University of New England - Innovation for a Healthier Planet

Sally Sayward Barrell Keating Wood collection, 1800-1998

Full finding aid (pdf)

Collection Scope and Content

The collection consists of material about the author’s life and her literary career taken from 20th century newspapers and from journal articles; also a master’s thesis, focusing on her work. A daguerreotype of Madame Wood, early 19th century ephemera promoting her publications and a manuscript entitled “Recollections,” written in 1845-55, are also included.

Biographical/Historical Note

Sally (Sarah) Sayward Barrell Keating Wood (1759-1855)–“Madam Wood”–lived more than nine decades, authored four novels and one collection of tales, and was renowned as Maine’s first novelist. The oldest of eleven children, Sally Sayward Barrell was born in York, Maine, on October 1, 1759, in the home of her maternal grandfather, Judge Jonathan Sayward, one of the richest men in Maine and a Loyalist during the American Revolution. Sally was named after her mother and probably to avoid confusion in a busy household, was sometimes called Sarah. Sally lived in her grandfather’s home for most of her first 19 years. In 1778, she married Richard Keating, a schoolmate and a clerk in her grandfather’s office. Grandfather Sayward gave the young couple a house as a wedding present, and Sally and Richard Keating settled into the cultivated social life that had surrounded Sally’s childhood. They had two daughters and a son. Richard Keating died suddenly in 1783, and Sally Keating, now 25, settled down to raise her three children. During a period of extended widowhood, she wrote four novels. Her work was well received, and she gained a considerable literary reputation. Sally Keating had been a widow for 21 years when she married General Abiel Wood in 1804, and moved to Wiscasset. There she helped to establish a woman’s club believed to be the oldest in America. After General Wood’s death in 1811 Madame Wood, as she was then known, went to live in Portland, where she was honored as a celebrity in local society. She published her fifth and final book in 1827 when she was 68 years old.

From 1820 to 1833, Wood lived in New York to be near her only living child, Richard Keating, a sea captain. After his drowning death, Wood returned to Maine to live with her granddaughter and great grandchildren in Kennebunk, where she died on January 6, 1855, at the age of 95. Obituaries in regional newspapers fondly recalled her as a striking figure, a gracious representative of the old school of manners and attire; she was accustomed to wear on the streets a high turban or plain black bonnet which almost hid her features. Madame Wood’s published works include: Julia and the Illuminated Baron (1800); Dorval; or The Speculator (1801); Amelia; or The Influence of Virtue (1802); Ferdinand and Elmira: A Russian Story (1804); and Tales of the Night (1827). A facsimile edition of Tales of the Night was published in 1982 as part of the sesquicentennial observances of Westbrook College. Wood’s writing career falls into two distinct phases, both of which occurred during her periods of widowhood. This curious fact, and the prefaces to her books, suggest a certain ambivalence about female authorship. Her books were published anonymously, and she makes it perfectly clear that her womanly duties were never neglected.