Over the holiday weekend, I finally had an opportunity to sit down and read Toni Morrison’s A Mercy. As a colonial American women’s historian, it would have been a must-read for me anyway, but Morrison’s book surpassed my already high expectations. I don’t know how useful my review of the book will be to non-historians, but in keeping with the spirit of the day, I’ll offer a review of the book along with some thoughts about using novels in history classes after the jump. Spoiler alert: continue reading only if you don’t mind learning a few key plot details! Continue Reading »
Archive for the 'captivity' Category
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.
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 »
Good morning, all y’all tenderfeet and dudes! Here is a collection of some interesting news and views that Historiann roped up this morning. I’ll be out mending fences this weekend before the next big Rocky Mountain snowstorm comes in tomorrow–pour yourself a cup of cowboy coffee to ward off the chill of that Alberta Clipper, and read on:
First of all, Judith Warner provides more evidence for the viewpoint that raising your children among the upper middle-class in these United States makes you a bad person. (Don’t get me wrong–I admire her honesty, but it sounds like she would have been happier if she and her family had stayed in France.)
Here’s an evidence-based argument that the teevee–watching it and appearing on it–makes you stupid: Bob Somerby at The Daily Howler says that cable TV and Washington village media politics have taken over Rachel Maddow’s show on MSNBC (see Wednesday’s and Friday’s edition especially.) Sad, sad, sad.
Am I cynical about the teevee? You bet! Historiann has had brushes with TV documentaries: I appeared in one historical documentary, “Captive: the Story of Esther” on the subject of my current research. I was interviewed several times over the course of 18 months before the shoot, and I believe that my ideas were influential with the filmmakers. Around the same time, I was contacted by the producers of another documentary that wasn’t on my research topic. When I told them that I had no particular insights to offer or research expertise in the topic and therefore felt that I was unqualified to appear in it, they replied, “oh, you’re very well qualified,” and went on to explain that the sole qualification for the job was basic literacy. They wanted me merely to read a script, probably in front of a bookcase full of books to prove that I’m a “real” historian. No, thankee! That’s a job for a chimp–well, a chimp that reads, anyway. The only TV gig I dream of is an appearance on C-SPAN 2: Book TV. Production values a-go-go, am I right? (I love it, but it reminds me of community cable access in the 1980s.)
Memo to Tom Daschle: Health care for all won’t happen if your plan is just giant subsidies for private, for-profit insurance companies. Remember the $700 billion doled out to the banks this fall? And how has that worked out for us? Are you feeling the liquidity, my darlings?
In a related story, Susie Madrak reports on a trip to the University of Pennsylvania dental clinic, where it sounds like the student dentist needs an empathy implant. (And she provides more evidence that upper middle-class and elite Americans are bad, bad people who seem to have forgotten a little amendment to the U.S. Constitution I like to call the No Slavery Allowed amendment.)
Finally, some good news for working women and men, also via Susie at Suburban Guerilla: the United Food and Commercial Workers has successfully unionized the Smithfield Packing slaughterhouse in Tar Heel, N.C.
Et vous, mes amis? How are you planning to de-ice and warm up this weekend?
Bridget Crawford at Feminist Law Profs asks an interesting question: “is there a gender angle to the ‘financial hard times’ narratives and books marketed specifically to girls?” It was inspired by this article at Slate by Rebecca Perl, who waxed nostalgic about her 70s recession/stagflation childhood and the large number of children’s literature titles that seemed to be about hard times:
One of the ways I coped was by burying my nose in books and discovering kids who had it worse than I did. Like Ramona Quimby, whose dad got fired and took up residence on the couch. And Laura Ingalls, whose dad kept hitching up the wagon to drag his bonneted brood to the middle of nowhere. Many of the books I discovered during the late ’70s featured themes of economic hardship that made my circumstances seem manageable by comparison—a happy coincidence, I thought at the time. Looking back, I’m not so sure this was an accident.
Crawford notes that the big-screen adaptation of the American Girl franchise’s Depression-era kid, Kit Kittredge, was released this summer, and notes that the other books Perl mentions all feature girls as main characters. Thus her question: is this a coincidence, or is there a gendered angle to hard times in kid lit?
I’m about the same age as Perl, and I have no memory of Ramona’s dad being out of work. But that’s not to say that I was clueless about class and economic deprivation–I tended to read lots of historical children’s books natch, not just the Little House books, but also those beautiful books by Lois Lenski, which (more often than not) featured girls who wore flour sack dresses and took their lunches to school in tin pails (like Strawberry Girl, if I recall correctly.) I also really loved a biography of Jupiter, who was a boy enslaved on Thomas Jefferson’s father’s plantation and grew up with Jefferson. (At least, that’s what I remember–I can’t seem to find this title anywhere. It was probably published in the 1960s. Maybe I dreamed it up?) On the other hand, the modern stories written in the 1970s (Are You There, Judy Blume? It’s Me, Historiann) were more about “social issues” of the day like divorce, menstruation (Are You There, God…?), voyeurism (Then Again, Maybe I Won’t), and scoliosis, of course. Scoliosis was a big fear of ours in the late 70s, thanks to Deenie!
