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One Colonial Woman's World

The Life and Writings of Mehetabel Chandler Coit

Michelle Marchetti Coughlin

Publication Year: 2012

This book reconstructs the life of Mehetabel Chandler Coit (1673–1758), the author of what may be the earliest surviving diary by an American woman. A native of Roxbury, Massachusetts, who later moved to Connecticut, she began her diary at the age of fifteen and kept it intermittently until she was well into her seventies. A previously overlooked resource, the diary contains entries on a broad range of topics as well as poems, recipes, folk and herbal medical remedies, religious meditations, and financial accounts. An extensive collection of letters by Coit and her female relatives has also survived, shedding further light on her experiences. Michelle Marchetti Coughlin combs through these writings to create a vivid portrait of a colonial American woman and the world she inhabited. Coughlin documents the activities of daily life as well as dramas occasioned by war, epidemics, and political upheaval. Though Coit’s opportunities were circumscribed by gender norms of the day, she led a rich and varied life, not only running a household and raising a family, but reading, writing, traveling, transacting business, and maintaining a widespread network of social and commercial connections. She also took a lively interest in the world around her and played an active role in her community. Coit’s long life covered an eventful period in American history, and this book explores the numerous—and sometimes surprising—ways in which her personal history was linked to broader social and political developments. It also provides insight into the lives of countless other colonial American women whose history remains largely untold.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press


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pp. ix-x

Title Page

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List of Illustrations

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pp. xi-xiv

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pp. xv-xvi

To begin, I want to express my deep appreciation of the scholars who have enriched the field of early American women’s history through their dedicated and innovative efforts. I have been particularly inspired by the work of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and Mary Beth Norton. ...

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pp. xvii-xxii

Despite the great strides made in the field of early American women’s history over the past few decades, only a small number of primary sources written by women have yet been made widely available. It is true that few women in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries left behind written records of any kind, and fewer still of these writings have survived; ...

A Note about the Diary

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pp. xxiii-xxvi

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Statement of Editorial Method

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pp. xxvii

The text of the diary and letters included in this book reflects a near-literal transcription, maintaining as closely as possible the authors’ original spelling, capitalization, and punctuation, none of which were standardized in colonial America. ...

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1. The Years before the Diary, 1673–1688

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pp. 1-20

To paraphrase John Milton, as morning shows the day, so childhood shows the woman. While few facts are available regarding Mehetabel Chandler Coit’s early years, it is clear from her later writings that the events and circumstances of her childhood and adolescence played a major role in the formation of her identity. ...

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2. Coming of Age, 1688–1693

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pp. 21-36

Mehetabel’s move to New Roxbury not only launched her on a new life course, but it also seems to have motivated her to begin keeping a diary. Such dislocations and major life changes have often impelled people to take up diary writing. Mehetabel’s age at the time of the move may also have played a role; ...

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3. Marriage and Motherhood, 1694–1696

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pp. 37-56

Mehetabel noted the exact date of her arrival in new London in her fifth chronological diary entry: “novembr 2: 1694 I came to new london with my brother John Chandler & his wife.” She did not disclose why she accompanied John, his wife Mary, and their one-year-old son, John, to New London, or whether she had ever been there before. ...

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4. Establishing Roots, 1697–1706

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pp. 57-80

Mehetabel had married into one large and established new London family and was related through her mother to another. nonetheless, it may have taken her some years to set down her own roots in the community. her involvement with the Puritan church, which she seems to have attended regularly ...

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5. Comings and Goings, 1707–1711

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pp. 81-102

For whatever reason, the highest concentration of dated entries in Mehetabel’s diary falls in the years 1707, 1708, and 1709.1 (This does not take into account the other, undated material in the diary: the recipes, medical remedies, and quotations, which she may have recorded over several decades.) ...

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6. Mistress and Matriarch, 1712–1725

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pp. 103-126

After Sarah’s death, her children by William Coit—twelve-year-old Daniel and nine-year-old William—likely moved into Mehetabel and John’s home, as John had been appointed their guardian after their father died.1 by late that year, then, Mehetabel’s household would have been a full one, ...

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7. Letters from Martha, 1726–1730

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pp. 127-151

Mehetabel and John sent Martha on a visit to friends in boston the spring following the death of her sister. The trip is documented by a series of six letters, which have miraculously survived, that Martha wrote to Mehetabel between May and July 1726. during this time, Martha stayed with John Slaughter, a sea captain, ...

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8. Transitions, 1731–1744

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pp. 152-174

Prior to their marriage in the summer of 1731, Martha received at least two love letters from Daniel, who at the time was in New Haven finishing his tutoring obligations at Yale. Like his earlier letter to Mehetabel and John, whom he here refers to as “ye tender & dear arbiters of my fate,” ...

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9. Endings, 1745–1758

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pp. 175-188

John left behind a detailed will, which he had drawn up in 1741. Since it was customary for a couple to discuss the terms that would be established for a wife’s maintenance in the event her husband predeceased her, it is likely that Mehetabel and John did as well. John’s will contained provisions that were similar to most other men’s wills of the time: ...

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pp. 189-192

Mehetabel’s children, like their mother before them, lived long, eventful lives. John, perhaps, experienced the most personal misfortune, but he also displayed an ability to try to move beyond his troubles. in the single year after his father’s death, he lost his twenty-five-year-old son John, ...

Appendix: Full Text of Mehetabel Chandler Coit’s Diary, 1688–1749

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pp. 193-218


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pp. 219-248


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pp. 249-256

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781613762165
E-ISBN-10: 161376216X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558499676
Print-ISBN-10: 1558499679

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 14 illus.
Publication Year: 2012