Cover image for Fire & roses : the burning of the Charlestown convent, 1834
Fire & roses : the burning of the Charlestown convent, 1834
Schultz, Nancy Lusignan, 1956-
Publication Information:
New York : Free Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
xii, 317 pages : illustrations, 1 map ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
F74.C4 S35 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Packed with fascinating characters and hair-raising drama, this true story of a 19th century convent destroyed by a rampaging mob documents one of the worst episodes of religious persecution in American history. Photos.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

On August 11, 1834, an angry, drunken mob converged on Mount Benedict, a convent housing a flourishing women's school in Charlestown, Massachusetts, and burned it to the ground. This gripping narrative retraces the convergent emotional, cultural, and social forces that impelled a group of otherwise ordinary citizens to participate in an unthinkable act of violence and religious persecution. Founded in 1826 by a group of Ursuline nuns, the convent had long been the subject of vicious gossip--primarily fueled by a disgruntled ex-student alleging both psychological and sexual abuse. In addition, a series of particularly virulent and intolerant sermons by the respected Reverend Lyman Beecher Stowe added fuel to the already strong anti-Catholic sentiment prevalent in the area. A combustible combination of ignorance, suspicion, and antipapism made the convent the natural target of an unruly gathering of disgruntled laborers already resentful of the presence of a group of capable, well-educated women in their midst. Utilizing court documents, letters, diaries, and newspaper articles, Schultz does a remarkable job of piecing together the startling circumstances surrounding this devastating tragedy. --Margaret Flanagan

Publisher's Weekly Review

In 1834, a group of fiercely anti-Catholic rioters burned Mt. Benedict, an Ursuline convent just outside of Boston that was home not only to a community of nuns, but also to the prestigious girls' school they ran. Using this singularly explosive example, Schultz, professor of English at Salem State College, conveys the larger current of anti-Catholic sentiment that was prevalent throughout early 19th-century America. While such religious intolerance had existed in New England since the Puritans first landed, the most recent anti-papist explosion could be traced to the departure from the convent of a novice named Rebecca Reed just two years before. A convert to Catholicism, Reed entered the convent school as a charity student and initially aspired to become a nun. However, she began to chafe under the requirements of convent life and imagined that there was a conspiracy plotting to imprison her in a convent in Canada. After fleeing Mt. Benedict, she published an anti-Catholic expose, Six Months in a Convent, filled with tales of abuse that she and other nuns allegedly suffered. Indeed, Reed wasn't the only nun to run away. Her escape was followed by that of a Sister St. John, who the hardworking but overwhelmingly poor townsfolk believed was brought back against her will by the bishop. The Ursuline nuns' dual purpose to serve the poor and to educate wealthy young women was increasingly resented by the struggling laborers who traveled to CharlestownÄoften from farms in distant New HampshireÄin search of work. Reed's escape, coupled with a series of anti-Catholic sermons by the Reverend Lyman Beecher (Harriet Beecher Stowe's father), served as the spark that ignited the townsfolk's burning anger. Schultz is to be commended for her riveting historical study, which is plotted like a novel, with tight pacing and fully realized characters. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The Ursuline Convent at Mt. Benedict in Charlestown, MA, was brutally vandalized and burned in 1834, and this dramatic depiction integrates the details of that harrowing event with the historical context. Situated on a hill, surrounded by acres of gardens and orchards, the convent educated not only young nuns but the daughters of elite Boston Protestants as well. It quickly became the focus of hostility on the part of struggling local brickmakers, for whom the convent symbolized religious mysticism and elitism, feeding the already nativistic, anti-Catholic sentiment of the period. One summer evening, a drunken mob attacked the convent, vandalized the cloister and mausoleum, and then burned the building down, coming back later to destroy the gardens. Rumors had circulated about sex and violence within the walls of the convent, so themes involving class, gender, and religion are woven into a gripping tale. But this work by Schultz (English, Salem State Coll., MA) is essentially a scholarly treatment, well researched, with footnotes, and with the welcome bonus of readability and drama. Recommended for academic and large public libraries.DBonnie Collier, Yale Law Lib. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.