The Severances: An American Odyssey, from Puritan Massachusetts to Ohio’s Western Reserve, and Beyond reveals how John and Abigail and a line of their descendants fared on these shores, from the mid-1630s to the present day. Biographies seldom look back more than a few generations. The Severances spans nearly the entirety of America history and touches on almost every geographical section of the country. The book describes in remarkable detail how each successive generation of a family whose arrival here predated the nation’s founding met the challenges of its time and place, took advantage of the opportunities presented by a country undergoing the process of self-invention, built on the sacrifices and gains of forebears, chose to enjoy mounting success, implanted family traditions and beliefs, and endeavored to give something back to society.
Millions of immigrants from countries around the world have followed the same path as the Severances (the spelling upon which custom finally settled) in pursuit of their dreams, but often the facts of their personal journeys have been lost, and the content and purposes of their lives have grown opaque, even to their closest descendants. Later generations of Severances took steps to ensure that their children and their children’s children appreciated the accomplishments of their ancestors. They carefully saved and passed down all kind of family records: letters, photographs, genealogies, memorabilia, deeds, wills, marriage licenses, ledgers, diaries, personal reminiscences, autobiographies, travel journals, souvenirs, newspaper clippings and obituaries.
Drawing on insights contained in these previously unmined materials, which are preserved at the Western Reserve Historical Society of Cleveland, and information uncovered in archives from Philadelphia to Pasadena, author Diana Tittle has created a richly textured portrait of ten generations of Anglo-Saxon strivers compelled by necessity and nurturance to be community builders.
A series of questions animate the narrative. Why was the branch of the family on which The Severances focuses still scratching out a living as subsistence farmers two centuries after John and Abigail landed in Boston harbor? What caused members of the seventh generation to leave behind their family’s hard-won security in western Massachusetts for the frontier outpost of Cleveland? How did the son of a penniless newcomer to Ohio build one of nineteenth-century America’s impressive fortunes? What compelled him to spend millions on foreign missionary work?
Finding answers rooted in the “profoundly religious culture” of New England, The Severances is a fascinating saga that will command readers’ attention while deepening their general understanding of the forging of our nation and national character.