Set in New England, The Unforeseen follows the consequences of the brutal Civil War to the lives of ordinary women through three generations of intermarried families.
No one among the antislavery advocates in New England foresaw the sweeping changes that the long, brutal Civil War would bring to their towns and families. In Beverly, Massachusetts, the magnitude of the war tears family life apart, forcing many to endure the absence and deaths of fathers, fiancés, brothers, uncles, cousins, and nephews. Unmarried women are forced to find work in factories or as servants and farm help—or else face miserable poverty.
Jenny Proctor Hutchins, nineteen when the war breaks out in 1861, withstands catastrophic losses. She must adapt to the strangeness of a new city and of large-scale production, to boardinghouse living, and to learning new skills on steam-driven sewing machines. Friends and family come to rely on Jenny’s resourcefulness as an herbal healer, and after a hard struggle, she forges a satisfying new life for herself. Still, Jenny realizes that postwar society in the Northeast is deeply corrupt. Victory has poisoned the financial system, just as defeat made the South wretched. With declining northern support for the freed people, Jenny wonders why the war was fought with these results.