Synopses & Reviews
Historians and biographers have traditionally favored stories of the powerful and the trends they set in motion. More recently, theyve spotlighted the neglected lives of the disenfranchised and dispossessed. “But,” asks Linda H. Matthews, descendant of the pragmatic, adaptable, and lively Hammill family, “who tells the stories of the people in the middle?”
Spanning three centuries and three seas, from the bluffs of Scotland and Ireland to colonial Chesapeake Bay and Virginia, then across the expanding nation into the Pacific Northwest, Middling Folk makes the compelling case that the experiences of the middle classes--those who “quietly, century after century, conducted the business and built the livelihoods that made their societies prosper”--reveal a great deal about the founding of the United States and the ways in which customs and traditions are perpetuated through the generations.
Matthews combines meticulous research and deft storytelling to show how the Scots-Irish Hammills--millers, wagon makers, and blacksmiths--lived out their lives against a backdrop of the American Revolution, the Civil War, and westward expansion. Readers will come away with a newfound respect for the ordinary families who helped shape this country and managed to hold their own through turbulent times.
"From North Ayrshire, Scotland, to Northern Ireland to various locations throughout North America, a middle-class family named Hammill is documented with stringent attention to detail by Matthews, founder of Chicago Review Press and a Hammill family descendant. Weaving historical prose with mawkish (though clearly set-off) sections of 'fictions of my own devising,' Matthews attempts to illustrate a multigenerational drama in order to convey the history of ordinary people. The best documented family history begins with John Hammill, who left Northern Ireland for Maryland colony in 1725, yet even here the author occasionally injects a personal note ('I hope that Lucretia rose above her housewife's dismay'). Matthews is at her best relating major events that draw on primary sources, such as the transcript of the post Civil War trial of Virginian Hugh Hammill, charged with providing a boat to the Confederates, or the trek west made by William and Lucretia Hammill in the 1880s. Matthews succeeds in showing that 'the Hammill family passed along its preferences' through several generations, yet fails to validate her dubious claim that 'if more people... retrieved and told their family stories to see what they reveal well, this would be a better world....' Illus., maps." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Matthews is a graceful writer, providing the necessary historical facts and documentations while keeping us squarely focused on the people and their stories . . . Simply splendid." Booklist, starred review
"A deeply felt, illuminating narrative." Kirkus Reviews
"An often poignant story that is both instructive and wittyand likely to impel many to take a closer look at their own family trees." Larry Lockridge, professor of English, New York University; author, Shade of the Raintree: The Life and Death of Ross Lockridge, Jr.
"Middling Folk examines generations of a middle class family and in so doing opens a window to a part of America's history that has long been missing." Katherine Bateman, author, Kentucky Clay: Eleven Generations of a Southern Dynasty
"A richly textured, strongly researched and documented, beautifully written family history that any student of Americana will find irresistible. The 'novelistic' inventions that punctuate Matthews's historical narrative are uncannily evocative. A wonderful book!" Christopher Herbert, Chester D. Tripp Professor of Humanities, Northwestern University
Telling the stories of those who quietly conducted the business and built the livelihoods that made their societies prosper or fail, this account shows how one Scots-Irish American family, the Hammills--millers, wagon makers, and blacksmiths--lived out their lives against the backdrop of the American Revolution, the Civil War, and westward expansion. Spanning three centuries from the shores of Ireland to the Chesapeake Bay Area to the Pacific Northwest, this saga brings to life the early days of the founding of this country through the lens of the middle class. From revolutions, uprisings, and economic booms and busts to owning slaves in the colonial South, these personal encounters through dramatic historical events depict the private dramas--tragic deaths, business successes and failures, love and loss--of the ordinary families who helped shape this country and managed to hold their own through turbulent times.
About the Author
Linda H. Matthews is the cofounder and former publisher of Chicago Review Press. She is the coauthor of The Balancing Act: A Career and a Family and has contributed several articles to The Mill Racer, the monthly newsletter of the Occoquan Historical Society of Occoquan, Virginia. For more information, visit www.middlingfolk.com