Yo yo—What 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
Oxford University Press, 2015
Today we bring you Part II of my interview with Theresa Kaminski, the author of Angels of the Underground: the American Women who Resisted the Japanese in the Philippines in World War II. (You can find part I of the interview here.) Yesterday when we left off, we were discussing the gender and sexual politics of women’s heroism. Why can we tolerate imperfection in men and even valorize them, especially when it comes to the history of war, but women must conform to an inhuman standard of virtue for us to remember them as heroes?
This conversation takes me back inevitably to the last election, in which an admirably accomplished and competent public servant who stored emails on her own (unhacked!) server was seen as less honest than a man who is a celebrity/grifter, a confessed sexual assailant, serial liar and fabulist, and a stoker of toxic and dangerous racial ressentiment. We must reckon with the question of why we tolerate and even reward this sociopathy in men, but punish any deviance whatsoever in women, even at the hazard of other people’s safety and the security of the republic. Patriarchy, we just can’t quit you!
In todays convo, Theresa and I talk more about why we love to forget about women’s heroism in war (even when their stories get a Hollywood movie!), and about the environmental history of the invasion and occupation of the Philippines and what it meant in terms of the long-term health of the women in her story. Andiamo! Continue reading
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
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
What a surprise!
Who among us ever would have forseen this? I’m not mocking Rebecca Traister; I truly appreciate her analysis this year and am glad she’s finally getting the teevee time she and her–well, our–ideas deserve. Men’s marital infidelity and sexual adventurism, even sexual abuse, is fundamentally knitted into the spoils successful male pols in our republican (small-r) system have claimed since the U.S. began.
It is totally blowing our collective mind to imagine how a woman could inhabit the most important political role in our system, and our brains are being wrung of all kinds of socio-sexual anxieties around the prospect of Hillary Clinton as the next U.S. president. She doesn’t just represent change because she has a woman’s body. Her presidency would force us to reckon (in good and ugly ways alike) about how political power works here and what we think winning pols are entitled to. Continue reading
James Peachey, ca. 1785, Library and Archives Canada
Remember a few weeks back when I asked “What’s for breakfast in early New England?” Today’s Teaser Tuesday from my new book, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright, is about food as well, although it’s not nearly as savory as my earlier exploration of colonial foodways. Indeed, today write about the privation that many Wabanaki people suffered as a result of the cycles of warfare and famine that were unleashed by colonialism in Acadia.
Yale University Press. 2016
All of the available evidence suggests that the people that Esther (or as I rename her in chapter 2, Mali) lived with for five years often suffered from extreme hunger. When once I imagined Esther at age 7 skipping off into captivity in August enjoying the bounties of the blueberry and salmon harvests, the brutal reality that awaited me in the archives was of nearly unrelieved suffering, especially of children, as you will see if you read on.
This excerpt is like last week’s, from chapter 2, as Esther followed her captors into the Maine woods, and explores a recurrent calumny we see in intercultural conflict in the early modern period: cannibalism! Continue reading
Yale University Press. 2016
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