Susanna (Haswell) Rowson, actress, playwright, poet, novelist, and head of a school for girls, was a daughter of Lieutenant William Haswell of the British navy and his wife Susanna Musgrave. She was born in Portsmouth, England, in 1762. Her mother died at her birth, and her father, who was enawed in the revenue service on the American Station, was married later to Rachel Woodward, a wealthy Massachusetts girl. Susanna was left in England with a nurse, and in 1766 her father went there to bring his daughter to his new home. On the return trip, the ship encountered heavy weather-and almost there would have been no "Charlotte Temple." When in sight of Boston, the ship struck a rock on the night of January 28, 1767, but fortunately held together and the crew and passengers were rescued the next morning. For a time the family lived at Nantucket, and Susanna was apparently educated at home. She was, according to Nason, a remarkable child, reading Virgil, Homer, Shakespeare, and Spenceróby intuition. Early in the Revolution Lieutenant Haswell, who refused to take the side of the Americans, was removed with his family to Hingham, his property was confiscated, and they lived on the charity of the town. Suspected of being able to aid the enemy, Haswell and his family were removed to Abington late in 1777, and in the spring of 1778 he was sent under a flag of truce to Halifax and so to England. They lived for a time at Hull and then removed to London, living on the Lieutenant's meager half pay. Susanna now secured a position as governess and as such made the tour of France. In 1786 she was married to William Rowson, a hardware merchant, and in the same year she published her first book, "Victoria." The book was dedicated to the Duchess of Devonshire, who subsequently introduced her to the Prince of Wales, later George IV, and she pleased him so well that he gave her father a pension. Mrs. Rowson now issued several other novels in rapid succession, but it was not until the publication of "Charlotte Temple; or, A Tale of Truth" in 1790, that she became well known. The book was so popular that Vail(1) has been able to list 161 editions published before 1932.
Mrs. Rowson's husband becoming bankrupt, she, her husband, and her half-sister Charlotte, went on the stage in Edinburgh in the winter of 1792-93. Here Thomas Wignell, the lessee of the Chestnut Street Theatre of Philadelphia, saw them and engaged the three for his productions. They opened at Annapolis, Maryland, and performed in various places during the next two seasons. Mrs. Rowson continued writing, and besides novels produced several plays. In 1796 the Rowsons appeared first in the comic opera "Farmer" in Boston, and later in Sheridan's "School for Scandal" and other plays and operas. On the twelfth of April they appeared in "Americans in England; or, Lessons for Daughters," a play which Susanna had written.
In the spring of 1797, Mrs. Rowson left the stage and began a school for girls in Boston, and in 1800 removed to larger quarters five miles outside the city. In addition to teaching, however, Mrs. Rowson also kept up her literary work, and in 1802 was engaged as editor of the Boston Weekly Magazine, which, in 1805, was united with the Monthly Anthology. "Charlotte's Daughter; or, The Three Orphans," a sequel to "Charlotte Temple" was published in Boston in 1828. In 1803 the school was removed to Medford. In 1809 Mr. Rowson, who was then a clerk in the custom house, purchased a house on Hollis Street, to which the school was moved in 1811 and continued until Mrs. Rowson retired in 1822. She died there March 2, 1824.
REFERENCES: R. W. G. Vail, Susanna Haswell Rowson; Elias Nason, A Memoir of Mrs. Susanna Rowson, 1870, with portrait; Nat. Cyc. Amer. Biog., XI, 1907, 317, with portrait; R. W. Griswold, Female Poets of America; Allibone, Dict. Eng. Lit.: Drake, Dict. Amer. Authors; "The Versatile Susanna," Amer. Book. Collector. Ill, 1933, 239-40; Appleton's Cyc. Amer. Biog.
Waverley Library (quarto) Nos. 76, 81
Waverley Library (octavo). Nos. 30, 45
|1||R. W. G. Vail, "Susanna Haswell Rowson, the Author of Charlotte Temple; A Biographical Study" Proc. Amer. Antiquarian Soc., XLII (n.s.), Part. I, 1933.|