Tuesday, September 24, 2019

A Wreath from the Woods of Carolina

or, how a New Bern native became the first North Carolinian to write and illustrate a book for children.

Frontispiece of A Wreath from the Woods of Carolina

by John B. Green III

Mary Ann Bryan Mason (1802-1881) was born in New Bern, North Carolina, the daughter of John Council and Mary Ann Fulford Bryan.  In 1823 she married the Reverend Richard Sharpe Mason, rector of Christ Church, New Bern.  After pastorates in New York and Delaware, the couple settled in Raleigh where he served as rector of Christ Church from 1840 until his death in 1874.

Photograph of Mary Ann Bryan Mason from Richard Walser, Young Readers Picturebook of Tar Heel Authors (Raleigh: N.C. Department of Cultural Resources, 1975)

Mary Bryan Mason was known for her considerable talent as a musician, painter, and sculptor.  To these abilities she added that of published author in 1859.  In that year, no doubt drawing upon her experiences as the wife of a pastor and the mother of six children, she wrote and illustrated a children's book which she titled A Wreath from the Woods of Carolina.

Published by the General Protestant Episcopal Sunday School Union and Church Book Society of New York, A Wreath from the Woods of Carolina is a handsomely printed book consisting of ten allegorical and moralistic stories for children.  Each features a particular flower common to the woods or gardens of North Carolina and is accompanied by an engraved, color plate based on a floral illustration by Mrs. Mason.

"The Trumpet Flower", engraved plate from A Wreath from the Woods of Carolina

Mrs. Mason followed the success of A Wreath from the Woods of Carolina with a novel in 1860, Her Church and Her Mother, and a housekeeping how-to book in 1871, The Young Housewife's Counsellor and Friend.  She died in 1881 and is buried in  Raleigh's Oakwood Cemetery.

Cover of A Wreath from the Woods of Carolina

A Wreath from the Woods of Carolina is today recognized as the first children's book written by a North Carolinian.  The Kellenberger Room is fortunate to have a copy of this rare work.