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Women in Early America

Women in Early America

Edited by Thomas A. Foster
Foreword by Carol Berkin
Afterword by Jennifer L. Morgan
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Women in Early America
    Book Description:

    Women in Early America, edited by Thomas A. Foster, tells the fascinating stories of the myriad women who shaped the early modern North American world from the colonial era through the first years of the Republic. This volume goes beyond the familiar stories of Pocahontas or Abigail Adams, recovering the lives and experiences of lesser-known women-both ordinary and elite, enslaved and free, Indigenous and immigrant-who lived and worked in not only British mainland America, but also New Spain, New France, New Netherlands, and the West Indies.

    In these essays we learn about the conditions that women faced during the Salem witchcraft panic and the Spanish Inquisition in New Mexico; as indentured servants in early Virginia and Maryland; caught up between warring British and Native Americans; as traders in New Netherlands and Detroit; as slave owners in Jamaica; as Loyalist women during the American Revolution; enslaved in the President's house; and as students and educators inspired by the air of equality in the young nation.

    Foster showcases the latest research of junior and senior historians, drawing from recent scholarship informed by women's and gender history-feminist theory, gender theory, new cultural history, social history, and literary criticism. Collectively, these essays address the need for scholarship on women's lives and experiences.Women in Early Americaheeds the call of feminist scholars to not merely reproduce male-centered narratives, "add women, and stir," but to rethink master narratives themselves so that we may better understand how women and men created and developed our historical past.

    Instructor's Guide

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-7641-9
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. FOREWORD: Meeting the Challenges of Early American Women’s History
    (pp. ix-x)

    In the 1970s, the scholarly study of American women’s history was in its infancy and its focus was largely on the nineteenth century. Toward the end of the decade, however, a group of intrepid—or, as others saw us, foolhardy—scholars began to commit themselves to the study of colonial and Revolutionary era women. Friends and advisors warned against it: best, they said, to continue to tread the paths that had led to publications and, in several cases, tenure at respectable universities. It was not that these colleagues necessarily lacked sympathy for the topic; they simply doubted it could be...

    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction: Women in Early America: Crossing Boundaries, Rewriting Histories
    (pp. 1-6)

    Women first arrived in North America at least some fifteen thousand years ago. The traditional view of these migrants who crossed the Bering Strait is of men hunting for prey or explorers braving a new frontier. But we know that women also settled North America. By ten thousand years ago settlements stretched from coast to coast. For thousands of years, millions of women worked the land to provide agricultural sources of nourishment for their communities. Women played key roles in the great ancient societies of North America—the Anasazi, Hohokam, and Mound Builders.

    By the time of Spanish settlement in...

  6. 1 Doña Teresa de Aguilera y Roche before the Inquisition: The Travails of a Seventeenth-Century Aristocratic Woman in New Mexico
    (pp. 7-42)

    April 11, 1663. Doña Teresa de Aguilera y Roche, the wife of New Mexico’s governor, Don Bernardo López de Mendizábal, found herself in a dank and dingy cell, a prisoner in the secret jail of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, close to Mexico City’s center. There she sat, hour after hour, day after day, until all the seasons had come and gone and nearly two years had passed. On December 19, 1664, her case was suspended for insufficient evidence. But for twenty-one months she had been stripped of her possessions, of all trappings of her aristocratic rank, cut off...

  7. 2 “Women Are as Knowing Therein as the Men”: Dutch Women in Early America
    (pp. 43-65)

    Visitors to the Dutch Republic in the seventeenth century often commented on the extraordinary independence of Dutch women. The repute of Dutch women’s general education and commercial wisdom became widely known. Josiah Child, famed English merchant and economic theorist, recommended that England emulate the Dutch example of instructing all children, “as well Daughters as Sons,” in “Arithmetick and Merchant Accompts.” As a result of this custom, Child submitted, in the United Provinces the “women are as knowing therein as the Men.” James Howell, the Anglo-Welsh historian and writer who also visited the Dutch Republic in the seventeenth century, commented on...

  8. 3 Women as Witches, Witches as Women: Witchcraft and Patriarchy in Colonial North America
    (pp. 66-94)

    In early America, witchcraft was a serious matter. The Connecticut statute of 1642 conventionally designated it as a capital crime—defined in part by the Bible, but proscribed and prosecuted as a secular, criminal offense, punishable by death. Colonial Connecticut’s law, like similar codes in England, throughout Europe, and among various European colonies, gives the impression of gender neutrality—it applied its strictures to “any man or woman [who is found to] be a witch.” But despite the statute’s gender inclusiveness, an accused “witch” was likely to be a woman. The association has endured the test of time, but as...

  9. 4 Servant Women and Sex in the Seventeenth-Century Chesapeake
    (pp. 95-117)

    The histories of women, the constructs of gender, and patterns of sex and sexuality in the early American South continue to attract considerable scholarly attention. Yet apart from their extensive presence in Kathleen Brown’s monumental study,Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs, comparatively little interest has been shown in the hundreds, if not thousands, of women who worked, often in the most appalling of circumstances, as indentured servants in seventeenth-century Virginia and Maryland.¹ This chapter examines the experiences of those women and pays special attention to the regulation and expression of their sexual lives. A focus on sexuality can...

