Dreams of the Future, Ghosts of the Past

Monday Morning Musings:

“bigotry is the disease of ignorance, of morbid minds; enthusiasm of the free and buoyant. education & free discussion are the antidotes of both. . . .I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past. so good night! I will dream on, always fancying that mrs Adams and yourself are by my side marking the progress and the obliquities of ages and countries.”

–“To John Adams from Thomas Jefferson, 1 August 1816,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017,

 

 

A porcelain ghost looked long

and laughed delicious poetry,

remember this

she said,

or it is over

 

And so, we remember over and over

forgetting what we knew

embracing new ideas,

loving them each time as original and unique

and they are

every time

dreams of the future, history of the past

 

We walk cobblestone streets and brick drives

chasing ghosts

followed by shadows

whispering glorious words

“We the people”

history of the past

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Janet Givens and her husband, the past, present, and future all around them.

 

But under a dying star

a naked fool celebrates

his courtiers cheer

his nonexistent suit of clothes

as darkness falls

he eats a second scoop of ice cream

 

Still, we remember

sometimes forgetting to remember

until we remember again

We the People

history of the past and dreams of the future

 

On a day in May

that feels like July

perhaps like the summer of 1787

when a group of men

(white men, only men)

made compromises  and wrote We the People

but on this day,

a day in their future,

we walk with friends to see and read about the past

to hear and read the lofty words

of men who had lived and fought a revolution

and though they themselves were flawed

still their words glow

and grow

from the past, through the present, and into the future

visions they had and hopes

dreams that have been realized

and worlds they could not imagine

dreams of things that are yet to be

 

I gaze at the beautiful handwriting

of educated people

who read and valued learning

and think of misspelled Twitter rants.

We’ve forgotten

and it’s time to remember

dreams of the future, history of the past

 

We’ve added and clarified

giving freedom to people who were enslaved

giving rights to women

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ruling on free speech, freedom of religion, individual rights versus the state

fighting a civil war

(yes it was about slavery)

prohibiting the manufacturing of and sale of alcohol

and then making it legal again–

after so many lost jobs and the government lost revenue–

and there was more crime

let’s face it

We the People like to drink

from the past of George Washington’s distillery

to the future of new breweries, vineyards, and manufacturers,

the dreams of We the People

 

 

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This history swirls about us

all the time

because of a revolution

and a convention

a document that still lives

expanding like our nation

built on a strong foundation

like the building

we see as we sit outside on that warm day

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but life is not complete without some treats

(We the People like our sweets)

our nation built on bitter and sweet

dreams of the future, history of past

 

 

Two men, Adams and Jefferson

one, a Massachusetts man against slavery

(though not exactly an abolitionist)

the other, a Virginia plantation owner and slaveholder

dissimilar in so many ways from appearance to beliefs

but both admiring each other

both enjoyed the wit and education of some women

while disregarding them as citizens

with their own rights

and bodies

(I’m looking at you, T.J. Sex with a slave is coerced.)

their friendship suspended after the Election of 1800,

but later renewed,

bridged, despite their differences

liked a structure spanning the gulf between two disparate lands

like the bridge we need now

for We the People

as we dream of the future

and remember the past

and hope that it is not over

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Leaving Philadelphia, heading to New Jersey over the Ben Franklin Bridge

 

For those unfamiliar with it, the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution begins with the words, “We the People.” You can read more about it here.

My friend, Janet Givens, was in Philadelphia with her husband to celebrate an event. I will leave her to talk about it, as I’m certain she will in an upcoming post. We visited the National Constitution Center , ate a delicious lunch at Farmicia restaurant, and stopped at Shane’s Confectionery, which has been a candy store on that site since 1863.

 

Day and Night, Hope 2017: NaPoWriMo

Monday Morning Musings:

“They lived in narrow streets and lanes obscure,

Ghetto and Judenstrass, in mirk and mire;

Taught in the school of patience to endure

The life of anguish and the death of fire.

