10 Terrific Historical Novels Set in the 1800s

The 19th century was an interesting time, full of both great accomplishments and some of the most shameful parts of our history, from slavery to imperialism. If you're interested in knowing what life was like during this century, but would rather read fiction than biographies and textbooks, consider diving into the ten historical novels listed here. When you click links from this website, we may receive advertising revenue to support our research. This video was made with Ezvid Wikimaker.

10 Terrific Historical Novels Set in the 1800s

Title Author More by the Author
1. The Movement of Stars Amy Brill ReMem
2. The House Girl Tara Conklin The Last Romantics
3. Winter Sisters Robin Oliveira My Name Is Mary Sutter
4. Wash Margaret Wrinkle
5. The Wedding Gift Marlen Suyapa Bodden
6. Beauty for Ashes Dorothy Love Every Perfect Gift
7. Grace Natashia Deon Not My President
8. I Shall Be Near to You Erin Lindsay McCabe
9. Lilli de Jong Janet Benton
10. Citizens Creek Lalita Tademy Cane River

5 Great Films Set in the 19th Century

  1. Little Women (1994)
  2. Zulu Dawn (1979)
  3. Wilde (1997)
  4. The Warlords (2007)
  5. The Elephant Man (1980)

Significant Events of the 1800s

Year Event
1801 Thomas Jefferson becomes president of the United States
1803 The US expands its territory with the Louisiana Purchase
1804 Napoleon becomes the Emperor of France
1813 Jane Austen publishes Pride and Prejudice
1821 Mexico gains independence from Spain
1836 The Battle of the Alamo
1842 The first use of anesthesia
1854 The Treaty of Kanagawa ends Japan's isolationist policy
1861 The American Civil War begins
1872 Yellowstone National Park is created
1881 Assassination of Tsar Alexander II
1887 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle publishes the first Sherlock Holmes story
1899 The Boxer Rebellion begins

19th Century Imperialism

In Depth

The 19th century was an interesting time all over the world. In America, the dark days of slavery finally ended in 1863. Meanwhile, European colonialism ravaged Asia and Africa. If you want to get an idea of what it was like to live in these eventful times, all you need is the right book. In no particular order, these ten compelling historical novels set in the 1800s will help you get inside the heads of people who lived and died over a century ago.

#1. "The Movement of Stars" by Amy Brill. Set in 1845, the author's astounding debut novel revolves around a female astronomer's goal of finding a comet, winning a gold medal, and proving to her small community that she can go beyond societal norms. After Hannah Gardner Price of the Nantucket Quaker community meets Isaac Martin from the Azores, she takes him on as a student.

They share common ambitions and interests in work, and soon they begin to develop a romantic bond. Hannah's struggle for women's rights, passion for career, and forbidden love story make her a remarkable heroine, at the center of an intense and captivating tale.

They share common ambitions and interests in work, and soon they begin to develop a romantic bond.

#2. "The House Girl" by Tara Conklin. A spectacular novel of love and justice, this book flawlessly weaves the heroic stories of a house slave in 1852 Virginia and a determined young lawyer in present-day New York. Teenager Josephine Bell seeks freedom from the tobacco farm where she is forced to serve her sick mistress, an aspiring artist named Lu Anne Bell.

Meanwhile, Lina Sparrow is a go-getting associate in a top law firm in modern NYC. She's given a task that could make or break her career: look for the "perfect plaintiff" to represent a lawsuit worth trillions of dollars in reparations for descendants of slaves in America.

#3. "Winter Sisters" by Robin Oliveira. A haunting and superbly crafted mystery, this novel is the follow-up installment to the author's bestselling "My Name Is Mary Sutter." Picking up over ten years after the end of the first book, physician Mary Sutter finds herself in the middle of an investigation after a blizzard in Albany. The year is 1879 and her neighbor's daughters Emma and Claire have gone missing. Finally, that spring, the girls are returned to their family.

Finally, that spring, the girls are returned to their family.

However, they are unable to identify their captors and Mary believes something sinister happened to them. Despite her efforts to find the truth and begin a probe of her own, she is met with opposition from some of their town's powerful residents and the authorities themselves. Revealing what happened to the two girls exposes some dark secrets that the community had been hiding all along.

