Search Results for "wheelwright"

September
28th 2013
The Liturgy of the Book

Posted under American history & captivity & childhood & happy endings & jobs & O Canada & publication & women's history

Esther Wheelwright (1696-1780)

Esther Wheelwright (1696-1780)

When Tenured Radical wrote a blog post about the “Grafton Challenge” this summer, I was both impressed and completely intimidated by the blistering pace at which Tony Grafton writes:  3,500 words a day!  Amazing.  Then when she followed up to report that Matthew Gutterl had drafted a book this summer by. . . sitting down to write every day and cutting out distractions like blogging!. . . I thought to myself:  how much longer do I really want to live with the book I’m writing now, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright?  Isn’t it time to move on?

So, I decided to finish a rough draft of my book this fall, with Christmas day as my drop-dead date.  When I finished the second draft of Abraham in Arms eight years ago, the only time I had to myself that was completely free of familial distractions or responsibilities was from 4-6 a.m.  So, several days a week I now get out of bed at 4 a.m. and try to write for two hours.  It’s not as difficult as you’d think.  Caffeine helps, as does a shockingly early bedtime the night before.  I’ve had a cold this week, and the high-test antihistamines I’m on also give me a kick.  (I think it’s the stuff they cook meth out of, so no wonder.)  I prefer the silence of the tomb when I work, and my brain is freshest first thing in the morning, so 4-6 a.m. it is.

(I was reviewing a chapter I had already drafted, and I re-read something I had written last summer about how the Ursuline nuns I’m writing about would rise at 4 a.m. to begin their day.  Coincidence?  Continue Reading »

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May
23rd 2013
Bleg: Introduction to Historical Practice

Posted under American history & book reviews & students

Help me!

Howdy, friends:  today’s post is a transparent cry for help!  I’m teaching historiography again to our incoming graduate students.  (“Historiography” is the obscurantist term we use for a course that’s meant to be something like “introduction to historical practice.”  I think we should just change the name to the latter term and stop intimidating our graduate students.)  I’ve organized the course around an exploration of various scandals or ethical controversies in the practice of history recently, and I need your advice before I submit my book orders for the fall semester.

First, I’d like your suggestions for a memoir or reflexive book by a historian.  In the fall of 2011, the last time I taught the course, I used Richard White’s Remembering Ahanagran:  A History of Stories (1998; 2003), a book about White’s attempts to research the stories his mother told about her family and girlhood in Ireland.  It was very good, but almost too subtle for my purposes.  We also read the following week Debra Gray White’s Telling Histories:  Black Women Historians in the Ivory Tower (2008), which I will keep on the syllabus this time around because I found it incredibly effective and moving series of essays written from the margins rather than the center of the profession. Continue Reading »

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May
18th 2013
John Winthrop: still controversial after all these years.

Posted under American history & bad language & book reviews & European history

For a comment on a paper that I’m giving this afternoon, I needed to check a quotation from The Journal of John Winthrop, 1630-1649 (1996), edited by Richard Dunn, James Savage, and Laetitia Yeandle, the most recent and authoritative edition of Winthrop’s journals.  I should have done this at home, as I own this 799 page doorstop of a book, but luckily I found that the relevant passage was available via Google books.  Yay!  Mission accomplished.  Thanks, internets!

But wait:  there are two online reviews of Winthrop’s journal, which I thought was pretty interesting as he’s been dead since 1649.   “Imi” wrote, “Thank God we only have to read a small part of it for a lecture, because even those couple of pages were really boring. Continue Reading »

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December
20th 2012
The big reveal! Historiann has a face for C-SPAN 3.

Posted under American history & captivity & childhood & class & Gender & race & students & the body & women's history

You can see me lecturing to my HIST 358:  American Women’s History to 1800 students from this semester on the politics of early American women’s underwear (srsly!) on C-SPAN 3, American History TV, this weekend.  I’m on Saturday 8 p.m. EST/6 p.m. MST, again on Saturday at midnight/10 p.m., and Sunday at 1 p.m./11 a.m.  If (like me) you don’t get C-SPAN 3, it streams online over the weekend, too.  I also throw in some bits about the 600-year old bra, John Paul Gaultier, and Madonna into the lecture, just for laughs.

(Amazingly enough, there is a blog called Eighteenth-Century Stays, where you can see more photos like the one’s I’ve borrowed here, as well as other examples of both eighteenth- and seventeenth-century stays, with instructions for how to make them yourself.)

How did I get interested in early American undergarments, and why on earth do I think this is an appropriate subject for an undergraduate student lecture?  Continue Reading »

25 Comments »

March
16th 2011
History and humor

Posted under American history & art & captivity & childhood & Gender & Intersectionality & publication & unhappy endings & women's history

Sit down and let me pour you a cup!

