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