(Hey, fellow early American/borderlands warfare freaks–how did I miss this Lois Lenski title when I was a child, Indian Captive: the Story of Mary Jemison? I guess I’ll put that on my Christmas list this year!)
All of this is to say, yours is a great question, Bridget, but I’m clearly lost in a fog of nostalgia and can’t venture an answer. Maybe some of our lurking lit profs, folklorists, historians, and other ex-girls and former boys can chime in with their reflections and best guesses. What do you think?
Did you know that John McCain was a P.O.W. in Vietnam? Me neither, until I heard it about 600 times at the Republican National Convention! (Someone, please explain to me exactly why Wesley Clark was wrong and was an ineffective surrogate for the Obama campaign.)
Anyway, this lovely September Sunday morning must have been much like the dry and sunny late summer days in which French-allied Abenaki typically attacked English houses and villages in Northern New England and Western Massachusetts, and marched away with their prisoners of war. The winter attack on Deerfield, Massachusetts in 1704 notwithstanding, the vast majority of captive raids, like the vast majority of other eighteenth-century military engagements, happened from July through mid-October. Any earlier than that interfered with the agricultural calendar, and any later than that made for rough overland travel into (or out of) the northeastern backcountry.
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.
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.”
So, yesterday I was working away in the library on my next impressive tome, and this link came in over the bloggy transom, Colonial History: Nothing but Massacres?, in commemoration of the raid by French-allied Indians (Wabanaki, Hurons, and Mohawks) on Deerfield, Massachusetts on the night of February 28-29, 1704. It was posted by Ari Kelman at The Edge of the American West at the very moment I was re-reading the neglected but bloody finale to Colonel Benjamin Church’s Indian-killing career as recounted in his Entertaining passages relating to Philip’s War which began in the month of June, 1675 (1716). (Barbies in the morning, barbarism all afternoon–such is Historiann’s eccentric intellectual life!) Contrary to the title, the book documents his successive Indian fighting expeditions through 1704, when at the age of 65 he proposed leading a murderous raid on the Wabanaki and French Acadians living around the Gulf of Maine in retaliation for the Deerfield attack. Never mind that few if any Acadians or Maine Wabanaki were involved in the Deerfield raid–Church was probably looking for a pretext to attack in Maine and Acadia. (He had attempted a similar raid in 1696 during King William’s War, when he succeeded in killing mostly livestock rather than French or Indian people.)
What does it mean when we frame colonial history (in Ari Kelman’s prankishly exaggerated term) as “nothing but massacres,” rather than as Anglo-American agricultural villages (“peaceable kingdoms”) that through the organic experience of small government developed the concept of “popular sovereignty” and Republicanism? Well, for one, we get a colonial history that merges seamlessly with the history of the United States in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (“Manifest Destiny,” the Frontier Army, and U.S. imperialism from Cuba and the Phillipines to Iraq). We also get a more inclusive picture of colonial America, which included Indian and African peoples as well as Europeans and Euro-Americans, as well as a colonial history that has more continuities rather than differences with the colonial histories of Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, and central and South America. Therefore, the “nothing but massacres” frame is something that seriously challenges claims to American Exceptionalism.
One of the problems colonial historians have in writing these more inclusive histories is that we have lengthy, detailed accounts of attacks on English towns and families written by the survivors, but we have no comparable documentation of English attacks on Indian villages and families, and Native oral histories can’t entirely compensate. Col. Church is so proud of his efforts to imprison and kill Wabanaki and French people that his neglected post-King Philip’s War career can fill in some of these gaps. Church reports that his charge from Governor Joseph Dudley gives him free reign between the Piscataqua and St. Croix Rivers, and over to Mount Desert and Acadia (Nova Scotia), to “use all possible Methods for the burning and destroying of the Enemies Housing, and breaking the Dams of their Corn grounds in the said several places, and make what other Spoils you can upon them, and bring away the Prisoners.” After they “kill’d and took every one both French & Indians, not knowing that any one did escape in all Penobscot,” they proceeded to “Passamequedo” up the St. Croix River, where Church was involved in a confusing skirmish with the scattered locals, “never asking whether they were French or Indians; they being all Enemies alike to me.” Church and his men then proceeded to Acadia to sack and burn the French Acadian town of Menis (Minas), and to take “as many Prisoners as they could desire” from another Acadian town, but declined to attack Port Royal, and so returned to the mainland to seek out Wabanaki settlements in the Penobscot and Kennebec River valleys, especially the Catholic mission town at Norridgewock.
