Biography of Susanna Rowson (1762-1824)
Susanna Musgrove Haswell Rowson, who wrote simply as Susanna Rowson, was born in Portsmouth, England in 1762, and immigrated to America as a young child. Although she is usually identified as one of the first American novelists, questions of her nationality are complicated. During the Revolutionary War, Susanna and her family sided with the Loyalists, resulting in them being imprisoned for two years and eventually returned to England when Susanna was 16.
The Haswell family lost much of their wealth during the American Revolution, and Susanna worked as a governess in England. As a writer, she enjoyed the patronage of Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, a famous supporter of the literary arts and an early proponent of women's suffrage. (Smiley, v) Her first novel, Victoria, is dedicated to the Duchess and was published in 1786.
Later that year, Susanna married a hardware seller, William Rowson. The couple was plagued by economic difficulties, and became actors when they could no longer support themselves through William's hardware store and Susanna's writing. Charlotte Temple was published in 1791 in England to paltry sales. In 1793, the couple moved to America, hoping for better financial fortunes.
Their luck certainly improved. In 1794, Charlotte Temple was published in America and was extremely popular, setting records and becoming the country's first best-seller, only to be eclipsed 58 years later by Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. She referred to America as "my dear adopted country," and was successful in a variety of jobs there, including magazine editor and librettist. She also founded a progressive boarding school in Boston, Rowson's Academy for Young Ladies.