Amelia: or the Influence of Virtue: An Old Man’s Story is the third novel written by Sally Sayward Barrell Keating Wood, the first authoress of Maine. It was printed at the Oracle Press, by William Treadwell & Co., Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1802. In The Maine Book, Henry E. Dunnack describes Amelia as, “…a story told by a great traveler, who having seen all the world except America, decides to visit that country. He visits Washington at Mount Vernon, Adams in Massachusetts, and while he is the guest of a family in Boston, the conversation turns on the question of the influence of virtue. The traveler then tells the story of “Amelia.””
Sally S. B. K. Wood was born in York, Maine on October 1, 1759. The first of eleven children to Nathaniel and Sally (Sayward) Barrell. She grew up in a Loyalist household with her parents and maternal grandparents, Judge Jonathan and Sarah (Mitchell) Sayward. His house still stands and is called the Sayward-Wheeler House, a property of Historic New England, that can be toured in the summer months.
In 1778, she married Richard Keating a clerk who worked for Judge Sayward; they were both 19 years old. Judge Sayward’s wedding gift was a house across the street. They had two daughters, Elizabeth Walker (Barrell) Frost and Sally Sayward (Barrell) Vaughan. Their third child, Capt. Richard Keating was born in 1783, four months after his father died. Sally would raise her three children by herself for 21 years in a period of extended widowhood. Sally wrote her first four novels during this time, under the pseudonym, “A Lady of Massachusetts”. They are: Julia and the Illuminated Baron, 1800; Dorval: or the Speculator, 1801; Amelia: or the Influence of Virtue, an Old Man’s Story, 1802; and Ferdinand and Elmira: A Russian Story, 1804. In this same year she married Gen. Abiel Wood, an officer of the Continental Army, and moved to Wiscasset, Maine.
She would not publish anymore novels until 23 years later. In that time, she survives the loss of: her second husband and first daughter in 1811, a grandchild in 1813, and her second daughter from maternal death in 1815. It is not until she moved to Portland, Maine that she decided to write again. Her final novel, Tales of the Night was printed and published by Thomas Todd, 1827 under the pseudonym, “A Lady of Maine”. It was intended to be the first part of a continuing work, but after reading Sir Walter Scott’s Waverly series she believed her work to be inferior and destroyed what she was working on. She will, however, write articles and letters of remembrances into her eighties.
In Portland she was known as Madam Wood and treated like a celebrity. Her old fashion dress with high turbans presented her as eccentric to some and a representative of the old ways to others. Her final days were spent in Kennebunk, Maine with her Granddaughter, Sally Wood (Frost) Morton. She lived to the age of 95 having witnessed the American Revolution and the statehood of Maine.
The Maine State Library has all five of Sally Sayward Barrell Keating Wood’s novels along with letters and recollections as part of their Maine Author Collection.