Augustana professor’s book, collection of legacy books

University of Alberta Augustana Campus English professor Roxanne Harde’s recently published book, The Legacy Book in America, 1664-1792, is a collection of legacy texts written by five colonial American women and two girls.

Lori Larsen, Camrose Booster - 25 November 2021

University of Alberta Augustana Campus Faculty professor of English Roxanne Harde, along with former Augustana, English major, student Lindsay (Hartman) Yakimyshyn, worked on a book entitled The Legacy Book in America, 1664-1792 featuring a collection of legacy texts written by five colonial American women and two girls.

The poignant texts are filled with instructions to the women’s children, or in some cases husbands, biblical passages and comforting thoughts in anticipation of the authors’ possible death.

Harde, who is trained in early American literature, began the book in 2008. “I was just a couple of years into my position at Augustana and I had a Social Sciences Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) standard research grant to work on early American women’s writings. At the same time, I had been interested in legacy books as a women’s genre since my graduate school course work, when I took an early modern British literature course on women’s writings and one of the texts that popped up on that was a legacy book.”

Harde said that although legacy books are not necessarily written just by women, it seemed women wrote a lot of them through the early modern period, generally while pregnant, with a mindset that they were likely going to die in childbirth.

“I was fascinated with these legacy books,” said Harde, adding that the writings were not just about providing teachings on the physical survival, but the survival of their children’s souls. “These women were all deeply religious.

“And they were incredibly loving. The tone of them was pretty tender all the way through.”

As an Americanist working on the archives for her dissertation, Harde discovered early American legacy books by women.

“I thought this would be a nice offshoot that I could putter away at. I always wanted to do a scholarly transcribing from early text using archival text–early printed books, transcribe the book itself, then drop in all kinds of annotations to clarify what is actually going on in the book.”

Harde explained that the legacy books are filled with religious references and biblical passages. “Almost every sentence can yield up a note for some of these books.”

While working on the project, Harde was joined by Lindsay. “She took a class or two with me. I had this funding, so I hired her to be my research assistant, and out of that came a directive reading that she did with me on these legacy books.”

The two continued to work on annotations and transcriptions until the completion.

“The voices of women and especially girls through the colonial period were silenced,” said Harde. “These books would be published, almost like a Sunday book manual. Female parishioners would have been told to read these books.”

The first of the legacy books was by Anne Bradstreet, To My Dear Children (1664).

“She was actually the first published writer in the colony. She had been writing poetry her whole life and then immigrated in 1630 after having been in New England for not quite 20 years. Her brother-in-law collected them and took them to England, where they were published by a good publisher."

After Bradstreet’s death, all her poetry was collected by her children and put together, including the mother’s legacy book entitled To My Dear Children.

“It starts with a letter that her children would not have seen until after she died, and a bunch of poems and meditation, including divine and moral advice for her children.”

Harde said the children copied (handwrote) out the whole book so each would have their own copy. “Two of those copies survived, which were put together in the 1960s.”

Other texts in the book include: Susanna Bell, The Legacy of a Dying Mother to Her Mourning Children (1673); Sarah Goodhue, The Copy of a Valedictory and Monitory Writing (1681); Grace Smith, The Dying Mother’s Legacy (1712); Sarah Demick, Memoirs of the Life of Mrs. Sarah Demick (1792); Hannah Hill, A Legacy for Children (1714); Jane Sumner, Warning to Little Children (1792); Benjamin Colman, A Devout Contemplation on the Early Death of Pious and Lovely Children (1714); A Late Letter from a Solicitous Mother To Her Only Son (1746); and Memoirs of Eliza Thornton (1821).

“After Lindsay and I put the book together, I moved into American children’s literature, and the book sat stagnant for a while despite favourable peer reviews,” noted Harde.

Eventually, Harde put the book on her website in PDF format and about six months ago, she was contacted by Paul Royster, University of Nebraska Press, Open Access Book arm. Very pleased with the content, Royster asked Harde’s permission to publish the book.

“I have really wanted to have an open access book for quite some time, so everything just fell into place really beautifully.”

As so often happens with authors, working on pieces will trigger very personal emotions and experiences, and researching and subsequently producing this book was no exception. “One of the things it brought to me,” recalled Harde, “I had a miscarriage a really long time ago and I had not really done much with it (in the way of personal healing). It was during those days when a miscarriage was really more of a medical issue and once I was back on my feet, there was really no grieving process.

“Reading the tenderness and love and caring in these books actually helped me to write a short essay about my miscarriage, and for me, it was finally the grieving process.” Harde titled the essay, What I Hold and What I Give Away: Miscarriage, Memory and Mourning.

“For me, these texts really inspired how I was able to come to terms with it (the miscarriage) and decide what about that particular experience I would keep with me. It was very much the loving tones, loving kindness, that I saw in these legacy books.

“These women were also letting go of their lives, grieving for themselves and everything they were not going to get to experience,” expressed Harde.

“I lost all those experiences of this child that would never happen, and they lost all the experiences of mothering a child.”

To read more or to download The Legacy Book in America, 1664-1792, click here

This column originally appeared in the Camrose Booster on November 23, 2021.