The Canterbury Question
by Jerilyn J. Tyner
Sarah Harris yearns to be a teacher, but has no hopes of her dream being fulfilled; higher education was not available to young “colored” ladies of Canterbury, Connecticut in the 1800’s.
She knows Prudence Crandall, a young teacher with a Quaker background, has recently founded, “Canterbury Female Boarding School,” which has earned the support of Canterbury’s leading citizens during the school’s first year. The school has a reputation of providing high quality education for their daughters –but those daughters are all white.
During the school’s second year, Prudence’s housekeeper, Marcy, requests that Prudence accept Sarah Harris as a student. Sarah’s father William is a “free Negro who farmed his own land and hired men to help him and Charles with the work,” so he can afford the tuition. And “since they were members of the Congregational Church, there could be no doubt as to their faith or respectability in the community. Moreover, Prudence had no doubt Sarah would prove an excellent pupil.” After praying for guidance, Prudence welcomes the young black girl into the school.
The young teacher firmly believes she has made the right decision, despite the disapproval she may bring upon herself from the “leading citizens.” “The sweet taste of man’s approval will turn sour in our stomachs if we put our own comfort and safety ahead of doing what is right.”
As Prudence tells her sister Almira, “Is it not right that a young girl like Sarah Harris should be free to pursue her desire to learn?” Prudence soon learns the high cost of standing up for what is right and good amidst prejudice and hatred.
Ever since the author allowed me to read an early draft of the first few chapters, I have been looking forward to this book’s completion. The Canterbury Question is meticulously researched and provides the reader with a rich perspective on this pivotal time period in America’s history.
Tyner’s insight of real-life characters allows for an intriguing story with good flow, while giving crucial attention to factual events.
When reading historical fiction, I am always interested in the author’s research journey. Tyner’s book includes an “Afterword” where she reveals fascinating events beyond the storyline. I hope it may soon be available in hard copy. Currently, it can be downloaded as an ebook.