 

All their lives long, with the unleavened bread

And bitter herbs of exile and its fears,

The wasting famine of the heart they fed,

And slaked its thirst with marah of their tears.”

From, “The Jewish Cemetery at Newport,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, full text with annotations here.

 

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,

Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,

Here once the embattled farmers stood

And fired the shot heard round the world.

–from “Concord Hymn” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

April came in with showers, dreary and cold

seemingly, spring was stopped, would not unfold

with flowers and green

then, suddenly, it took hold.

 

We took my mother out to lunch

sat on the porch to enjoy the air

watched dogs pull the owners, sniff,

noses in the air, aware

of scents in the air, of food, and treats

of magic there

 

It was a day she thanked us for

to enjoy the sights

(what she can still see)

to have the food

(not her typical fare)

to feel the air

and hear the ducks quack

and the geese honk,

in her ninety-fourth spring,

another voyage around the sun.

 

 

Passover began that night

but in our crazy way,

the family celebration,

(our celebration of family)

was not until five nights later.

Was it just me thinking about freedom

and how Passover seems more relevant this year?

 

My family arrived,

we missed a few,

sisters, a daughter and her wife,

we hug and kissed,

poured the wine, and began,

taking turns reading from a Haggadah

I put together several years ago,

it probably needs to be updated,

but still, one grand-nephew laughed at the jokes,

“Tonight we drink of four glasses of wine—unless you’re driving”

and all took part in the reading of the Passover Play,

 

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rewritten every Passover,

one daughter’s work this year,

with Trump jokes, Hamilton references, and lines about family quirks and neuroses,

 

 

We said,“Dayenu,” and attempted to sing “Go Down Moses”

(not very successfully)

then we ate,

and ate,

and ate some more,

 

 

my great-niece, played her ukulele,

and my daughter sang

(I miss hearing that voice)

and then it was time for dessert,

we took pictures,

 

wrapped up leftovers,

and forgot the Afikomen,

after everyone left,

the cats came out to sniff

noses in the air,

aware of scents in the air,

on the tables

and through the windows,

Was Elijah there?

 

The next morning,

I saw the moon,

her dark half

not quite hidden

darkness and light

opposites,

black and white

good and evil,

April’s changeable moods

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Moon at dawn

In the newspaper,

I read about the new Museum of the American Revolution

to open on April 19th,

the anniversary of the Battles at Lexington and Concord

the shots heard round the world,

it’s the anniversary, too, of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising,

1943,

lasting for almost a month

captive Jews,

desperate,

fighting for their lives

fighting for freedom

 

The first American president,

a slaveholder,

led an army,

fighting for freedom,

he met with the enslaved poet

while he was still a general,

after she had written poetry in his honor,

as president, he met with leaders of the Touro synagogue

in Rhode Island, championing the Bill of Rights

and freedom of religion

 

Another poet would visit that same synagogue in the next century,

he’d write strangely prescient lines of ghettos, starving, and fire,

would write of the Passover meal with its bitter herbs and salty tears

in the twenty-first century,

we would still think of that time,

of all those times,

we thought war would be over

dip spring greens into salty water,

oh brave, new world—

 

We laugh, eat, drink, and sing at Passover,

holding evil at bay,

the table,

charmed circle,

is filled with more non-Jews than Jews,

and more non-believers

than believers,

 

Around us

(Do you hear them?

Do you see them in the shadows?)

ghosts from the past,

echoes,

ghosts of memories,

memories held like ghosts,

flitting at the edge of consciousness

dancing in a ring,

(they all fall down)

ancestors, known and unknown,

the blood of slaves,

the blood of the lamb,

the blood of men, women, and children who cry

who die,

even now

 

My family,

crazy like the April weather,

how I love you,

and love is love is love is love is love

and so, we love,

even as the ghosts hover,

just beyond us

hidden,

the dark side of the moon,

and we laugh,

and we eat,

and we hope

 

 

This is Day 17 of NaPoWriMo. Today’s prompt is to write a nocturne. Perhaps I’ve written half a nocturne.