Church was unsuccessful in routing Norridgewock–he reports that when the Wabanaki there had heard that the English had “swept” Penobscot of its “Inhabitants, as if it had been swept with a Broom,” they cleared out of Norridgewock so quickly they left their “Ruff houshold-stuff and Corn behind them.” (This was only one of many failed English expeditions to destroy Norridgewock and its French Jesuit missionaries–a feat they wouldn’t accomplish for another twenty years.) The Norridgewock Wabanaki were mobile and had long-established connections with the mission Indians at St. Francis, near Quebec, but they probably didn’t all head North that summer of 1704–at least some of them remained to counter-attack English towns, especially Wells, Maine, where on August 10 they took dozens of captives, including Esther Wheelwright. Church’s attacks were deadly, but they didn’t dissuade French and Wabanaki people from attacking English towns, as Church had hoped–his attacks probably only fueled their determination to drive the English out of Maine, and that’s a lesson that few in political and military leadership have ever seemed to learn in American history.
Diary of an Anxious Black Woman is doing a great Black Herstory Month series–be sure to check it out. She’s doing a spectacular job of telling stories of women far beyond the usual suspects, including nineteenth- and twentieth-century women in the arts like Katherine Dunham, Edmonia Lewis, and Octavia Butler. In an post on Margaret Garner, she brings us word of an epoynymous opera with a libretto by Toni Morrison, whose Beloved was a fictionalized version of Garner’s life. (The photo on the right is of the historical marker that stands in a central square in Covington, Kentucky to commemorate Garner’s escape and tragic choices.) Anxious Black Woman believes that Margaret Garner the opera is far superior to the film version of Beloved: “Unlike the film adaptation, which reduced the pain and the trauma of the story to histrionics and horror-film grotesqueries, the opera magnifies the despair and the sadness that her story is supposed to represent.” Also, see Clio Bluestocking Tales for some brilliant posts about the woman known as Harriet Bailey Adams or Ruth Cox Adams, whom Frederick Douglass called his “sister.” (Clio B. is contemplating a biography of Douglass through the lives of the women he was closest to.)
I’ve been doing some African American history in the service of my current project, a book on the life and times of Esther Wheelwright (1696-1780), a child from Maine who was taken captive by the Abenaki in 1704 during Queen Anne’s War. She lived with (and was almost certainly adopted by) the Abenaki until the age of 12, when she went to Quebec and entered the Ursuline convent there, living the rest of her long life as a nun. Esther Wheelwright came from a slaveowning family, which it turns out was not as unusual as I would have expected in Wells, Maine at the turn of the eighteenth century. Her paternal grandfather, father, and mother all wrote wills (in 1700, 1739, and 1750, respectively) that deeded enslaved people to other family members upon their deaths, so it’s very likely that Esther grew up in a household that included enslaved Africans or African Americans.
Imagine the isolation of the lives of enslaved people living on the frontiers of New England, living and working in isolation from a black community of any size. Northern slavery in colonial Anglo-America may have offered relatively better food, clothing, and working conditions than slavery in the Caribbean or the southern mainland colonies, but it was just as arbitrary and cruel. The only evidence I’ve found that speaks directly to the experiences of enslaved African American women in southern Maine around 1700 so far is the case of women identified only as Rachel, who was beaten regularly and then finally murdered by her master, Nathaniel Keene, in 1694. Keene (or Caine) was initially accused in court of “Murdering a Negro Woman,” but in the end the jury found him guilty only of “cruelty to his Negro woman by Cruell Beating and hard usage.” The penalty exacted of him was a five-pound fine-which was suspended-and five pounds, ten shillings in court costs. In order to put this punishment into perspective, people convicted of fornication or of bearing a child out of wedlock in 1694 and 1695 were regularly fined between twenty shillings and five pounds, substantial but not crippling sums. This is how Rachel’s hard life and wretched death were commemorated by her community.
Sorry to end on such a down note–it’s times like this that I’m envious of modern historians. They get to tell stories of liberation and triumph over oppression. Me, I’m left with stories that, more often than not, don’t have endings that satisfy the reader’s need for retribution against evildoers and redress for the victims.
1. Pick up the nearest book ( of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people.
I picked up Malintzin’s Choices: An Indian Woman in the Conquest of Mexico by Camilla Townsend (2006). Here are the selected 3 sentences on p. 123:
“About the same time as the students of the Franciscans were interviewing elderly men who remembered the battle for Tenochtitlan, other friars were supervising the transcription of some of the old Nahuatl songs that had come down through the years. For centuries, the songs had evolved with each new generation; they were malleable, constantly reflecting the new experiences of the singers and their audiences. By the 1550s and 1560s, many of them contained references to the Christian god and to other elements of life with the Spanish.”
Not coincidentally, this is a woman’s biography–have any of you out there read it yet? Any thoughts? I’m considering it for my early American women’s history class in the fall, and for a historiographical essay I’ve agreed to write.