#4. "Wash" by Margaret Wrinkle. Set in the early 1800s in Tennessee, this award-winning novel is brilliantly told through three perspectives, reaching out to readers to reflect on a dreadful time in American history. Richardson, a Revolutionary War veteran and hesitant slave owner, is faced with the pressures of debt. He sets a young man named Washington to work as his breeding sire.

As Wash struggles with the physical and emotional burdens of slavery, he is led to a midwife and healer named Pallas with whom he develops a romantic bond. Their relationship unfolds against rough circumstances, and she continues to inspire Wash to understand his heritage and his position in it.

As Wash struggles with the physical and emotional burdens of slavery, he is led to a midwife and healer named Pallas with whom he develops a romantic bond.

#5. "The Wedding Gift" by Marlen Suyapa Bodden. This provocative tale transports readers to 1852 Alabama, a time and place marred by racism and slavery. Sarah Campbell works as a housemaid to her half-sister Clarissa. The two girls are daughters of a wealthy plantation owner, Cornelius Allen.

Sarah hopes to one day turn her back on this forced labor, while Clarissa is not interested in her father's plan to marry her off at a young age. When she gets pregnant prior to getting wed, the paths of the two sisters are greatly changed and they get tangled in a web of secrets, desires, scandals, and violence.

#6. "Beauty for Ashes" by Dorothy Love. After Carrie Daly's young husband loses his life at the battle of Shiloh, she spends her days living quietly with her older brother, Henry, on their family's farm. However, when Henry weds Mary Stanhope, a stubborn widow with two naughty sons, Carrie moves out and takes on a job at Nate Chastain's bookshop.

However, when Henry weds Mary Stanhope, a stubborn widow with two naughty sons, Carrie moves out and takes on a job at Nate Chastain's bookshop.

There, she crosses paths with Southern gentleman Griff Rutledge. Despite being drawn to each other's charms, they need to learn to trust each other and open their hearts if they want to build their own loving home.

#7. "Grace" by Natashia Deon. Set against a vivid backdrop in the 1840s south, this touching story revolves around a group of outcast women during a gripping period in American history. A fifteen-year-old slave named Naomi runs away from the horrific confines of an Alabama estate and takes shelter in a brothel in Georgia. In the midst of chaotic scenes run by criminals and prostitutes, she falls in love and begins an affair with a white man named Jeremy.

She gets pregnant and gives birth to Josey, a white-skinned, blonde-haired baby who is taken in by Charles, a freed slave, after Naomi gets murdered. Years later, the Emancipation Proclamation is issued and, despite the official end of American slavery, Josey struggles to attain her personal freedom and dignity.

Years later, the Emancipation Proclamation is issued and, despite the official end of American slavery, Josey struggles to attain her personal freedom and dignity.

#8. "I Shall Be Near to You" by Erin Lindsay Mccabe. Inspired by the letters of an exceptional female soldier who fought in the Civil War, this remarkable tale revolves around Rosetta and her husband Jeremiah. Rosetta opposes her partner's decision to enlist in the army, but Jeremiah is determined to find money for their farm however he can.

After her spouse leaves and she learns that the army is still seeking more recruits, Rosetta volunteers. Disguised as a man, she faces a skeptical husband and their marriage is put to the test by relentless risks, war, and the fear that the truth about Rosetta will be revealed.

#9. "Lilli de Jong" by Janet Benton. Beautifully written with tenderness and compassion, this powerful story is set in 1883 Philadelphia where Lilli de Jong gives birth at an institution for unwed women. The young woman finds out the meaning of unconditional love when she sees how much her baby needs her. Despite being asked to give up her child to avoid constant shame and financial struggles, Lilli keeps the baby and attempts to overcome poverty and societal condemnation.

Despite being asked to give up her child to avoid constant shame and financial struggles, Lilli keeps the baby and attempts to overcome poverty and societal condemnation.

#10. "Citizens Creek" by Lalita Tademy. Born as a slave in 1810 Alabama and sold to a Creek Indian chief years later, Cow Tom makes a name for himself with his ability to speak multiple languages. Later in life, he becomes a translator for his Creek master and works for the U.S. military. Despite earning him enough money, his talent doesn't ensure his family's freedom.

His granddaughter Rose soon steps up and leads the family, fighting back against political and societal resentment towards Indians and blacks. Flawlessly written from both Cow Tom's and Rose's perspectives, this compelling tale touches themes of family and identity.