As you may have noticed if you are a regular reader of this blog, I like teh funny, and even if my sense of humor ain’t exactly your cuppa joe, I like to write to amuse myself, at least.  My problem now is that I can’t find a lot of humor in the book I’m writing.  I wrote a book about guys and guns and warfare in the Northeastern borderlands of what’s now the U.S. and Canada, so although that wasn’t a happy story for most of the people I wrote about, there were a lot of really fatuous English men and women I could mock in that book.  I realize it’s a low trick, but having a mockable bad guy or set of bad guys in your book is one way to leaven the story and add a little humor.  After writing about warfare for the better part of a decade, I looked forward to what I imagined to be a retreat into the relative safety and comfort of the cloister in order to write about a little English girl (Esther Wheelwright, 1696-1780) who was taken captive by the Indians at 7 and wound up in the Ursuline convent in Quebec at the age of 12, where she remained for the rest of her life.  

But, the problem for me right now is that there just isn’t a lot of humor in the story of a little girl whose life was filled with warfare and trauma for her English family, and the starvation, disease, and eventual destrution of her Indian family.  She arrived safely at the monastery and lived to the age of 84, but early modern nuns are just so earnest with their apostolic missions, such do-gooders that I haven’t found a lot of humor or texture in that part of the story, either.  They were not late medieval mystics who wrote long, fantastic narratives or offered descriptions of the various ways in which they mortified their bodies.  They were not aristocratic European nuns who flaunted their wealth and had men jumping in and out of their cells in between secret plots to make another Borgia prince the Pope.  They were teachers!  I’m a teacher, and many of you reading this are teachers–you know how boring and earnest we all are!  Who wants to read about about a bunch of teachers?   

In short, I have a humor problem with this book, and no really obvious bad guys to target for the cheap yuks.  (At least I’m having a hard time making scurvy and smallpox variola take the fall for everything.) Continue Reading »

24 Comments »

January
26th 2009
Gender, history and biography

Posted under American history & Gender & women's history

From ”The Kennedys:  A Fumbled Handoff of the Torch,” by Sam Tanenhaus:

In 1963, shortly after her husband was murdered, Mrs. Kennedy granted an interview with Mr. White, who had covered the Kennedy election and then written his classic account, “The Making of the President, 1960.”

“Once, the more I read of history the more bitter I got,” Mrs. Kennedy reflected. Her husband, who in childhood had devoured romantic history books, viewed it very differently. “For Jack, history was full of heroes. And if it made him this way — if it made him see the heroes — maybe other boys will see.”

“Maybe other boys will see?”  That seems to sum it all up, doesn’t it?  History is about heroes, heroes are men, and heroes are meant to inspire boys.  This is not a criticism of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis–she experienced reading history as alienating or even embittering, rather than inspiring, and that’s the fault of historians.  I think her comments about the gendering of history are accurate even today, 45 years later. 

This is why I’m interested in women’s biography right now–for a long time I’ve worried that my biography of Esther Wheelwright won’t be perceived as theoretically sophisticated enough, or cool enough.  But women’s history is still such a relatively new field, with many discoveries to be made.  Discovering new women’s biographies may in fact be a much more radical undertaking than it appears to be on the surface.  I’ve argued all along that what may seem to be the most traditional and staid of all historical genres might in fact be dramatically subversive both for history and biography when a little girl and/or a woman is at the center of inquiry. 

Biography insists that its subject is of paramount importance to history.  Biography is powerful:  Cataloging the lives of the saints worked pretty well in popularizing Roman Catholicism and moving it from the margins to the center of European history and culture.  If more women’s biographies are written, read, and incorporated into school curricula, then the argument about who and what is important in history will be won.  We don’t have to write “sheroic” history–that is too flat and old-hat for me, not to mention an approach that usually privileges the overly privileged and stories that conform to the old Whig trajectory.  We must simply write about women’s lives unapologetically, and with specificity, nuance, and telling detail that puts them at the center of history rather than at the margins. 

History isn’t therapy–or at least, it doesn’t function very efficiently as therapy.  It is, however, ideology, and from my perspective, women’s history hasn’t begun to make a dent on what most people see as “History.”

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January
18th 2009
Le 18 Janvier, 1709

Posted under American history & captivity & childhood & O Canada & women's history

Le 18 Janvier M. De Vaudreuil nous a donné une petite Angloise nommée Esther pour être a Nre pensionnaire elle payera sa pension sur a pied de 40 Ecus.

Translation:  “January 18th M. de Vaudreuil brought us a young English girl named Esther. She paid 40 ecus for her board.”

