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Fire and Roses
The Burning of the Charlestown Convent, 1834
Nancy Lusignan Schultz

2002 • 317 pp. 17 illus. 6 x 9"
American History / Women's Studies

$27.95 Paperback, 978-1-55553-514-8

“This gripping narrative retraces the convergent emotional, cultural, and social forces that impelled a group of otherwise ordinary citizens to participate in an unthinkable act... [continued in Reviews below]”—Booklist

The shocking story of the night an angry mob burned down a quiet Massachusetts convent -- and the larger story of anti-Papist and anti-feminist sentiment.

In the midst of a deadly heat wave during the summer of 1834, a woman clawed her way over the wall of an Ursuline convent on Mount Benedict in Charlestown, Massachusetts, and escaped to the home of a neighbor, pleading for protection. When the bishop, Benedict Fenwick, persuaded her to return, vicious gossip began swirling through the Yankee community and in the press that she was being held at the convent against her will, and had even been murdered. The rumored fate of the "Mysterious Lady," as she became popularly known, ultimately led to the burning of the convent by an angry, drunken mob of Protestant men. The arsonists' ringleader, a brawny bricklayer named John Buzzell, became a folk hero. The nuns scattered, and their proud and feisty mother superior, Mary Anne Moffatt, who battled the working-class rioters and Church authorities, faded mysteriously into history.

Nancy Lusignan Schultz brings alive this forgotten event, focusing her probing lens on a time when independent, educated women were feared as much as immigrants and Catholics, and anti-Papist diatribes were the stuff of bestsellers and standing-room-only lectures. She provides a glimpse into nineteenth-century Boston and into an elite boarding school for young women, mostly the daughters of wealthy Protestants, vividly dissecting the period's roiling tensions over class, gender, religion, ethnicity, and education.

Reviews / Endorsements

“This gripping narrative retraces the convergent emotional, cultural, and social forces that impelled a group of otherwise ordinary citizens to participate in an unthinkable act of violence and religious persecution. . . Utilizing court documents, letters, diaries, and newspaper articles, Schultz does a remarkable job of piecing together the startling circumstances surrounding this devastating tragedy.”—Booklist

“Schultz is to be commended for her riveting historical study, which is plotted like a novel, with tight pacing and fully realized characters.”—Publishers Weekly

“Painstaking scholarship and stylish, vivid description. . . A scholarly study that is also gripping drama.”—Kirkus Reviews

Fire & Roses, which includes a wealth of early Catholic history in Boston, at times reads like a mystery novel. The suspense is palpable as the events are relayed to the reader. The riot and fire are not a shock, or course, but the behaviors of the rioters is horrific. What is even more interesting is the story of Mary Anne Ursula Moffatt. Her predicament at the end keeps the reader guessing even when the book is finally put down. This work is valuable for its history of Boston’s Catholic community and the Ursuline order of Quebec and Charlestown. More importantly, this work is simply a good read.”—Historical Journal of Massachusetts


Winner of the New England American Studies Association's Lois Rudnick Book Prize (2002)

Nancy Lusignan Schultz is Professor and Coordinator of Graduate Studies in English at Salem State College. She is the editor of two anthologies, Fear Itself: Enemies Real and Imagined in American Culture and Veil of Fear: Nineteenth-Century Convent Tales. She lives in Swampscott, Massachusetts.

Tue, 16 Jan 2018 12:51:44 -0500