Of compass bearings and reorientations in the study of American women writers.
This brief tale serves as an early example in Robin Miskolcze's Women and Children First, a study of shipwreck narratives and American masculinity. Miskolcze reads Allen's account within a typology common to other foundational American narratives, most notably that of "the Pilgrims' lands on Plymouth Rock" and their later fortuitous rescue by friendly natives (27). Studies such as hers exemplify the continued attractions and importance of literary recovery, for such work makes women visible in heretofore overlooked surroundings and situates their writings within an existing tradition of American literary history, methodologies that Legacy and its sister journals have honed to a fine art. Acknowledging such valuable work as the genesis for my thinking, I want to amplify and extend the directions so firmly established by the last quarter century's initiatives in feminist literary recovery. I will resist some foundational assumptions--among them that New England and the Northeast are places of American cultural, literary, and political origins. In the process, I will also ask what I hope will be productive questions--about the locations and boundaries of America, about how gender still silently determines the canon of American literature, and about the limited vision that results from our class- and race-based privileging of printed, alphabetic texts.
Because A Narrative of the Shipwreck saw multiple editions within two years, it seems plausible that it had a large circulation, even if it did not remain in print after the early nineteenth century. This, in turn, suggests that it caught the attention of its readers by its timeliness, in much the same way as did The Female Marine, published in the same place in the same year. The brevity of Sarah Allen's narrative and her matter-of-fact and undeveloped references to actions, decisions, and geographical locations suggest her readers' familiarity with a bellicose and imperial subtext that is perhaps not immediately apparent to a contemporary reader. Seeking answers to some questions that Sarah Allen left unanswered opens an intriguing set of possibilities. Why was this woman en route to "the Louisiana country" (4)? What business there had occupied her husband? Why had he sent for his wife? Where did the Mary run aground? How did the shipwrecked sailors and their passenger know where they were? Once aground, how did they know in which direction to walk to try to reach safety? Why did one of the armed natives who rescued the survivors just happen to speak English?
To answer these questions, we must follow new compass bearings along unfamiliar routes through hitherto occulted spaces and times as we seek to establish the central importance of women's cultural work in a global context of coerced or willing contact and exchange. Such a reorientation can lead us to rethink the limits of the master narratives encoded in such paradigms as New England origins and westward expansion, structures of knowledge that have, over the past quarter century, bred their own explanatory feminist models--republican motherhood, true womanhood, gentle tamers, and Manifest Domesticity among them--and their own periodization--the closing of the frontier, ante and postbellum (terms that signal the Civil War, and no other), and the age of imperialism. We might think of these older models and chronologies as place-markers from which we will strike out into the less well-mapped territories wherein our work will be done in the future.
The reorientations and revisions elicited by Sarah Allen's tale will thus exemplify the point at which we now stand amid a plethora of recovered and recoverable cultural work by women, in this case one of thousands of similar documents available digitally on Early American Imprints. The exponential increase of such resources demands new compass bearings, reconfigured and reoriented mental maps. Anticipating some disorientation within these unfamiliar surroundings, we might take our model from real world practices. Moving through unfamiliar terrain a wilderness hiker uses tools of compass and map and sets out by marking the known location, moving ahead until that location is nearly out of sight, setting another marker, retrieving the first, and then setting out from the second. Similarly, we intend to honor the foundational work of the past twenty-five years, using it as our base, carrying it with us as we strike out in new directions through uncharted accumulations of new texts and resources. We will continue, as we have in the past, to fulfill the implications of the journal's title, Legacy, seeing in it both a recognition of our debt to past scholarship and a marker of the vast new legacies of recovered (or potentially recoverable) texts. At the same time, we foresee some reorientations in our understandings of the terms that have delimited the journal's focus on American women writers.
SARAH ALLEN'S NARRATIVE IN HISTORICAL CONTEXT
Although both The Female Marine and The Narrative of the Shipwreck were published in Boston, their protagonists journey to places far from the rocky coast of Massachusetts in a chronological moment that Sandra M. Gustafson has characterized as
a neglected period of U. S. history: the years between 1815, when the War of 1812 ended, and 1835, when the first volume of Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America appeared. These two decades are a kind of temporal gap or aporia between the major monuments of national history: the founding era and the antebellum period. During these years "democracy" underwent an unprecedented process of institutional elaboration; at the same time, its conceptual tension with "empire" was clarified and strengthened. (118)
Tension between the ideals of democracy and the energies of imperial expansion was abundantly evident in 1816, as yeoman farmers and their families systematically spread through and appropriated to themselves the rich lands of the Atlantic Southeast. Sarah Allen and her husband were likely among the thousands of these "aggressive White squatters looking for the slightest excuse to expel Native inhabitants" of the Spanish Southeast following the War of 1812 (Richter 228). (1) Allen's factual and somewhat offhand explanation of her journey as one undertaken to join her husband, whose occupation had kept him in the area, reminds us that women who joined husbands in extranational territories did not always walk or ride in wagons facing west.
