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Domestic Broils

Shakers, Antebellum Marriage, and the Narratives of Mary and Joseph Dyer

edited by Elizabeth De Wolfe

Publication Year: 2010

In 1813, Joseph Dyer, his wife Mary, and their five children joined the Shaker community in Enfield, New Hampshire. Joseph quickly adapted to the Shaker way of life, but Mary chafed under its strictures and eventually left the community two years later. When the local elders and her husband refused to release the couple’s children to Mary, she embarked on what would become a fifty-year campaign against the Shakers, beginning with the publication in 1818 of A Brief Statement of the Sufferings of Mary Dyer. The following year the Shakers countered by publishing Joseph’s A Compendious Narrative, a scathing attack on what the title page called “the character, disposition and conduct of Mary Dyer.” Reproduced here for the first time since their original publication, the Dyers’ dueling accounts of the breakup of their marriage form the core of Domestic Broils. In Mary’s telling, the deceptions of a cruel husband, backed by an unyielding Shaker hierarchy, destroyed what had once been a happy, productive family. Joseph’s narrative counters these claims by alleging that Mary abused her children, neglected her husband, and engaged in extramarital affairs. In her introduction to the volume, Elizabeth De Wolfe places the Dyers’ marital dispute in a broader historical context, drawing on their personal testimony to examine connected but conflicting views of marriage, family life, and Shakerism in the early republic. She also shows how the growing world of print facilitated the transformation of a private family quarrel into a public debate. Salacious, riveting, and immensely popular throughout New England, the Dyers’ narratives not only captured imaginations but also reflected public anxieties over rapid cultural change in antebellum America.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press


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pp. cover-cover

Title Page

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pp. iii-iii

Copyright Page

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pp. iv-iv

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

I first worked with Mary Marshall Dyer’s story as a graduate student in american and new england studies at Boston university. Seeking a paper topic for a course on women and nineteenth-century law and at the behest of my husband, a rare book dealer, I began to read and to take seriously the published works of a woman whose fifty-year campaign ...

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pp. 1-28

In August 1819, a desperate woman left a hurriedly scrawled note in attorney Mills Olcott’s kitchen. “If you should hear of my being confined among the Shakers,” Mary Dyer wrote, “I desire you would favor an afflicted female.” Mary had been troubled since 1815, when she abandoned the Shaker sect her entire family had joined just two years earlier....

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A Brief Statement of the sufferings of Mary Dyer, occasioned by the society called Shakers (1818)

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pp. 29-62

I, Mary Dyer, was lawfully married to Joseph Dyer, in the year 1799; We resided in Stewartstown, in the county of Coos, and State of New-Hampshire. We lived quietly together eleven years, though there had been some disagreeables by my husband’s being unsteady, and given sometimes to intoxication....

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A Compendious Narrative, elucidating the character, disposition and conduct of Mary Dyer, from the time of her marriage, in 1799, till she left the society called Shakers, in 1815 (1819)

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pp. 63-142

It is with reluctance and deep regret that I now undertake to disclose to the public that refractory and imperious disposition which MARY, my wife, retains; and that extraordinary inclination which she has ever mani-fested to rule and govern those with whom she had any concern; which is already sufficiently manifest to the candid, who have become personally....


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pp. 143-156


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pp. 157-160

Back Cover

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pp. back cov-back cov

E-ISBN-13: 9781613760161
E-ISBN-10: 1613760167
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558498075
Print-ISBN-10: 1558498079

Page Count: 128
Illustrations: 2 illus.
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 794700484
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Domestic Broils