One of the best things about writing Sunflower Sisters was researching the Civil War bonnet. All three main characters wear them and Anne-May the plantation mistress is especially frantic when the war cuts off her supply of new ones.
I was surprised at the many different types: mourning, casual, dressy, sunbonnets, bonnets for field work, bonnets for short social calls, for longer social calls, special bonnets for church, for young girls, bonnets for every season. I love these old photos of women in their bonnets and the pics at the bottom of those that have survived from the period. Can you find my very own bonnet?
One of the best memories I have is of my sister Polly Simpkins surprising me at the book launch party for my first book Lilac Girls, by coming down from her home on Martha’s Vineyard to The Corner Bookstore in New York. She’s one of those people who do those kind of things, goes out of her way to make other people’s lives better.
Though we couldn’t do in-person events this year, she’s supporting my new book Sunflower Sisters at her local bookstore, The Bunch of Grapes in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts, our mother’s favorite bookstore when she was alive, and is bringing books to all my mother’s friends. I think my mom would love that she’s doing that.
If you’d like a little shot of bliss in your day visit Polly’s blog here: https://acupofkarma.com/ Don’t miss her amazing bead page.
Do you have someone in your life who goes out of their way to make people happy?
The Print and Save Cheatsheet to the Woolsey Women, Caroline Ferriday’s family, from Sunflower Sisters
It’s hard to believe that pub day, March 30th, is almost here for Sunflower Sisters. So I wanted to start sharing some of the hidden history I discovered while writing it.
I’m starting with these wonderful Woolsey women that live in one-third of the chapters of Sunflower Sisters so you can get to know them a bit before we enter their lives. They’re the women Caroline Ferriday was so proud to be descended from. Abigail, Jane, Mary, Georgy, Eliza, Hattie and Carry and their mother Jane Eliza, known as Moremama to the family. Here’s a bit about each one, and a family tree at the end, which you may want to print and save as a helpful reading companion to Sunflower Sisters. I used it as a cheatsheet while I was writing, since there are a lot of sisters!
Image courtesy of the Bellamy-Ferriday House & Garden Archives, Bethlehem, Connecticut, owned and operated by Connecticut Landmarks.
The matriarch of the family, Jane Eliza Woolsey was by all accounts a remarkable woman. She grew up on a slave-holding farm in Virginia, raised by her Aunt Ricketts after her parents died. Jane Eliza hated everything about the institution of slavery and once she left the farm vowed to do everything she could to abolish it. She met Charles Woolsey on a street in New York City and both said it was love at first sight for them. Known as Moremama by her grandchildren, she instilled a sense of duty and compassion in her children that was passed down three generations to her great granddaughter Caroline Ferriday.
Abigail was the eldest Woolsey sister and had an incredible intellect. Her sisters kidded her quite a lot for never wanting to sew herself new dresses. During the war she ran a school that taught impoverished women to support themselves by working as seamstresses.
Jane Woolsey had auburn hair, a wonderful biting wit and while Abigail eschewed new clothes, Jane embraced them and amassed a lovely wardrobe. During the war she served as a Union nurse at many locations around the northeast and wrote a book about her nursing career, Hospital Days. She and Abigail were best friends and, after the war, having never married, took care of each other for the rest of their lives.
The Woolsey family considered Mary to be the great beauty of the family. She married Reverend Robert Howland, a cousin, and they had four daughters. She was an accomplished poet, the author of a famous poem that almost every Civil War soldier, North and South, carried in their pocket, A Rainy Day at Camp. People assumed the poem was written by a man and the family could not divulge that a woman had written it. Mary took that secret to her grave.
Georgeanna “Georgy” Woolsey is one of the three main point of view characters in Sunflower Sisters. With her quick mind, incredible work ethic and great sense of humor, she was a tremendous asset to the Sanitary Commission where she served as one of their first nurses.
Eliza Woolsey Howland married a Union Colonel Joseph Howland, a distant cousin, and lived a very privileged life in Beacon, New York on a vast estate named Tioronda. But having the means to do whatever she wanted didn’t stop Eliza from working as a nurse during the Civil War and following her husband as he went into battle. Georgy and Eliza were the best of friends their whole lives.
Harriet Roosevelt “Hatty” Woolsey is often mentioned in the Woolsey letters as the most giving and generous of the sisters and also a close companion to her mother. She married surgeon Hugh Lenox Hodge, Director of Surgery at the University of Pennsylvania, and the couple had two children together.
Caroline Woolsey Mitchell was an academically gifted young woman and, as the youngest daughter, longed to follow her accomplished sisters into war service. Left at home, she focused on underprivileged children in her volunteer work, at both the New York Orphan Asylum and the Colored Orphan Asylum in New York City. She married Edward Mitchell, a young man her sisters Georgy and Eliza had helped recover from malaria on a hospital ship, who later became a lawyer and headed the Republican party in New York City. The pair had one child, Eliza Mitchell Ferriday, Caroline Ferriday’s mother. Caroline was very close to her beloved Grandmother Woolsey and losing her, around the same time her father Henry Ferriday died, was a terrible blow for young Caroline.
The youngest Woolsey sibling, Charles, benefited greatly from having six older sisters. Having lost their father when they were young, Charles became the only male in the house and they doted on him. But he was expected to contribute to society as they all were and after Mrs. Woolsey succeeded in keeping her only son away from the worst part of battle during the war, she finally had to succumb to Charles’s wishes and allow him to join a regiment.
Holly Hollon’s Beautiful Sunflower Sisters Map Brings Jemma’s World Alive
I love Holly’s work so much. She has created maps for Lilac Girls and Lost Roses and this is her final one, for Sunflower Sisters, the last book about the Woolsey-Ferriday family. Since the book is not out yet–the pub date is March 30th– here’s a bit of context. There are three main characters: Georgeanna Woolsey, Caroline Ferriday’s great aunt, who aspired to being a nurse during the Civil War, wealthy Anne-May Watson, owner of Peeler Plantation, and Jemma, an enslaved young woman who suffers unimaginably at the hands of Anne-May and her overseer.
The map shows Jemma’s world–Peeler Plantation, based on the actual Sotterley Plantation, located in Hollywood, Maryland, a former tobacco plantation now a museum. It features Anne-May’s house, the cabin where Jemma and her family live, and several of the outbuildings like the smoke house where important scenes in the book take place. The fictitious Ambrosia Plantation next door is where Jemma’s twin sister Patience is enslaved, harvesting indigo.
It’s the end of an era but I hope it provides a sense of place for when you’re reading the book, a little sneak peek into Jemma’s life at the fictional Peeler Plantation.