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"Caroline Grimm brings history alive, and the characters become your friends."

Marcia Lundy


Mathilde runs from the cruelty of slavery and makes her way North, helped along the way by Quakers and abolitionists. She encounters danger with every step, never sure who is a helper and who is an enemy.

The Abolitionists

When Joseph and Phebe Fessenden came to the peaceful village of South Bridgton, Maine to serve the newly founded Congregational church in 1829, they soon found themselves embroiled in controversy over the abolition of slavery and the evils of “demon rum.” Tempers run high and Parson Joe often found himself running counter to public opinion. Mobs threatened him with tar and feathers, cannonballs, and kidnapping.

And then comes a dark-skinned woman whose very existence threatens all she comes in contact with. Will the community rise to protect the rights of all those who live in chains beneath freedom’s wing?

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Soon after the completion of Wild Sweeps the Wind, I received an otherworldly visit. This is not an unusual occurrence by any means. This visitor was quite insistent that I get the details right. She introduced herself to me as Mathilde. I asked, for clarity’s sake, “Is it Mathilde or Mathilda?” She was quite firm with me on this point. She was Mathilde. I sat down and wrote the opening passage of this book where she begins to tell her story.

Honestly, I did not know who she was or why she was talking to me. I had no plans for such a character in the book I had not started to write yet. But, strange occurrences are the norm for writers, so I took it for what it was…whatever it meant. Over the first months of writing this book, Mathilde stopped by quite often, telling me a little more about herself each time.

A few months after her first “appearance” in my life, I was working on my research at the Bridgton Historical Society and I came across quite an interesting letter. It seemed to have been written by Joe Fessenden. It was his writing, on his usual sermon writing paper. As I read through it I was quite impressed by his ability to shape an argument. Then I came to a line where the writer mentioned that she usually left such things up to her husband. Backing up, I realized that this letter was written not by Parson Joe, but by his wife. It was she who was so masterful at shaping an argument. As I read through the second time, I was so very impressed that a woman of her time was so scholarly, so educated, and so well-written.

As the letter continued, Mrs. Fessenden began describing the plight of the women who were held in slavery. She said of female slaves:

That they are my sisters, and when I know that a million and a half of my own sex are held in chattel slavery, at the mercy of unprincipled men–not a wife among them all–who have never been taught that they have a higher or holier purpose than to suckle slaves and be the victims of the uncurbed passions of slaveholders–whose life is a various and vagrant concubinage, traversing the circle of overseer, master, master’s sons, and master’s guests–who have no power to defend their own chastity, or of resisting the lustful tyrants by whom they are surrounded–on whose behalf no husband, father, brother, friend, or lover dare raise his arm to defend them from brutal outrage–and that the young and handsome, whose beauty of form and face attract the gloating eye of passion are ripened for the New Orleans markets wherein Southern harems they are obliged to lead lives of indescribable loathsomeness.

Suppose that one of these unfortunate beauties should have got from some accidental source an idea of what constitutes a virtuous and noble woman and the shame and sin of the life before her and that in the works of another she finds herself on the way to New Orleans–suppose by almost super human power and adroitness, she should escape and should tread her solitary and darksome path for hundreds of miles toward the north star– should lie down in caverns with poisonous reptiles by day and pursue her lonely journey by night, finding the wastes of the forests less to be dreaded than man; should swim rivers and keep off famine by roots and insects, until at last, thanks be to God, she sets her mangled and bleeding feet upon the soil of freedom.

Perhaps some echo of the Pilgrim mothers has reached her ears. She has heard of Boston and its noble women of old, and she hies thither as to a city of refuge–as to a sanctuary where virtue has an altar and where she can lay down her hunted and weary body and be at rest. Fallacious hope! The lecher pursues his prey; he is there. He goes to some lawyer who serves out a warrant. He goes to some constable who serves it. The victim is seized at midnight under some lying charge, and she is carried before some commissioner. Here, a process is gone through which she does not understand, and some papers are read of which she never heard and then a judgment is pronounced that her labour is due to her pursuer (and such labour!). That she owes service to him (and such service!), and then the commissioner delivers her into his arms.

This letter showed me why Mathilde had come to me with her story. Her life was the ribbon that would weave through the story, giving slavery the human face, the beating heart, the scarred soul that made it such a heartbreaking evil. Was she real? I do not know. But, how could Mrs. Fessenden have known with such detail, such feeling, the plight of the slave unless she had been exposed to these matters in a personal way?

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