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Six Englishwomen carving out a new life in the USA
on 3 April 2013
I must mention at the outset that I had a vested interest in this book as the fourth chapter is about my Great Great Great Aunt Rebecca Burlend who in 1831, with my Great Great Great Uncle John and their five youngest children, emigrated from her native Yorkshire to the fertile farmland of Illinois. After 15 years in Illinois she returned to Leeds with John Bickerdike who had travelled over to Griggsville to look at the land owned by his recently deceased brother George and whilst back in the UK she related the journey out to America and the hardships encountered in the first few years there to her eldest son Edward who was the Headmaster at Swillington school and produced the book which Sara Wheeler used during her visit to Illinois to follow up this story and include this chapter in "O My America".
In the other 5 chapters Sara looks at the lives of 5 other women who wrote about their experiences in America. Fanny Trollope (mother of Anthony Trollope) who went to Ohio, Fanny Kemble who wrote about the slavery she encountered in Georgia, Harriet Martineau and her life in Massachusetts, Isabella Bird's encounters in the Rockies and Catherine Hubback, neice of Jane Austen, who rode the new railroad out to San Francisco.
Of these, I preferred the latter two chapters out in the far west of America, but was also fascinated with the tales of Fanny Kemble and her horrific life married to a very aggresive husband and his attitude to slavery. I was however disapppointed that the first three chapters all had well over 30 pages yet the chapter about Rebecca only contained 17 pages. Had Sara Wheeler contacted either myself, or Diana Parsons a historian from Leeds University who had researched the history of the Burlend family in Illinois and written an updated narrative "In Search of Freedom", we could have supplied her with much more information for this chapter than it contained. Thankfully, after correspondance with Sara, additional content will now be added to the American version of the book when that is published later in the year.
Oveerall, however, this is a very good book, looking at the lives of these six women who had a second life in America and put pen to paper to recount their experiences in the "New World". It will appeal to both sexes and to all ages.