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Susanna Rowson (Haswell)

Birthdate: (62)
Death: 1824 (62)
Immediate Family:

Daughter of William Haswell and Susanna Musgrave
Wife of William Rowson
Half sister of Robert Haswell

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Susanna Rowson

Susanna Rowson, née Haswell (1762 – 2 March 1824) was a British-American novelist, poet, playwright, religious writer, stage actress, and educator.

Rowson was the author of the novel Charlotte Temple, the most popular best-seller in American literature until Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin was published in 1852.


Susanna Haswell was born in 1762 in Portsmouth, England to Royal Navy Lieutenant William Haswell and his first wife, Susanna Musgrave (Musgrove), who died within days of Susanna's birth. Her father was stationed in Boston as a customs officer, and there married Rachel Woodward, returning to England to bring his daughter to Massachusetts. On arrival in 1767, their ship grounded on Lovells Island in Boston Harbor, the crew and passengers being rescued from the wreck days later. They lived at Nantasket (now Hull), where family friend James Otis took a special interest in her education. At the outbreak of the American Revolution, the father was placed under house arrest, and subsequently the family was moved inland, to Hingham and Abington, Massachusetts. In 1778, the failing health of Lieutenant Haswell led to a prisoner exchange, and the family was sent via Halifax, Nova Scotia to England, settling near Kingston upon Hull. Their American property having been confiscated, they lived in relative poverty, Susanna helping to support the family by serving as a governess.

Pen and stage

It was as governess that she wrote her first work, Victoria, dedicated to the Duchess of Devonshire, published in 1786, and in the same year she married William Rowson, a hardware merchant and Royal Horse Guards trumpeter. In 1791, she published the novel now referred to as Charlotte Temple; it became the first American best-selling novel After William's hardware business failed, he and Susanna turned to acting. In 1793, as a member of the theater company of Thomas Wignell, she returned to America, performing in Philadelphia.

Over the next three years there she wrote a novel, an opera, a musical farce about the Whiskey Rebellion (The Volunteers), a poetical address to the American troops, and several songs for the company in addition to performing 57 roles on the stage in two seasons. In response to her seemingly new-found republicanism and the liberal gender roles in her work, Slaves in Algiers, she was attacked by William Cobbett who referred to her as "our American Sappho" (she returned fire, calling him a "loathsome reptile" in her introduction to Trials of the Human Heart). In 1796, she and Rowson removed to Boston, performing at the Federal Street Theatre.

Later years

The next year, she gave up the stage, and founded a boarding school for girls, which she would later move to Medford and Newton, returning to Boston in 1809 and training hundreds of girls. She also continued her writings, producing several novels, an additional work for the stage, a dictionary and two geographies as well as being editor of the Boston Weekly Magazine (1802–1805). She was also called on to support her husband, and (though they had no children of their own) an increasingly growing household including her husband's illegitimate son, two adopted daughters, and the widow and daughters of her half-brother, Robert Haswell, who had been lost at sea in 1801. (One of these nieces, Rebecca Haswell, was great-grandmother of poet E. E. Cummings.) She also headed a charity for widows and the fatherless. She retired from her school in 1822, and died in Boston two years later, March 2, 1824. She was buried in the family vault of friend Gottlieb Graupner at St. Matthew's Church, South Boston. When this church was demolished in 1866, her remains could not be distinguished, and all remains were moved together to the Mount Hope Cemetery, Boston. A monument was later raised for Susanna Rowson and brothers Robert and John Montresor Haswell in Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston's Jamaica Plain neighbourhood, where she is memorialized as the author of Charlotte Temple.


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Susanna Rowson's Timeline

Age 62