  10. 5 Rebecca Kellogg Ashley: Negotiating Identity on the Early American Borderlands, 1704–1757
    (pp. 118-138)

    On a chilly winter afternoon in February 1753, a small group of Iroquois leaders stood near the crumbled, burned remains of the Indian boys’ boarding school in the town of Stockbridge in western Massachusetts. The building, which had included living space for the newly hired replacement teacher, Gideon Hawley, had been set ablaze in what appeared to be arson.¹ It was the latest victim in a troubling series of attacks on the Christian Housatonic Mohicans of the eastern Algonquians and the Mohawks of the Iroquois federation who lived and worked in the Stockbridge Mission town.² The Iroquois retained much power...

  11. 6 Womanly Masters: Gendering Slave Ownership in Colonial Jamaica
    (pp. 139-158)

    In his early eighteenth-century playThe Islanders, or Mad Orphan, Jamaican-born playwright John Kelly imagined the lives of free women and enslaved people as hopelessly intertwined. In Kelly’s estimation, slavery increased free women’s subservience within the household. As one character exclaimed, “our West India husbands look upon their Wives, as very little above their Slaves, nay very often treat ’em worse.”¹ A planter’s wife would expect to be “buried” alive on a plantation where she would be “employ’d all day in making Breeches and Pettecoats for the Slaves.” Living in a slave society dramatically increased the domestic work that free...

  12. 7 Women at the Crossroads: Trade, Mobility, and Power in Early French America and Detroit
    (pp. 159-185)

    Beginning in the late seventeenth century, many women of New France’s elite merchant classes who were married to, born of, or siblings of men involved in the extensive trade with Native American nations that operated between Quebec and the continental interior wielded considerable influence that was unique in its time and place. Because of the increasing clout of these merchants in New France due to the state’s dependency on their business activities, the women had unprecedented opportunities to participate at every level. The demands of this trade required the involvement of women when husbands were absent for long periods, and...

  13. 8 The Agrarian Village World of Indian Women in the Ohio River Valley
    (pp. 186-209)

    Huron women raised “a very large amount of Indian corn, peas, beans, and sometimes French wheat,” and their “Indian corn [that] grows from ten to twelve feet high” in fields that were so “very neat . . . that one cannot find a single Weed in them, although they are very exhaustive.”¹

    This description, penned as Jacques Charles Sabrevois de Bleury traveled to Detroit, echoes his praise for the Indian women whom he encountered in the Ohio and Wabash River Valleys, sometime between 1714 and 1718.² He was especially laudatory of the Huron, Potawatomi, and Odawa women, whom he considered...

  14. 9 Loyalist Women in British New York City, 1776–1783
    (pp. 210-224)

    The Revolutionary War scattered loyalist families and overturned their world. Revolutionary politics intruded into their domestic lives, and rearranged their relationships with their communities. Women were affected as much as men. Overnight, their commitment to their husbands became defined as a political act. As their husbands, fathers, and sons fled to join the British side, women left alone to tend to children and the elderly came to symbolize opposition, resistance, and even treason. Unable to attack the loyalist men who escaped to British-protected regions and left their wives behind, patriot committees targeted the wives, punishing them through harassment, insults, persecution,...

  15. 10 “I Knew That If I Went Back to Virginia, I Should Never Get My Liberty”: Ona Judge Staines, the President’s Runaway Slave
    (pp. 225-245)

    Born sometime around 1774, Ona Judge was raised as a slave on George and Martha Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. As a slave and then a fugitive, Judge lived in rural Virginia toward the end of the colonial period and then traveled to the busy cities of New York and Philadelphia during the infant years of the new nation. Judge’s bold and risky decision to flee her masters eventually landed her in a quiet hamlet near Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where she remained until her death in 1848. Although the most revered family in America owned her, George and Martha Washington were...

  16. 11 “The Need of Their Genius”: A Women’s Revolution in Early America
    (pp. 246-270)

    In the wake of the Revolution and establishment of the republic, Judith Sargent Murray looked to a more radically transformed future than other Americans of her generation had anticipated. “I expect,” she declared in the collection of essays, plays, and poems she published in 1798, “to see our young women forming a new era in female history.” Basing her claim upon already visible changes in the schooling of women, Murray told readers “female academies are everywhere establishing.” The presence of these schools demonstrated that “studies of a more elevated and elevating nature” were being integrated with the training in the...

  17. AFTERWORD: Women in Early America
    (pp. 271-274)

    As the essays in this volume so fulsomely illustrate, we have eclipsed the recovery and recuperation that Carol Berkin rightly ascribes to the first wave of scholarship on women’s history. The field’s primary concern has moved from inserting women into a metahistory of the national project to understanding what new meaning is created by centering the lives of women—meaning that is located in the particular histories of women, but meaning that also exceeds those histories and offers us new ways in which to understand intersectional structures. It has become impossible to engage in the history of women without specifying...

    (pp. 275-278)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 279-294)