Today is the 300th anniversary of Esther Wheelwright’s matriculation at the Ursuline school for girls in Quebec.  She was twelve years old.  She had been taken from her natal family more than five years earlier at the age of 7 in an Abenaki raid on Wells, Maine in August of 1703.  Her admission to the school signified the loss of her Abenaki family and kin, who had adopted her, as well as her lifelong alienation from the Protestantism she was born into.  “M. Vaudreuil” refers to Madame Vaudreuil (despite the masculine-appearing title abbreviation “M.”), the wife of the Governor of New France, who enrolled her own daughter at the school later that year as well as paid the expenses for other girls who appear to have been English captives.  In the decades surrounding the turn of the century, the school served Indian, English-born, and French students alike.  Although the Marquise de Vaudreuil was an enthusiastic patron, other Quebecois in the local community also paid the fees on behalf of several English captive girls. 

Sister Marie-de-Jésus, "Arrival of the Ursulines and the Sisters of Charity in New France" (1928)

The Ursulines were a counter-reformation women’s order who are comparable to the Jesuits both in their zeal for founding New World missions and their dedication to educating young people for the preservation and spread of Roman Catholicism.  The school in Quebec taught reading, writing, and arithmetic, but the core of the experience was religious education.  The first day of school is a significant and usually memorable day in the lives of all children, but Esther could not have known in 1709 the role this school would play in her life.  Esther must have excelled as a student in spite of the fact that French was her third language, because she declared her intention to become a religieuse as a young teenager.  Except for a short time at the Ursuline convent school in Trois Rivieres, she remained at the convent for the rest of her life as a teacher in the first school she ever attended.  Continue Reading »

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July
3rd 2008
Vive le Quebec libre!

Posted under American history & captivity & fluff & O Canada

Happy 400th birthday, QuébecJe me souviens–et vous, mes amis?  Do you remember the world before 1759?

Historiann’s most recent trip to Québec was late last August, and the city was shined up and ready for its international closeup in 2008.  Its nickel roofs were gleaming, and all of the historical sites and churches in Vieux-Québec were recently renovated, painted, and looking good.  All of you Englishers (or Bastonnais, as French Canadians used to call Anglo-Americans) either in Canada or in the U.S., should get on up there and expand your view of what early American history is.  By car from Maine, you could take the old route up the Kennebec and Chaudière River valleys through the Beauce region, which was the route that Benedict Arnold took to his ill-fated siege of Quebec in 1775.  It’s very pretty in the autumn, with the changing leaves, and very safe because there’s much less smallpox going around these days.  (This route is probably similar, if not identical, to the one that Esther Wheelwright and other mission Abenaki took to Québec earlier in the century, by canoe and portage, but it’s Arnold’s failed invasion that is commemorated along the way instead.  Right there is a little lesson on the importance of boundaries, language, and nationalism in historical memory–but I digress.)

To celebrate the anniversary of Samuel de Champlain’s founding of Québec, here’s a seasonal new drink that I call a Québec Libre (Free Québec, after Charles de Gaulle’s famous speech declaring “Vive le Québec libre” on July 24, 1967.)  For each serving:

  • Two ounces of brandy (French brandy, natch)
  • 1 T lemon juice
  • 1 t maple syrup (or to taste, up to 1 T)
  • seltzer water

Mix the first three ingredients well in the bottom of a tumbler (12-16 oz).  Fill the tumbler with ice, and then top it off with the seltzer water.  If it’s late summer and you’re in Québec, garnish with slices of locally-grown stone fruit on a fancy skewer, or (better yet) with a few ground cherries on a toothpick, with their papery skins still on.  (I suppose you could also call this the mojito del norte grand y blanco, but shhh…don’t tell!)

If you’re not in Québec, here’s the celebration’s theme song, “Tant d’histoires”(“So Many Stories”) by Danny Boudreau.  (Warning:  its not in fact sung by Celine Dion, but it’s not a stretch to imagine her singing it.)  You can see what’s going on in Québec today here.  It’s going to be a heckofa party–or très éspecial, as the locals might say.

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April
28th 2008
Potterville in the spring, and a girl’s thoughts turn to books. And pregnancy in captivity.

Posted under American history & local news

Here in Potterville, Colorado, it’s the most beautiful two weeks of the year.  The many crabapple, apple, plum, peach, and cherry trees are in full bloom, as are the tulips; if the forsythia holds on, just about every flowering tree and bush in my yard will be abloom at the same time. 

What, you say?  Historiann lives in the High Plains desert?  What the hell is she doing with a veritable fruit orchard in her garden?  Trees are integral to the history of (the pseudonymous) Potterville, which started out in 1870 as a Utopian experiment called the Union Colony, and was organized around the principles of teetotalism, anti-capitalist communitarianism, and bringing trees to the Great American Desert.  Well, one of out three goals outlasted the first decade, and it makes for a spectacular show of blossoms in late April and early May.

