Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Life and Times of Martha Laurens Ramsay, 1759-1811

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Life and Times of Martha Laurens Ramsay, 1759-1811

Article excerpt

JOANNA BOWEN GILLESPIE. The Life and Times of Martha Laurens Ramsay, 1759-1811. Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 2001. Pp. xxviii + 315, bibliography, index. $34.95.

In this imaginative and insightful study, Joanna Bowen Gillespie provides a biography of Martha Laurens Ramsay, a member of a distinguished family in colonial South Carolina. Drawing heavily on Ramsay's Memoirs, a two-hundred page volume edited and published posthumously by her husband David, Gillespie offers a fascinating look into the emotional and religious world of an Anglican woman in the South during a critical period in American history. Ramsay kept the cache of letters and personal writings that constitute her Memoirs hidden from everyone, including her husband, until a few days before her death. As Gillespie emphasizes, Ramsay's secret diary represented the place where she was able to engage in the practice of spiritual introspection, mobilizing qualities that David Ramsay admiringly called her "fervent rational piety" (188). Thus, despite the fact that the published version of Martha Ramsay's thoughts was shaped to some degree by her husband's editorial hand, Gillespie believes that in the biography which she has written this articulate and spiritually sophisticated woman "finally speaks for herself "(18).

Daughter of Henry Laurens and Eleanor Ball, Martha grew up in a wealthy household in Charleston, South Carolina. Her father not only was a prominent merchant who imported English goods and African slaves, but he also played a major role in political affairs at both local and national levels throughout the revolutionary era. Martha's mother, too, belonged to one of the most important planter families in the Charleston area. In 1787, Martha married David Ramsay, who was then serving as her father's physician. Like Henry Laurens, David Ramsay was actively involved in the civic life of his community, but unlike his highly successful father-in-law, he suffered financial losses that brought considerable economic hardship to his family-adversities that Martha weathered with a sense of religious resignation. …

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