I am honored to be today’s featured poet for the poem I posted yesterday, “If Only.”

 

 

January 20, 2017: A Quadrille

In 1799, George Washington died,

the nation cried,

with solemn faces,

tears leaving traces,

salt licks of grief.

No relief,

we look at the past,

and fear the future casts

black shadows—so we mourn,

torn

between hope’s whispers, freedom’s shout,

resist, watch out.

 

Another quadrille for Dverse.

 

February Surprise: I Carry Your Heart

Monday Morning Musings:

My daughters and I threw a surprise 60th birthday party for my husband this past weekend, just before Valentine’s Day. He thought he was going to a party for one of our daughters. Today is the official celebration of Washington’s birthday (now always on a Monday). It is sometimes called “Presidents’ Day” and combined with Lincoln’s birthday. The line “I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart)” comes from E.E. Cummings.

 

On February 22nd,

When I was young,

We colored and cut,

We painted and pasted

Images of George Washington

Our first president.

A true commander-in-chief

Tested in battle.

The American Cincinnatus,

The first US President,

A slaveholder,

Fighting for freedom.

He carried the hopes of a nation

In his heart.

 

Our February schooldays,

Included holiday units,

George Washington and Abraham Lincoln,

Whose birthday we celebrated on the twelfth of February.

And so we carried home to our parents

Our construction paper masterpieces,

Revolutionary era silhouettes,

And tales of truthful George and Honest Abe,

Two leaders in war time–

One war to create a new nation

The other to keep it from dissolving.

Revolution and Civil War,

Battle lines crossed, battlefields bloodied.

And as for politics. Do you think it uncivil now?

Look again at the past.

Early campaigns filled with slander, lies, and duels.

Representative Preston Brooks

Beat Senator Charles Sumner with a cane

In a senate chamber in 1856.

Remember that?

I can imagine it today–

Perhaps battery by selfie stick

After a series of vitriolic tweets.

Any subject is possible.

But then it was a bill, new territories,

Popular Sovereignty, Bleeding Kansas,

And Civil War.

Slavery,

Owning other humans.

Indefensible, irredeemable

And yet, we forget

Events long gone, now

Backlit, perhaps a bit of uplighting,

To infuse a rosy glow

And make the past seem romantic?

O Captain! my Captain!

O heart!

Crimes of the past we carry, along with our celebrations.

 

We also celebrated Valentine’s Day in school,

A holiday that combines ancient Roman fertility rites

And Christian saints.

There’s a combination.

Charles, Duke of Orleans, wrote one of the first Valentines

In 1415 to his wife.

He had been captured at the Battle of Agincourt

And wrote poetry while imprisoned in the Tower of London.

He was held captive for twenty-four years,

Plenty of time to reflect and write, though I think it

Just a teeny bit drastic for a writer’s retreat, don’t you?

But no such poetry for our school day parties.

We had pre-printed Valentines–

Roses are red, and violets are blue–

To place in the paper bags decorated with hearts,

A Valentine for each classmate.

We had cupcakes and juice,

Sweet crumbs clinging to our fingers

Like dreams in our hearts

We carried both throughout the day.

 

Our first date, was a school Christmas dance.

Just before my birthday,

A cold December night,

But we were warm with teenage hopes and expectation,

The giddiness of youth.

My mom told my aunt, you “seemed like a nice boy.”

I don’t know what your parents said.

We’ve celebrated many birthdays, and Valentine’s, too,

Since that long ago night.

I’ve carried your heart with me (I carry it in my heart).

 

This year you were surprised

Both by the passage of years–

Are we both nearly 60?–

And by the party.

I worried about the last minute snow

That people would not show,

That things would not go as planned.

But all went went.

And you,

Yes, surprised,

And touched, I think,

By the love that people carry for you

In their hearts.

 

Our daughters, also with February births,

Like you and our Presidents. Our

Family celebrations carried through the month.

We had Valentine’s birthday parties for them

When they were young.

Little girls making heart-shaped cards,

Pink and red, glitter and glue,

Gifts for us and for each other.