According to Enduring Roots:  Encounters with Trees, History, and the American Landscape by Gayle Brandow Samuels (1999), town founder Nathan Meeker spent the princely sum of $1,490.00 on bringing Eastern trees west–apple trees, maples, and evergreens–and in the first season, watched most of them wither and die (pp. 97-99).  They were replaced by trees that were given much more water and attention, hence the odd landscape Potterville presents today:  when you cross the town line and kick the tumbleweeds out of the front grille of your car, you’re greeted with flora that recall the Delaware and Ohio River valleys. 

I’ve heard it suggested by local house museum docents that Meeker’s death was an indirect result of his sumptuous budget for trees.  Before coming to Colorado, Meeker was the agricultural editor of the New York Tribune, and the newspaper’s publisher, Horace Greeley, encouraged him to ”go west, young man,” and provided a great deal of financial backing for the fledgling Union Colony.  When Greeley died and his estate called in the loans, Meeker didn’t have the money, and legend suggests that it had gone to his profligate tree budget.  (I can’t verify that yet, however.)  So, in 1878 he took a job as an Indian agent on the Western slope at the White River Indian Agency, where he annoyed the Utes so much with his utopian reformist zeal (especially his insistence that they adopt his farming techniques) that the following year they rose up and killed him and took his wife Arvilla and youngest daughter Josephine captive, along with the other U.S. women and children in the settlement.  Their captivity was short lived–only 23 days–but Josephine had time enough to stitch together a fitted, fashionable dress made of Indian blankets, which is on permanent display at the local museum.  It was rumored that when released, she was pregnant by a Ute man, a rumor that gained credence when she was sent to Washington, D.C. to work for a Colorado congressman.  However, she died of pneumonia shortly thereafter, before any putative child would have been born.  (Source for the verified information in this paragraph is here.)  Was Meeker doomed by his commitment to importing an Eastern landscape to the high plains desert?

Rumors of pregnancy resulting from captivity are an occasionally recurring theme in the history of North American Indian captivity.  There was a suggestion that 170 years earlier and 2,400 miles away, Esther Wheelwright conceived a child in captivity.  (I haven’t written about Wheelwright here for a while–to recap, she’s the topic of the book I’m writing now.)  In The Unredeemed Captive(1994) on p. 92, John Demos quotes the one letter I’ve ever seen with that suggestion that “mr whellrites dafter is with child by an indian.”  The letter, dated February 28, 1710, was written by former captive Esther Williams, who received the intelligence about “whellrites dafter” and other captives from another local ex-captive, John Arms, who returned home in the winter of 1710.  I’ve never credited the report–because at the time, Esther was enrolled at the Ursuline convent school, and had been since January 1709.  Moreover, she was a month shy of her fourteenth birthday in late February 1710, and far, far too young to have been considered sexually mature or marriageable in either Abenaki or colonial French society.  And because the goal of both cultures was to include her in family life and persuade her to remain by gentle means, I think it’s highly unlikely that she was raped.  Finally, there is no other evidence that corroborates this one account, suggesting to me that Esther Williams was either misinformed or she misreported information about another captive.

Last week, someone found their way to Historiann.com by googling the phrase “Esther Wheelwright pregnant by Abenaki.”  If you’re still out there, the above paragraph is my two cents.  As for the connections between crabapple trees and Esther Wheelwright–I dunno.  Something about captives thriving in a new environment?  The challenges of “going native” in a new environment?  The perserverence of Esther Wheelwright, Josephine Meeker, and the flowering almond in my back garden that will not die? 

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March
7th 2008
Friday doll blogging, 18th-century “action figure” edition

Posted under American history & captivity & Dolls

captivity-group.JPG

Here’s another photo of my Seven Years’ War lead soldiers and captives, which were a very cool recent birthday present.  I’m considering using them on the cover of my next book–they’re much cooler, more ambigous, and more mysterious than the portrait of Esther Wheelwright that hangs in the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS, for short).  And, a portrait is what you would already expect in a biography cover, right?  Esther commissioned a portrait shortly after she became Mother Superior, and then sent it to relatives in Massachusetts as a remembrance.  According to the curator of paintings I consulted with at the MHS in 2001, Anne Bentley, the painting is probably singular in their collection because it’s a portrait of a woman that wasn’t commissioned by her father or husband.  It’s pretty good for an amateur portrait–I wish I could show it to you, but I don’t yet have a digital copy, and the MHS doesn’t have all of their paintings on-line.  It was likely painted by an artist in the convent, as the Ursulines were known for their artistic excellence in producing elaborately embroidered altarcloths and giltwork items for churches, as well as humbler embroidered objects for the tourist trade. 

The MHS has done a wonderful job digitizing a bunch of other documents and images and organizing them into web displays.  For example, you can find this most excellent bit of military intelligence there, along with other Seven Years’ War-era maps.  Other rich web installations are African Americans and the End of Slavery in Massachusetts, and a featured “Object of the Month.”

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