Shetlanders by Penny Post: The Mathewson Family Letters, 1850 – 1880

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Kenneth Carpenter was a librarian at Harvard University for forty years. Especially in retirement he has pursued scholarly ventures, mostly on the history of libraries and on early translations of economic literature into European languages. Work on the Mathewson letters was not planned; he just found them irresistible.

Shetlanders by Penny Post: The Mathewson Family Letters, 1850-1880 makes vivid the lives of the Mathewsons and their neighbours during a period of social and economic transition. Steam was replacing sail, but light at home was still provided by paraffin oil lamps. The telegraph reached Yell, and a weekly newspaper had begun; yet daily lives remained much as they had been. Most people still relied on obtaining their food primarily from the sea, the soil, and the animals they raised. Summers were for work; winters were the time of weddings and visits.

A person always feared for the health and lives of loved ones, with good reason, and the clergy were often the providers of medical care, tough surgery had come to be available in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Education was elementary, but the state had begun to take control. Men and women both had to leave home to find work, though in the case of the Mathewsons the schoolhouse in East Yell was always home.

Family members, writing roughly on a schedule, sent long letters back and forth, and the British government delivered them on schedule. To an extent that is perhaps unique, this book makes visible the daily events, struggles, and emotional lives of ordinary people two centuries ago. The reader comes to know them and their world intimately.

Assembled and edited by Kenneth E. Carpenter


478 pages

240x 165mm