A gorgeous and meticulously-researched historical fiction examining
a young woman’s struggle to escape unexpected poverty and find autonomy and purpose in early New England.
Mankind are always seeking after happiness
in some way or another.
~ Leavitt’s Farmer’s Almanac, 1805
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The fall from beloved wife of the town blacksmith to widowed pauper was swift. Margery Turner sits in the Thorneboro, New Hampshire Meetinghouse on the second Tuesday of March, 1805. She and the other indigent town residents wait their turn to be auctioned out to the lowest bidder who will accept the paupers into their homes in return for town funds. The young widow and an abandoned child named Agnes find themselves taken in by farmer and ciderist Samuell Wheeler and his elderly mother, renowned bed rug maker Hannah Wheeler. Margery swears to herself that she will not forever remain a pauper in purse or purpose.
Secrets and sorrows live on the prosperous farm. An itinerant Abenaki stonemason, Sozap Wzôkhilain, known as Joseph, soon joins the household and touches each of their lives in unexpected ways. The farm is the setting for danger and tragedy as well as simple joys and blossoming love. In Pauper Auction, strangers become friends, confidantes, and lovers. Tragedy becomes hope, and a family of the heart help each other find their futures, together and apart.
Rich and atmospheric period description and a strong sense of New England enhance this immersive narrative. Meticulously researched details of early 19th century foodways, and the crafts of blacksmithing, traditional stone wall building, needlework, and hard cider-making bring Margery’s world to life. The novel is a perfect bookclub pick with themes that transcend time. A significant Afterword and Discussion Guide are included in the book.
I enjoyed this well-researched and atmospheric novel, the well-rounded characters of which surprise the reader in various ways, and its rich portrayal of a time and place that is neglected in both American history and historical fiction. Having never heard of a pauper auction, I was intrigued to learn more about the custom, both through the story and in the informative author’s note. We also learn more about the art of cider-making—and the art of concealing a homicide. As a character reflects, “Humans were complicated.”
~ Susan Higginbotham
Author of John Brown's Women,
The First Lady and the Rebel, and Hanging Mary
Read Pauper Auction for the history of small town New Hampshire at the beginning of the 1800s. Or read it for the compelling story of Margery Turner, a heart-broken young widow who must navigate the patriarchal society of her times. The cards are stacked heavily and (to our modern way of thinking) unfairly against her. Mary Kronenwetter writes with a clear-eyed precision that deftly and gracefully shapes a story that is both true to its era and relevant here and now. Human nature doesn’t change. Prejudice persists. As does hate. As does cruelty. This is a remarkable novel — historically detailed, full of heart, and shocking in the brutality it reveals. Yet there is courage, too. And kindness. And ascendancy.
~ Rebecca Rule
Author of Moved and Seconded and The Best Revenge
Host of PBS series New Hampshire Authors & Our Hometown
As a storyteller, I truly appreciate the narrative Mary Kronenwetter has created, interweaving the stories of her main characters within the setting of a small town in New Hampshire during the early years of the United States as a new Nation. This novel is not a traditional history or a traditional love story, yet it subtly provides rich cultural and historical details while also probing the many faces in which love manifested itself and families formed - all while providing rich cultural details that allow the reader to experience life in rural New Hampshire in 1805.
While Pauper Auction starkly reveals the ways in which New England towns of that time addressed the needs of the destitute within their communities, it also spotlights less often heard stories - those so often hidden stories of women, children, and those with alternative gender lifestyles. Additionally, Pauper Auction rejects the notion that there were no Abenaki, the Indigenous people of New Hampshire, actually living in New Hampshire after the American revolution by including an Abenaki character in an essential supporting role. All in all, Pauper Auction is a refreshingly honest, richly detailed, compelling story. Once I began reading, I couldn't put the book aside until I reached the last page! Kudos for a compelling novel!
Northeast Woodlands Traditional Native American Storyteller
and Historian of both European and Abenaki Heritage
Kronenwetter’s impressive debut follows the uncompromising lives of a destitute widow, a disabled child, and a Native American stonemason. In 1805 in the fictional town of Thorneboro, N.H., the local blacksmith’s widow, 27-year-old Margery Turner, waits to be auctioned to the lowest bidder in exchange for subsidized labor. As the town’s moderator explains, “It is our civic and Christian responsibility to provide for the care of our town’s unfortunates.” Charitable farmer Samuell Wheeler is the winner, at one dollar a week. Samuell also takes in 10-year-old club-footed Agnes, who was abandoned by her widowed father. Margery works on the farm, aids Agnes and Samuell’s rheumatoid-stricken mother Hannah, and learns how to make Hannah’s elaborate bed rugs. When Joseph, an Abenaki stonemason, joins them, he brings friendship and wisdom, especially after tragedy strikes. With portentous forecasts from the Farmer’s Almanac in the chapter headings (“uncertain,” “settled,” “foul”), Kronenwetter’s domestic narrative paints a convincing day-to-day picture of early America, immersing readers into the stark realities of farm life and meeting halls. Fans of historical fiction ought to take a look.