Sewing Girl's Tale : A Story of Crime and Consequences in Revolutionary America
by Sweet, John Wood

About This Bookxi
1 Rescue
2 Mother Carey
3 Daylight
4 The Rake
5 The Pilot
6 Gatekeepers
7 The Prosecutrix
8 Closing Arguments
9 Outrage
10 Seduction
11 Recovery
Appendix: Reconstructing Lanah Sawyer's World279(8)
Illustration Credits353(2)

"A riveting historical drama that tells the story of the first rape trial on record in American history and the fault lines of class privilege and gender bias that it exposed, showing how much has changed over two centuries and how much has not"-

John Wood Sweet is a professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the former director of UNC's Program in Sexuality Studies. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Mellon Foundation, the National Humanities Center, the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at UNC, and the Gilder Lehrman Center at Yale, among others. His first book, Bodies Politic: Negotiating Race in the American North, 1730-1830, was a finalist for the Frederick Douglass Prize. He was named a Top Young Historian by the History News Network and has served as an Organization of American Historians Distinguished Lecturer. He lives in Chapel Hill with his husband, son, and daughter.

Sweet (Bodies Politic, 2003) unravels the politics, social history, and trial surrounding the rape of Lanah Sawyer. The 17-year-old seamstress met Harry Bedlow, a man nearly 10 years her senior widely known around New York City as a rake, in the summer of 1793. After being sexually assaulted in a back room of a brothel, Lanah did something that very few women in Revolutionary-era America did: she brought Bedlow to trial. The ensuing trial and not-guilty verdict rocked the city, leading to everything from Lanah's stepfather filing additional lawsuits to riots in the city, where protesters tore down the site of the assault. The history of Manhattan, Revolutionary-era politics, class differences, and the social history of sex, marriage, and assault in the times bolster the tale, creating an incredibly immersive, highly readable exploration of an important moment in American history, perfect for readers of true crime, history, women's history, and narrative nonfiction alike. Copyright 2022 Booklist Reviews.

A history professor examines a woman's court fight to restore her violated sexual honor in 1790s America. In 1793, a seamstress named Lanah Sawyer was raped by Harry Bedlow, "an elite sexual predator" who posed as a lawyer to gain her trust. In this incisive historical investigation, Sweet, a history professor at the University of North Carolina and former director of its program in sexuality studies, reconstructs a memorable story that reveals the virulent anti-feminism embedded in American democracy. Sawyer had the spotless reputation society required of all "decent" women; Sweet notes that any fall from grace would plunge her into "a world of scandal and shame from which she might never emerge." Despite her lower status as a working-class woman, Sawyer sought legal reparations. "Even if others couldn't see past her social station, her work as a sewing girl, Lanah Sawyer could," writes Sweet. "She felt she had a right to a revolutionary dream of human equality. Other dreamers, too, were crushed in these years. Some of them, like her, had the courage to fight back." In the contentious trial that followed, Bedlow was cast as the victim of Sawyer's wiles. Newspapers debates begun by elite women emphasized the sexual double standard, but a male backlash against "disorderly women"-e.g., the owner of the bawdy house where Bedlow raped Sawyer-overwhelmed those voices. Ultimately, Sawyer's stepfather successfully sued Bedlow for seduction-i.e., for breaching his right to give consent to intercourse with his daughter. "In seduction suits," writes Sweet, "the question of consent was hardly mentioned, much less disputed. Jurors-and everyone else involved-generally took the woman's father at his word." This carefully researched book will appeal to historians, feminist scholars, and anyone with an interest in narratives that chronicle female erasure in a social system created by and for the benefit of (White) men. A thoughtful and engaging history lesson. Copyright Kirkus 2022 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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