Chocolate cakes, sundaes with mountains of toppings,

And sleepovers in the living room.

Later they had their own Valentines,

High school dances, and college romances.

And now our babies are grown

They’ve found love

Beyond parents, friends, and pets

Though those remain, of course,

Because love grows when it is nurtured

It is infinite and endless.

It cannot be contained, though it is carried.

There can never be too much love

To fit,

To hold,

To carry in my heart

With your heart.

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Valentine’s Day Wine and Chocolate at Monroeville Winery

The Water is Wide, but It Connects Us All

Monday Morning Musings:

“The water understands

Civilization well”

–Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Water”

There’s a spin instructor

At my gym.

She sometimes lifts her water bottle

And says, “community drink.”

When she says that

I picture a group of people

In a smoky old tavern

Passing around a mug of ale.

History brain.

And as soon as I think “history brain,”

Referring to myself

You understand,

I begin to ponder drinking in

Revolutionary Era America.

At the City Tavern

In Philadelphia

The bill for “55 Gentlemans Dinner & Fruit”

In September 1787

Went mainly for alcohol.

Madera, Claret, Porter, and Beer,

And don’t forget the “7 Large Bowels of Punch.”*

George Washington

Had a distillery at Mount Vernon,

The largest one in North America

At that time.

His hogs were fed the slops.

No waste on the farm.

Perhaps his neighbors

Drank to his health

With the whiskey

They bought from him.

Eighteenth-century toasting

At the table could be an ordeal.

With each guest toasting the health

Of everyone there

And on

And on

Till they could toast no more.

But perhaps it was better

Than drinking water in the city.

Dr. Benjamin Rush once

Lauded the murky water

Of an urban well,

Saying that its mineral waters

Could cure a host of conditions

From flatulence to rheumatism.

But it turned out its peculiar scent and taste

Was due to its connection to a privy.

Ooops.

I guess the doctor is not always right.

Well, well.

There’s a scene in A Town Like Alice

Where an Englishwoman

Returns to a village

In Malaya,

A place where she lived and toiled

During the war

After the Japanese took control

And force-marched her with

Other women and children

Over hundreds of miles.

She had money after the war,

An inheritance,

I think,

And so she goes back

To ask the headman of the village

To let the women have a well.

A small thing

But huge to them.

The scene has stayed in my mind

After all these years.

And I think about how in many parts of the world

Women and children are at risk every day

Because they must fetch the water used for

Cooking,

Drinking,

And washing

From miles away.

They can be assaulted

Or kidnapped

Or killed.

And women in some places

Do not have sanitary facilities

During their monthly periods

And so they cannot go to school

Or to work.

Water.

Those of us who have it

Take for granted that we can turn on a spigot

And there it will be.

And I just realized we haven’t seen

The Walking Dead survivors boiling water

To drink

Not that I remember anyway,

I could be wrong.

But then I guess if you’re already

Infected with a zombie virus

It doesn’t matter much

About the water.

Water from faucets,

Wells, springs, and rivers,

The Amazon,

The Nile,

The Thames,

The Tiber,

The Ganges,

And the Delaware

That flows not far

From my door.

The Delaware River from Red Bank Battlefield

The Delaware River from Red Bank Battlefield

All giving rise to cities

And civilizations.

And the oceans–

The magnificence of whales

Killed to supply people with

Oil for lights and corset stays.

The tides call to them

And to us.

I think about my four-year-old daughter

Twirling and jumping on the beach,

Sheer delight at seeing the ocean

For the first time.

Then the day both girls

Were terrified by a storm

That arose suddenly

On that same beach

As if Poseidon himself

Had awakened–

But was not very happy.

Nothing like a grouchy god.

Air and water blended

Into a mist,

The sand whipped us

In tiny, stinging pellets

As the wind howled

And the waves crashed.

And then just as quickly,

All was once again calm.

Water

And life.

Playful otters

Who cavort in rivers

And salmon that swim upstream

To spawn.

