We’re back again on another Tuesday with yet another free sample from my new book, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright, this time from chapter 2, in which Esther is taken captive by the Wabanaki, who care for five years, from age 7 to 12. How did Wabanaki women and men go about turning little Anglo-American girls and boys into their daughters and sons? Unfortunately, that’s something that Esther never wrote about or described in any detail at all in any of the documents that record her life. Chapter 2 is probably the chapter that stretched my imagination the most–you tell me if it ventures too far from history and veers into fiction.
One of my techniques in writing this book was to imagine the bodily sensations Esther might have experienced at each stage of her life and journey. You’d be surprised how generative it is to ask simple questions like, was Esther warm or cold? What was she wearing? What did she eat for supper? Whose bed or blanket did she share at night? Throughout my career as a scholar, clothing has always struck me as a vitally important issue in cross-cultural encounters in early North America–everyone talks or writes about it, and moreover it’s also a vehicle for thinking about labor, trade, politics, and cultural change.
Here’s a little sample of how I approach Esther’s introduction to life among the Wabanaki. I introduce here a recurring motif through the book of Esther being stripped of her clothing and redressed in garments appropriate to the new culture she’s living in and/or the new stage of life she has entered. Continue reading