Season 1, Episode 3: Widowhood & Remaking the Early American Family

In the summer of 1757, James Murray faced the difficult task of protecting his young family from another “sickly season” of tropical diseases among the rice swamps of early North Carolina. Was he successful? What happens when early American families faced the death of a parent? How did men and women experience widowhood in environments where life expectancies weren’t so great? In this episode, historian and host Kimberly Sherman explores how death could unmake families, while also prompting their re-creation. 

Released June 1, 2021

Listen to Season 1, Episode 3 on

On this episode:

  • Why many early Americans experienced widowhood earlier in life
  • How widowhood was a gendered experience
  • The legal ramifications of widowhood for women
  • The pros and cons of remarrying
  • The stepfamily in early America

Recommended Reading:

Joan R. Gundersen and Gwen Victor Gampel, “Married Women’s Legal Status in Eighteenth-Century New York and Virginia,” William and Mary Quarterly 39 (January 1982): 114–34.

Mary Beth Norton, “The Evolution of White Women’s Experience in Early America,” The American Historical Review 89 (1984): 593–619.

Molly G. Richter, “Widowhood in New France: Consequences and Coping Strategies,” French Colonial History 4 (2003): 49–61.

Lisa Wilson, A History of Stepfamilies in Early America (University of North Carolina Press, 2014).

Karin Wulf, Not All Wives: Women of Colonial Philadelphia (Cornell University Press, 2000).

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