Fanciful beings who

Live between water and land,

Selkies,

Mermaids,

The Lady of the Lake,

And Nessie, too.

We build bridges over troubled waters.

And we sing in the rain.

We paint water lilies

And glance at reflections,

Illusions

And ripples

Time passing

On the water.

I'm fascinated by reflections on the water. Knight Park

I’m fascinated by reflections on the water.
Knight Park

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We humans spend nine months

In a fluid-filled sac,

Emerging from the womb

To gasp, breathe,

And let out that first cry

Announcing,

“I am here.”

Like our ancestors

Who surfaced from the sea

To build a life on land.

But still,

The water calls.

Spinning thoughts

As I pedal

And the wheels turn.

Connections,

Community,

Though the water is wide.

Raise your glass.

Drink.

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Sources:

* “Entertainment of George Washington at City Tavern, Philadelphia, September 1787

http://teachingamericanhistory.org/convention/citytavern/

Merril D. Smith, The World of the American Revolution: A Daily Life Encyclopedia (ABC-CLIO, 2015).

A Town Like Alice (miniseries 1981 with Helen Morse, Bryan Brown, and Gordon Jackson) based on Nevil Shute’s 1950 novel.

There are so many versions of the folk song, “The Water is Wide.” Here is James Taylor singing it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=opfEk_Yoksk

3 Quotes 3 Days: Day 3

“For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”

–George Washington to The Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island (August 1790)

Full text here.

I decided to focus on an entirely different type of quotation for my last day of the challenge. I was reminded of these words as I reviewed my page proofs for my forthcoming book, The World of the American Revolution: A Daily Life Encyclopedia.  I love this sentence for its elegant wording, as well as its sentiments. The words are a reminder of what the US and its citizens aspire to when we are at our very best. In the past few months, here in the US, words and actions have gathered, stormed, and swirled with tornado-like winds of change. We’ve had recrimination and remorse; clemency and compassion. We’ve seen race riots and murders, flags raised and lowered, the past reexamined, and love is love made legal. We’ve seen people gathering in anger and spouting hate, and strangers and friends coming together in love and support of one another.

The quotation is also a reminder that most people are complex, complicated, and contradictory creatures. George Washington was known more for his leadership qualities than for his way with words. Here, however, he makes a statement that is simple and eloquent. I am struck by the phrase, “which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”

Yet, we know he was a slaveholder. His considerable wealth was built on the backs of men and women who served him and his family. (It also helps that he married a wealthy, slaveholding widow.) In this letter, George Washington discusses religious toleration, but he also refers to classes of people having the same rights. Most likely he did not stop to think at all of the irony of his sentiments or to consider the condition of the people who he held in bondage.

To those who venerate without question our “Founding Fathers,” it is wise to remember that they were not without flaws. No person or nation is entirely good or entirely evil. We are all fallible. Those who think heroes are perfect or invincible would be wise to remember Achilles. It is our flaws that make us human and not gods. At the same time, wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if we all aspired to do our best and saw the best in one another?

For a bit more on Washington and slavery, see these links:

Mt. Vernon: http://www.mountvernon.org/research-collections/digital-encyclopedia/subject/slavery-and-enslaved-community/

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_vault/2015/07/10/george_washington_and_slavery_1761_newspaper_ad_seeking_four_fugitive_slaves.html

This is Day 3 of the 3 Quotes 3 Days Challenge. Jane Dougherty, prolific writer of stories and poems, nominated me for this challenge: to post a favorite quote for three successive days.

For the last day of my quotation challenge, I’m nominating Frank of A Frank Angle. He always has a lot to say on all sorts of subjects, and I’m sure he has many favorite quotations!

What is a Father?

“It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.”

–Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

As millions throughout history have discovered, it is easy to become a father—a few thrusts done in love, lust, or violence, and the biological act is completed and the father can walk away if he chooses to. It is much more difficult to actually be a parent to the child that arrives nine months later.

