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Legacy books in colonial America were instruments for the transmission of cultural values between generations: the dying mother (usually) instructing and advising children on the path to salvation and heavenly reunions. They were a popular and influential form of women’s discourse that distilled the ideologies of the religious establishment into practical and emotional lessons for lay persons, especially the young.

This collection draws together legacy texts written by colonial American women and girls: five mother’s legacy books and two legacies by children, organized here chronologically. These legacies were writ­ten in anticipation of dying, making awareness of death central to the texts. All are highly personal, revealing the thought processes and emotive patterns of their authors, and all are meant for the comfort and instruction of the loved ones these dying women and girls were leaving behind. Published between 1664 and 1792, these texts provide insight into early New England culture through to the first years of the republic. Included are: • Anne Bradstreet, To My Dear Children (1664) • 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 & Lovely Children (1714) • A Late Letter from a Solicitous Mother To Her Only Son (1746) • Memoirs of Eliza Thornton (1821)


978-1-60962-213-8 e-book

Publication Date



Zea Books


Lincoln, Nebraska


colonial, New England, Puritans, family, Lergacy, parenting, children, death


American Literature | American Popular Culture | Children's and Young Adult Literature | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Literature in English, North America | Nonfiction | Other American Studies | Poetry | Religious Education | Women's Studies


Introduction, notes, and volume arrangement copyright © 2021 Roxanne Harde and Lindsay Yakimyshyn.

The Legacy Book  in America, 1664–1792