Author tells story of remarkable 1800s Bristol woman on June 17

MIDDLEBURY — First-hand accounts of the past often open our eyes to an entirely different kind of life. Such is the case with Bristol resident Phebe Orvis, who, in 1820, began a journal at the age of 19.
Susan M. Ouellette, Professor of History and American Studies at Saint Michael’s College will read from and discuss her new book, “An Extraordinary Ordinary Woman: The Journal of Phebe Orvis” on Saturday, June 17, at 4 p.m. at the Vermont Book Shop. The free event is presented in partnership with the Henry Sheldon Museum. Following the presentation, Oullette will be signing books.
“An Extraordinary Ordinary Woman: The Journal of Phebe Orvis” begins with chapters of introductory research done by Ouellette, followed by the transcript of the actual journal.
The diary was discovered in 1960 in a box of tattered books at a Plattsburgh, N.Y. auction. Mary Smallman, the Saint Lawrence County historian who discovered the diary, was very intrigued so she transcribed the entire book and spent several years researching the author’s story.
Phebe, her parents and her grandparents were some of this area’s earliest white settlers, and Phebe’s life is not at all what one might expect in the early years of frontier life. As a young unmarried woman she enjoyed a certain amount of freedom accompanying the revolutionary spirit of the new nation. She had an active social life, traveled often to surrounding towns and would attend the Middlebury Female Seminary.
Unfortunately, as a woman, certain decisions were not hers to make. She was pressured by her family to marry into a prosperous farm family, relocate to the wilds of the Saint Lawrence River valley, and abandon her affections for a young man who, although educated, had no land or money. This is a truly fascinating education into what life was really like in Bristol and the St. Lawrence Valley two hundred years.
In Oct. 2016, Ouellette was a commenter at the New England Historians Association conference in Nashua, N.H., for a panel entitled “Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History . . . Sometimes They End up Dead.”

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