From the mailbag: it’s an old-fashioned, Historiann round-up!

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A belated Valentine to all my readers!

Oh, my friends:  so much is happening globally, nationally, regionally, locally, and even here at the Black Cat Ranch that it’s hard to find time to blog even just one little bit these days.  My apologies!  Over the weekend I saved up some bits and bobs of oakum, old yarn, and loose string that might distract you from that sense of impending doom that weighs on so many of us these days.  Who knows?  It might help, and it surely can’t hurt, right?  So, andiamo, mi amici–

  • First, a request from a reader, Catherine Devine, who writes:  “I’m designing a ‘NEVERTHELESS SHE PERSISTED’ banner, and I want to have the names of women across time, occupation and location in the background. Esther Wheelwright’s definitely there 🙂 I have the beginning of a  list, but I’m white and not a historian. Your readers are sane and and well informed. I’m looking to politics, art, science, literature – anywhere. There will be plenty of room on the banner.  If you’re willing, please have people send me names & references to catherinedevine at mac dot com with ‘Persisted’ in the subject line. I’m hoping to create one of the only footnoted banners ever. Oh yeah, I’m not doing this for profit. I will share the file for printing.”  Readers, can you help?  You can also leave suggestions in the comments below–I’ll be sure to let Devine know when this post goes live so she can check in there, too.

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Teaser Tuesday: Puritan, Captive, Catholic, Spy?

Yale University Press. 2016

Yale University Press. 2016

Teaser Tuesday is back after a three-week holiday hiatus with a penultimate post, this one from the penultimate chapter of my book, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright.  Today I offer you a little eighteenth-century intrigue surrounding Mother Esther near the time of her first election as mother superior in late 1760, after the British conquest of Québec.  Anglo-American and British officials were reflexively suspicious of French and French Canadian religious women, whom they routinely portrayed not just as religiously dangerous but also as political schemers.  While the Jesuits were thought to be the most dangerous of the religious orders because of their “Turbulent and Intriguing Genius,” as we’ll see in this excerpt, religious women–especially mothers superior–were also regarded as potentially dangerous and destabilizing of British imperial control: Continue reading

Teaser Tuesday: missing men & missing trousers! Whaaaaat?

Yo yoWhat time is it?  Showtime!  OK, I’ll stop setting everything that goes through my head to the tune of various Hamilton:  An American Musical songs.  Sometimes it makes me wonder why I even bring the thunder (why she even brings the thunder!)  Sorry–that was the last one, but as it happens, our subject is the thunder of British cannons that laid siege to the city of Québec in 1759 and set the stage for the British occupation (from 1759-ff, according to Québec!)

The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright spans all of the colonial wars that spanned her life, and no wonder:  her life from start to end was indelibly shaped by war and various invading armies.  Born in 1696 at the end of King William’s War (1688-97), in which many of the Anglo-American towns in what’s now southern Maine were attacked by French-allied Wabanaki, Esther was taken captive in another series of raids conducted in the next war, Queen Anne’s War (1702-1713). Although she found a great deal of security and stability inside the walls of the Ursuline convent in Québec by 1709, war followed her throughout her life from the failed British invasion of that city in 1711 to the successful invasion and occupation in 1759 in the Seven Years’ War to the unsuccessful attempt of Americans to take the city in 1775-76 in an early skirmish in the Revolutionary War.  Aside from these conflicts, Québec was (and still is) a city with a massive military installation, so you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting a man in uniform throughout the eighteenth century.

But they weren’t inside women’s religious orders, were they?  After the invasion and occupation begins in 1759, they are!  General James Murray, the occupation governor, surveyed the institutional buildings in the city and saw the advantages of setting up his temporary base of operations inside the Ursuline convent!  But here’s the funny part:  you’d never know it from the Ursuline records.  Thus, the case of the missing men–and their missing trousers!  (I know, 1759 is still squarely in the knee breeches era, with modern trousers being at least 50 years in the future for most men.  But you’ll see a mention of “trowsers” in the primary source quoted below). Continue reading

Who’s doing all that domestic work inside the convent? Teaser Tuesday returns with some hidden labor history

Yale University Press. 2016

Yale University Press. 2016

Teaser Tuesday is back with more secrets of the convent from chapter four of my new book, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright, namely:  who’s doing all of the laundry, cleaning, and cooking inside the Ursuline convent in Québec?  The aristocratic daughters of (often literally) entitled colonial officials, military officers, and fur trade merchants performed only the apostolic labor of the order–they were the elite choir nuns, and so worked as teachers and artists.  It was the lay (or converse) sisters who got the dirty jobs done.

My excerpt today explains the differences between the choir nuns and the lay sisters, and tries to give you an idea of what daily life was like for these servant-sisters in the eighteenth century: Continue reading

Teaser Tuesday: the return of Nabby Adams, nuns’ clothing ceremonies, and a new doll!

Yale University Press. 2016

Yale University Press. 2016

Today’s Teaser Tuesday excerpt from The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright features one of the more dramatic passages in the book–Esther’s clothing ceremony (or Vêture) in January 1713 at age of 16 that represented her formal admission as an Ursuline novice.  The novitiate, characterized by the great scholar of French religious women in the early modern period, Diane Rapley, as a “military boot camp,” was designed to test the suitability of girls and young women for religious life.  The Ursulines of Québec had a remarkably effective novitiate–16% of novices left before final profession, and there is no record whatsoever of a professed nun leaving the order after final vows.

Of course, with my enduring interest in clothing and material culture in history, the fact that this ceremony is called literally a “clothing ceremony,” I found it irresistible to write about it at some length.  Even better, Abigail (Nabby) Adams Jr., our fugitive Latin scholar from last week, recorded in her travel diary a clothing ceremony she had witnessed in Paris in 1784 among the order that ran the school where Thomas Jefferson had enrolled his young daughters, Martha (Patsy) and Mary (Polly), when he was serving as the ambassador to France in the 1780s.  In this ceremony, novices take the white veil, which distinguishes them from the professed nuns who in the Ursuline order wear the black veil as shown in Esther’s portrait on the cover of my book: Continue reading

Teaser Tuesday: Gender, race, and intellectual authority in the Ursuline Convent

Yale University Press. 2016

Yale University Press. 2016

Teaser Tuesday is back, my friends.  Today’s excerpt from my new book, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright, focuses on the education of girls and the racial and cultural politics in the Ursuline convent and school.  When she’s enrolled in the school, her name is first written into the boarding school records as “a little English girl named Esther.”  After having called her Mali while she lived among the Wabanaki, I resume calling her by her given name, and I hint here as to why it’s important that she was identified as “English” rather than “Wabanaki” or “Sauvagesse.”

In this excerpt, I pull back a little from the particular experiences of Esther to analyze the problem of education for girls at the turn of the eighteenth century, which was seen by elites as both potentially dangerous but necessary.  How much education was too much?  How did European and North American cultures ensure that girls’ and boys’ educations remained separate and unequal?  You’ll also see me indulge in one of my favorite tricks when I don’t have specific information about Esther.  Can you spot it? Continue reading