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.