“Imagining Adeline” Valley News

Imagining Adeline: Family Diary Inspires Plainfield Woman’s Novel

“In 2009, Helen Taylor Davidson of Plainfield sat down with the diary of her great-grandmother Adeline Elizabeth Hoe with the intent of transcribing it.

That would have been ambitious enough, but she went a step further. She dove into the deep end of imagination and wrote a novel that begins where her great-grandmother’s diary leaves off. Both the novel and the annotated diary were published at the end of last year as Prelude, a Novel and the 1854 Diary of Adeline Elizabeth Hoe.” — From a Friday, April 11 article in the Valley News, Read the full article…

National Genealogical Society Quarterly Review

“Prelude is a unique combination of history and historical fiction. The six-month 1854 daily diary of seventeen-year-old Adeline of New York City presents a nineteenth-century urban well-to-do young woman’s perspective. She begins, “I have just arrived at the conclusion that it would be quite an agreeable amusement to keep a journal.” Her life is full of visits to and from family and friends in New York City and travels to Setauket and Stony Brook, Long Island: Cream Ridge and Bloomfield, New Jersey; South Salem, New York, and Delaware City, Delaware. Helen Taylor Davidson (Adeline’s descendent) and her husband, Richard Davidson, transcribed Adeline’s diary, placed at the end of this volume.

Helen Davidson based her well-researched novel on the diary. It places Adleine, her family and friends—one in particular, Joe Stewart—in the pre-Civil War world of the Underground Railroad, the Fugitive slave act, and a particularly despicable bounty hunter, Beauregard Wise. Adeline’s diary does not express her feelings about slavery, but the novel presents the often ambivalent feelings of people in New York, where slavery was abolished in the 1820s.

After attending a church service, where the minister “saw a future in which Indians, Negroes, and white men lived in harmony,” Adeline asked her grandmother’s opinion. Her grandmother replied, “The world has not caught up with him.”

Copious endnotes identify Adeline’s family and friends, but the work lacks an index, making it difficult to find relationships between individuals.

Diaries and journals can deliver insights into nineteenth-century life. This diary gives a full view of the pre-Civil War lives of a Northern teenage girl and her family and friends.”

by Ann S. Lainhart, Plymouth, Massachusetts, for the National Genealogical Society Quarterly Review, September 2013


Knightengale Books Review

“The novel immediately draws you into 1854 New [York], with its horse-drawn carriages, steamboats, bustling dresses and proper manners…

…Davidson chooses to be descriptive when it comes to historical accuracies, settings and politics... The diary and endnotes are extremely well-documented and thoroughly researched… ”

– by Knightengale Books

Midwest Book Review: “a choice addition to historical fiction…”

“Life in the nineteenth century was so very different to the world as we know it. Prelude, A Novel: & The 1854 Diary of Adeline Elizabeth Hoe is a unique blend of history, autobiography, and creativity. Author Helen Taylor Davidson draws upon the real-life diary of Adeline Hoe as the source for this involving novel. A fascinating glimpse into everyday life of the period, Prelude, A Novel & The 1854 Diary of Adeline Elizabeth Hoe is a choice addition to historical fiction and autobiography collections.”

– Midwest Book Review

Three Village Historical Society Review

“…The diary portrays an idyllic time in Stony Brook and Setauket [New York]. In 1854, farming was still the occupation of the majority of residents, shipbuilding was in full swing and the art and music of the period was in full flower…

The novel, which is the first part of the book, is fun to read and will make a good book to take to the beach this summer. The novel takes the facts from the diary and weaves a new story that brings us closer to the Underground Railroad and other activities that led inexorably to the Civil War just seven years later. There are many facts here that relate to the decade of the 1850s and they are woven seamlessly into the story. This gives the reader a good insight into a time period that is often ignored by writers of both fiction and non-fiction…”

– From The Historian, newsletter of the Three Village Historical Society, Setauket, East Setauket and Stony Brook, NY.

Genre Reviews post

“…historical details and the historical notes on the diary were clearly carefully researched and helped to bring the time period alive. Suspense was added in the novel by giving Adeline a romantic interest and providing a secret life of working on the Underground Railroad to her love interest…”

– by Genre Reviews

Historian George W. Martin Review

“Diaries are a tool for history, both for recording events and providing context: showing not only how contemporaries viewed the event but sometimes how opinion began to change. And one such tool for the history of nineteenth-century New York City is The 1854 Diary of Adeline Elizabeth Hoe.

Miss Hoe . . . later merged two prominent New York families by marrying DeWitt Clinton Lawrence . . . [T]he diarist’s great-granddaughter, Helen Davidson . . . has added to the Diary a useful Foreword on the historical events of 1854 . . . [with] . . . notes [on] the Dodworth family’s brass band, the artist William Sidney Mount, the Hoe family’s ties to the Harper and the Dodd, Mead publishing houses, and on the sinking of the steamship Arctic . . .

In Prelude, Davidson has written a novella sparked by a hint of romance in the Diary. Adeline’s tone often seems to soften when she writes of a Mr. Joe Stewart. Yet little is known of him, leaving Davidson free to imagine what might have been, a fantasy founded in part by Adeline’s later marriage to Mr. Lawrence, about whom good is not always spoken.”

— George W. Martin, Historian and Author of CCB: The Life and Century of Charles C. Burlingham, New York’s First Citizen, 1858–1959