Teaser Tuesday: What’s for breakfast in early New England?

Yale University Press. 2016

Yale University Press. 2016

Readers of my book in my book, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright might well wonder:  is Ann Little a huge glutton?  Or was it just too close to lunchtime when she wrote some of these chapters?  To answer your questions:  yes, and almost certainly!  What’s for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? are questions on my mind every day, so I thought it would be an interesting question to answer when writing about Anglo-Americans, Native Americans, and French Canadians alike.

The answer to that question–what’s for dinner?–was also an interesting way to explore some of the differences as well as some significant similarities among the peoples of the northeastern borderlands.  As it turns out, the answer to that question was a lot more similar when comparing early New England and Wabanaki communities; when Esther moved into the Governor’s mansion, the Château Saint-Louis, in Québec, that’s when her diet took a gratifyingly rich and nutritious swerve, one that was for the most part sustained inside the walls of the Ursuline convent.  Future Teaser Tuesdays will explore the what’s for dinner? and the what’s for supper? questions in those locations.

My excerpt today is once again from chapter one, which focuses on Esther’s life from birth to her capture at age seven.  In addition to answering the question what’s for breakfast?, it also tells you a little bit about who made that breakfast and did the other work around the household, so as to give some insight into the division of labor in an Anglo-American family.  (FYI, the Hannah I write about here is Esther’s elder sister by two years.  I also introduce you to some other family members in this chapter, but their relationship to her is clearer in this excerpt.) Continue reading

Teaser Tuesday: What was childhood like in an Anglo-American garrison?

Yale University Press. 2016

Yale University Press. 2016

It’s back–Teaser Tuesday, in which I offer you a little flava of what you might find in my book, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright.  Today I give you a little hint from chapter one, in which I write about Esther’s life from birth up to age seven, when she’s taken captive in a Wabanaki raid on her hometown of Wells, Maine.

One of the most exciting developments in history lately is the emergence of age as a category of analysis.  I had a lot of fun thinking about the ways in which age might have shaped Esther’s experience of the different worlds in which she lived–in an Anglo-American frontier town, in Wabanaki mission towns, and then in Québec as a student in the Ursuline convent school, where she then remained as a nun for the rest of her life.

Lots more, and even a very creepy doll, after the jump!

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Q & A with Historiann!

tmcoewcover

Yale University Press. 2016

Theresa Kaminski kindly published an interview with me on her blog on Monday night, the night that she cleverly dubbed “Esther Eve,” because it was the night before my book, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright was officially published.   Here’s a little flava of your favorite snappy cowgirl in action:

Q. Did you confront any challenges in researching Wheelwright’s life? How did you deal with them?

A. This was an impossible book to write, because Esther never wrote a captivity narrative describing her experiences. For all that, however, her life was better documented than most middling North American women because she entered a convent, and the convent recorded her progress through the ranks there from student to novice to choir nun. Convent records also recorded a few brief versions of her biography, but I have almost nothing in her own hand about her own life and family ties.

I was told by a senior male scholar that writing this book was “daft”—both my ideas for it and the fact I was spending time pursuing them. I was lectured by a literary agent that my introduction was just out-of-date feminist cant. Feedback like this only made me more determined to write this book and to write it on my own terms. The fact of the matter is that it’s still controversial to insist that women’s lives are important and of historical significance.

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Teaser Tuesday: Why do readers clamor for books about people they’ve already heard of?

Hey, kids:  It’s publication day.  Huzzah!  The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright (Yale University Press, 2016) has officially dropped!  Now you can read all about the 7-year old Anglo-American girl from New England, taken in wartime by the Wabanaki, who became a student and then choir nun at the Ursuline convent in Québec.  She then became the one (and still the only) foreign-born mother superior of her order.  What a life! Or more properly, what lives, plural.

I’ll be offering a few tantalizing excerpts from the book every Tuesday until it gets optioned for a screenplay, or until I make my massive advance back for the press, or both.  Ha!  So if you want to stop seeing this lady’s pink, squinty face peering out at you from that old wimple, do your part and buy a copy.  If you can’t afford a copy, ask your university and local libraries to buy a copy, so you can share.

Future topics may include:  What did children play with in early New England?  How did warfare affect Wabanaki foodways? How did Esther become a Wabanaki child?  What was it like to be at the Governor’s house for dinner in Québec?  How did girls and women deal with menstruation in the eighteenth century?  Why did the Ursulines call Esther Anglaise rather than Abnaquise?  Did the Ursulines engage in bodily mortification?  What was daily life like for the soeurs converses (lay sisters), who performed the domestic labor in the convent?  Let me know about your questions, too–I take requests. Continue reading

The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright gets a rave review in the Maine Sunday Telegram

tmcoewcoverThe Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright gets a rave review in this morning’s Maine Sunday Telegram (the Sunday edition of the Portland Press Herald, FYI):

Ann M. Little’s telling of Esther Wheelwright’s story illuminates issues of class, status and gender through the 18th century and across continents.

In her intriguing new biography, “The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright,” Ann M. Little asks a rhetocial question: Why would the portrait of this Ursuline nun be there in the Massachusetts Historical Society collection “amid this collection of prominent Puritans and wealthy merchants, in the company of men she would have disagreed with on nearly every issue, great or small?”

“And yet, there she is,” writes Little, associate professor of history at Colorado State University, “the pink face floating in the glowing white wimple, wearing that determined look.”

For the past year, I’ve wondered if my choice to put her portrait on the cover was the right one.  My initial rationale was, “hey, biographies of the so-called “Founding Fathers” always feature one of their many oil portraits on the cover–my argument here is that Esther Wheelwright is worthy of the same treatment, so of course!”  On the other hand:  what do Anglophone Americans think when they see a nun on the cover of a book?  They probably don’t see “Important Early American,” but rather “representative of subculture” or even “flashback to Catholic school thirty, forty, or fifty years ago!”

This review by William David Barry ratifies my decision to put the portrait on the cover and to write about it on the first few pages.  (Nevertheless, I still wonder:  I just found out yesterday that the book’s Library of Congress call number is in the BX section, with other biographies of famous Catholic religious people.  The portrait of the nun right on the cover probably overdetermined this, but I had wondered if my book would be in the F1-100 section (New England History) or the F1000s (early Quebec).  I never thought I’d have a book in the religious history section, but I understand. Continue reading

The prince’s body and the body politic, 2016

Henry VII and Henry VIII at left, Elizabeth of York and Jane Seymour, at right. Copy of the Holbein's Whitehall Mural, ca. 1667

Henry VIII and Henry VII on the left, Elizabeth of York and Jane Seymour on the right. Copy of Hans Holbein’s Whitehall Mural, ca. 1667

(Deep background:  This post recalls some of my earlier arguments about the dynastic nature of American politics, about which Americans are mostly in denial, at least when the dynasties involve male pols only.  American politics became even more royalist in the first half of the twentieth century, when the U.S. emerged as a major international player.  They’ve become even more royalist in the succeeding 70 years since World War II, in the years that the U.S. became a “superpower” and then the global hegemon.)

Queen Elizabeth I, 1592, by Marcus Gheeraerts

Queen Elizabeth I, 1592, by Marcus Gheeraerts

Hillary Clinton was diagnosed with pneumonia last week.  It’s an entirely treatable condition suffered by more than one recent pol on the campaign trail, but looking at the media coverage of this ridiculous non-story, you’d think that she was Henry VIII on his death bed without a male heir.  And that’s the American press coverage–it’s almost as though reporters on the 2016 campaign trail are unaware that the health of the nation is not entirely dependent on the health and heartiness of our Dear Leaders. Continue reading