If Harriet Vaughan Foster Cheney’s mother hadn’t been Hannah Webster Foster, the author of the early seduction novel The Coquette, it might be even more difficult to find biographical information about her. Harriet was born in Brighton, Massachusetts, on September 9, 1796, and lived in New England for over thirty years, until she moved to Montreal, Canada, where she spent the rest of her life. Not quite an American author, she’s not fully a Canadian one, either, which might be one reason she’s fallen through the cracks of the historical record. Her works also tended towards the didactic and religious, and are fairly conservative, which could be another reason she has yet to be recovered.
Before her marriage to Edward Cheney in 1830, Harriet published A Peep at the Pilgrims in Sixteen Hundred Thirty Six in 1824, when she was 28, and then The Rivals of Acadia in 1827. Both were works of historical fiction, written in a time when American writers worked to create a national literature by re-imagining the recent American past and adapting that story to the popular style of novelists like Sir Walter Scott. A Peep was published three years before Hope Leslie, and the same year as Hobomok, yet it provides quite a different perspective on the Puritans and Pilgrims.
After her move to Montreal, where her husband worked as a dry-goods merchant until his death in 1845, Harriet published Sketches from the Life of Christ in 1844, and Confessions of an Early Martyr in 1846. Together with her sister, Elizabeth Lanesford Cushing, she founded and edited The Snow Drop, a Canadian periodical for children (1847-1853). According to the Guide to Literary Masters and Their Works, the journal reflected Cheney’s belief that children are inherently good and therefore do not need the moralizing, didactic tales that characterized earlier children’s fiction.
She died in Montreal in 1889.
“Cheney, Harriet Vaughan.” Guide to Literary Masters and Their Works (Jan. 2007). Literary Reference Center. Web. 1 Feb. 2016.
Gearson, Carole. Canadian Women in Print, 1750-1918. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2011. Google Books. Web. 1 Feb. 2016.
Vasquez, Mark. Authority and Reform: Religious and Educational Discourses in Nineteenth-Century New England Literature. Knoxville: U. of Tennessee P, 2003.