         Concepts of fatherhood vary across the globe. Through the ages, concepts of fatherhood have changed in Western culture. When British colonists came to what is now the United States, families were idealized as “little commonwealths.” Fathers were considered to be the head of the household, as a king was the head of a nation. By the mid-eighteenth century, the concept was changing, as were ideas of marriage, and many couples expected to be equal and loving partners within the marriage. Although men still had charge of business and politics, the domestic sphere became women’s domain, and so did most matters regarding child rearing.*

         Concepts of American fatherhood have changed within my lifetime. I was a quiet ninth-grade student when I first met my future father-in-law; I was a bit terrified. He was a stern father to his two sons, the epitome of the button-downed fifties man, the man in the gray flannel suit. Yet, there was no doubt that he loved his sons deeply. He mellowed as a grandfather, allowing our two little girls to wrap their arms and whims around him, as they prattled about things he was clueless about. What did he know about little girls? But he would sing, “C is for Cookie,” and played with them. Later, he became the adored “Grandpa With a Cane” to my brother-in-law and sister-in-law’s son.

         A blogger friend and I have both commented in separate posts that our fathers did not know how to do laundry. My mother said that my father never changed any of our diapers, and she handled the household duties and childcare arrangements (as well as working full-time in their antique business). But my father played with my little sister and me. He took us on field trips—and after they were divorced, he took us on journeys to museums, movies, and historical sites. He even took our friends with us on vacations to the Jersey shore.

         My own husband was a “hands-on” father from the beginning. While women of an older generation marveled at this, I expected it. One summer when I had a fellowship and he was home from teaching, he would take the girls to the pool each afternoon, and I would meet them there later. “Isn’t he a wonderful father, taking the little girls to the pool?” they gushed. Well, yes, it was wonderful—in the same way that it was wonderful, when I, their mother, took them when he was at work. I guess that shows how times have changed.

         Fathers of all sorts are found in mythology, religion, history, and literature. For example, there’s Zeus, father of the gods, to the ancient Greeks. Often pictured with a thunderbolt, he ruled gods and humans–and fathered many of each. The Judeo-Christian-Muslim God is also portrayed as a father, and the bible is filled with patriarchs, such as Abraham. Kings and tyrants (sometimes one and the same) are often referred to as fathers of the country, but their literal fatherhood has been an issue when it came to succession—think of Henry VIII and his six wives.

         Here in the US, we refer to the Revolutionary Era leaders as “the Founding Fathers.” We know now that they were both ordinary and extraordinary. Many of them had lofty minds, but feet of clay—they were human, not demigods. George Washington, “father of our country,” was tall, imposing, and popular. He was elected unanimously to be the first president of the United States. He suffered from dental problems, and he and his wife Martha never had children of their own, although he helped to raise the children from her previous marriage, and then two grandchildren. Washington was a slaveholder. He freed his slaves in his will but was unable to free the slaves belonging to his wife.

         Fathers abound in literature, and they are as varied as literature itself. The tragic King Lear descending into madness to Pride and Prejudice’s Mr. Bennet trying to cope with and marry off his daughters. Jean Valjean raises a daughter as his own and crazed Jack Torrance of The Shining tries to kill his own son. The heroic Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird is probably my favorite literary father.

         What is a father? I don’t know. Perhaps to paraphrase the famous phrase by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart on obscenity, “I know one when I see it.”

         What are some of your favorite literary or historical fathers—good or bad?

 

*This is vastly oversimplified. For more on marriage and family in colonial and Revolutionary America, here are just a few suggestions:

Morgan, Edmund S. 1944. The Puritan Family: Religion and Domestic Relations in Seventeenth-Century New England. New York: Harper and Row.

Morgan, Jennifer L. 2004. Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Norton, Mary Beth. 1996. Liberty’s Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750-1800, with a new preface. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Smith, Merril D. 1991. Breaking the Bonds: Marital Discord in Pennsylvania, 1730-1830. New York: NYU Press.

Wilson, Lisa. 1999. Ye Heart of a Man: Domestic Life of Men in Colonial New England. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.