settlement and a pension, which enabled the family to be financially independent again. Rowson then met and married William Rowson, a hardware merchant who played trumpet, sang, and performed on...
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