Michelle Marchetti Coughlin
Historian, author, and museum professional
Books & Other Writings
Plymouth Colony First Lady:
Re-Imagining a Life
Penelope Pelham Winslow was a member of the English gentry (her third-great-grandmother was Anne Boleyn's sister Mary) and wife to Plymouth's first native-born governor, Josiah Winslow. A role model, adviser, and taste maker, she was one of the most influential women in the colony's history. Living a life marked by drama, she crisscrossed the Atlantic, narrowly escaped death in a childhood house fire, participated in two pivotal events linked to the outbreak of King Philip's War, and became a refugee in the war's wake. Following early widowhood, she assumed the responsibility of managing vast landholdings and waged legal battles to reclaim family inheritances.
The strength of her legacy had repercussions lasting generations, and may have influenced some of her descendants to remain loyal to the Crown during the American Revolution. Although Penelope Winslow authored or is mentioned in few surviving documents, other sources, including a trove of physical evidence—what is generally referred to as material culture—remain to tell her story. These remnants of her existence—ranging from her portrait to surviving homes to shards of pottery—have tremendous value and power in speaking to her experiences. Providing insight into her lifestyle, attitudes, and sense of identity, they also offer a glimpse into the lives of other women of the time and a portal into the world of Plymouth Colony.
One Colonial Woman’s World:
The Life and Writings of
Mehetabel Chandler Coit
One Colonial Woman’s World reconstructs the life of Mehetabel Chandler Coit (1673–1758), the author of what may be the earliest surviving diary by an American woman. A native of Roxbury, Massachusetts, who later moved to Connecticut, Mehetabel began her diary at the age of fifteen and kept it intermittently until she was well into her seventies. A previously overlooked resource, the diary contains entries on a broad range of topics as well as poems, recipes, folk and herbal medical remedies, religious meditations, financial accounts, and even some humor. An extensive collection of letters by Mehetabel and her female relatives has also survived, shedding further light on her experiences.
It is clear from the surviving writings that Mehetabel lived a rich and varied life, not only running a household and raising a family, but reading, writing, traveling, transacting business, and maintaining a widespread network of family, social, and commercial connections. While her experiences were circumscribed by gender norms of the day, she took a lively interest in the world around her and played an active role in her community.
Mehetabel’s long life covered an eventful period in American history, and this book explores the numerous—and sometimes surprising—ways in which her personal experiences were linked to broader social and political developments. It also provides insight into the lives of countless other colonial American women whose history remains largely untold.
In 2022 the University of Massachusetts Press will be offering a discount of 30% off + free shipping with the code MAS021 at checkout.
Selected Other Writings
“The Bradford House Women," American Ancestors magazine, Summer 2018
“My First Home: Ringing Endorsement," Boston Globe, March 4, 2018
“A Shared Sensibility: Examining the Legacy of John and Mary (Mason) Norton, Maternal Great-Grandparents of Abigail Adams,” American Ancestors magazine, Winter 2015
“Reading Between the Lines: Interpreting the Writings of Mehetabel (Chandler) Coit and Her Mother, Elizabeth (Douglas) Chandler,” American Ancestors magazine, Winter 2014
“Mehetabel Chandler Coit: Finding ‘Her Book,’” Commonplace, Spring 2013
Review of The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright by Ann M. Little
Coordinating Council for Women in History Newsletter, Fall 2020
Review of The Notorious Elizabeth Tuttle by Ava Chamberlain
New England Quarterly, December 2013