The Sewing Girl’s Tale: A Story of Crime and Consequences in Revolutionary America

Macmillan Audio. Jul. 2022. 11:06 hrs. ISBN 9781250856265. $26.99. HIST
Accomplished narrator Gabra Zackman’s calm, objective voice and steady delivery is perfect for this meticulously detailed and incredibly compelling narrative history by Sweet (history, UNC-Chapel Hill; Bodies Politic). In 1793, just blocks from what is now New York City Hall, 17-year-old Lanah Sawyer, a seamstress from a family of modest means, was dragged into a brothel and raped by Harry Bedlow, a man from a rich, well-connected family. Both Bedlow and the brothel owner assumed Sawyer would never report the crime; at the time, a woman who lost her virginity before marriage was “ruined” and, according to Sweet, often had to resort to prostitution to support herself. Sawyer, however, refused to become a silent victim and, with the help of family and friends, brought criminal and civil charges against Bedlow. Though much of Sawyer’s story—like the stories of rape victims past and present—is both enraging and heartbreaking, Zackman’s nuanced, polished presentation, coupled with Sweet’s impressive historical sleuthing allows listeners to truly appreciate Sawyer’s remarkable courage in waging this legal battle.
VERDICT History and true crime buffs, legal historians, and gender studies scholars will appreciate Sweet’s riveting exposé of the tremendous gender and class bias in postrevolutionary America.
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