Three Weddings—Two Rival Families In 1735 Richard Derby, a ship’s master in colonial Salem, Massachusetts, married Mary Hodges, a merchant's daughter.
The alliance was good business, and Mary Hodges was a willing bride. Richard prospered, retired from the sea, and founded his own merchant house. With one exception, Richard's sons went to sea. Hasket Derby stayed ashore, learning to manage the trading network his father built. George Crowninshield was the youngest of four brothers.
Three sailed for Salem merchants. Richard Derby enticed George to sail for him by matching George with his daughter Mary. George knew a good opportunity when he saw it. Mary wanted more than a house and children, but marriage was her only option. "Marry me," George said. "Be my partner." Eliza Crowninshield set her cap for a husband who would bring her wealth and status. She craved a brick house superior to any other dwelling in Salem. She wanted to dress at the height of fashion and entertain lavishly. Hasket Derby needed a wife as ambitious as he was. He expected to lead the Salem business community and required a wife to complement his achievements. Together, they became the "First Family” of Salem.
Against the backdrop of tensions between Great Britain and her American colonies, George and Hasket built their trading empires. After Americans gained independence in 1783, their sons sailed everywhere trade took place from the West Indies to the Baltic Sea, from Isle de France to Batavia, India, and China.
Inspired by true events, this is the story of two rival families who made their fortunes in the new United States of America.
By contrast, George’s sister Eliza aspires to great social standing in Salem, while Mary’s brother Haskett, striving to be his father’s favored son and run the family business himself someday, declares to Eliza “I need a wife as ambitious as I am.” Wagner-Wright alternates perspectives as she details these relationships and ambitions–and those of the next generation—over decades, amid dances, weddings, funerals, Thanksgiving dinners, and ever-worsening news about relations with England. Wagner-Wright covers the challenge, after the “chaos in Boston,” of longtime tea drinkers adopting coffee.
Such telling detail—about maritime trade, love, politics, and social mores in the American colonies—creates an immersive sense of the textures of life. “The rowdies in Boston have ruined everything!” Mary thinks, some four decades after we meet her. “Sons of Liberty, indeed. More like Sons of Disaster.” That level of detail and sweeping scope sometimes comes at the cost of narrative momentum, but never at the cost of character: Wagner-Wright lays bare the hearts, minds, and dreams of several generations, offering historical fiction fans the chance to feel what life might have been like.
Takeaway: Transportive historical novel of Colonial marriage, shipping, and life.
Comparable Titles: Natasha Boyd’s The Indigo Girl, Anya Seton’s The Winthrop Woman.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A-