The Sea Captain’s Wife: A True Story of Love, Race, and War in the Nineteenth Century

Written by Martha Hodes
Review by Juliet Waldron

The genesis of The Sea Captain’s Wife is the author’s study of a collection of Civil War correspondence. These letters were not from gentry or intellectuals, but a lower middle class New England family. The time before the war was difficult for the Stones, small farmers dealing with the twin forces of immigration and industrialization. Eunice went to work in the mills, married a carpenter, and hoped for a better life. She and her husband moved to Alabama, but the Civil War broke out. Eunice then took the first unconventional step in her life. Seven months pregnant, she took her son and returned to New England, where she lived in great hardship, taking in laundry to survive. When the war ended, Eunice learned she was a widow. Despair and unrelenting labor loomed before her when a friend from the South reappeared in the startling shape of Captain Connolly of Grand Cayman, who not only loved Eunice, but was a man “of color.” Her strong religious convictions helped her find the courage to marry Captain Connolly, although her beloved brother never spoke to her again.

A highly readable piece of research which provides an unusual angle on issues of race and the role of women, this is feminist scholarship at its best.