Alleviating the pain of separation: transatlantic family relations at the turn of the nineteenth century

In August 1800, John Singleton Copley and Susanna (Sukey) Clarke Copley “lost” their eldest child, Elizabeth (Betsy), aged 30. Betsy did not die - the family's grief stemmed from a happy event: her marriage to the affluent Bostonian Gardiner Greene, whose wealth was built on his profitable Demerara plantation, an area now in the country of Guyana. Shortly after Betsy's wedding, she left her family and home in George Street behind to return again to her birthplace, Boston. While sad for the Copley family, this separation, and the letters it begot, give us a view into early 19th-century family life in the particular, but common, situation of family separation. Betsy carefully saved many of the letters her mother, brother and sister sent her, and this partial record of the first year of the family's long transatlantic conversation provides the basis for this project, which explores the materials, news and sentiments important in 19th-century Anglo/American family life and the broader 19th-century world.


Maya Riser-Kositsky