It seems plausible that what had taken Sarah Allen's husband to "the Louisiana country" was his involvement with Andrew Jackson's troops in a series of military maneuvers that culminated in the Battle of New Orleans on 8 January 1815, two weeks after the Treaty of Ghent had ended the War of 1812. (2) Jackson's troops were paid for their service in cash and in land; a soldier who had been in Louisiana may well have established himself securely enough by late spring of that year to have sent for his wife. It is intriguing to speculate that the Aliens may have been free blacks, for, according to a website history of the conflict, "[t]wo battalions of 430 black soldiers" who fought at New Orleans received "equal pay and the same bounty in money and lands as white volunteers" (Martel "8 January 1815," "21 September 1814"). Yet it is more likely, given Allen's matter-of-fact acceptance of the privileges accorded her as a passenger aboard the Mary, that she was a white woman of middling social class.
Andrew Jackson's military exploits in the Southeast were not, of course, confined to the War of 1812. His filibustering campaign against the Creeks, an act of internal imperialism that antedates the US-Mexico War by several decades, (3) opened lands to settler colonialism effected by northeastern immigrant farmers and demobilized soldiers. Ideological formations of gender were centrally important in these early-nineteenth-century aggressions. Jackson's mental map of gender, in fact, seems to have been foundational to his incursions and provocations on the southern front of the War of 1812 and the subsequent series of conflicts that we now call the Creek War and the Seminole Wars, "America's longest Indian conflict," to use the subtitle of a recent book (Missall and Missall). According to Michael Paul Rogin, Jackson's military exploits secured to the United States wide swaths of "vast and valuable acreage" that substantially expanded the burgeoning "cotton kingdom" (159). Between 1813 and 1816, "cotton prices doubled"; land upon which to cultivate even more of the commodity was "sought by everyone" (174). Significantly, Jackson argued that the putatively barbaric native peoples of the Southeast deserved extinction, measuring their lack of civilization by the ferocity of native women. According to Claudio Saunt, white settlers saw Creek warriors as "horrible assassins of women and children": "Andrew Jackson ... condemn[ed] the leading Redstick prophets as a 'matricidal band.' It 'is not on defenseless women and children that retaliation will be made,' he stated, distinguishing civilized from savage war. Perhaps with the same contrast in mind, U. S. officers self-consciously reported in published letters that they had spared Creek women and children" (268). The need to report such mercies suggests that restraint was unusual in the midst of savage warfare and points to the common and indiscriminate violence of these engagements in which native women were occasional combatants, frequent sexual booty, and unremarked and uncounted casualties.
Thus, we should not be surprised by the part played by native women in Sarah Allen's narrative, and although they do not actively insert themselves into the Narrative, their very presence should ask us to remember that women's worlds were crucially altered during the transformation of the Southeast into American territory. Stories of these women are recounted in casual, almost sidebar references that need to be teased out, foregrounded, and, most important, reimagined, as Theresa Strouth Gaul has argued. (4) For example, even during active warfare Jackson demonstrated his assumption that native women were insufficiently maternal. His early biographer recounts,
At the battle of Tohopeka [or Horseshoe Bend, 1814], an infant was found, pressed to the bosom of its lifeless mother. This circumstance being made known to general Jackson, he became interested for the child, directed it to be brought to him, and sought to prevail on some of the Indian women to take care of and rear it. They signified their unwillingness to do so, stating that, inasmuch as all its relations had fallen in battle, they thought it best, and would prefer, it should be killed. The general, after this disclosure, determined he would not entrust it with them, but became himself the protector and guardian of the child. Bestowing on the infant the name of Lincoier, he adopted it into his family, and has ever since manifested the liveliest zeal towards it, prompted by benevolence. (Eaton 437-38)
Eaton's use of the passive voice elides the violence by which the child's mother died and obscures the probability that the youngster "was found" by soldiers taking souvenirs and booty from native bodies. (5) Jackson's actions are reported in active voice, a rhetorical choice that emphasizes his decisive and "benevolent" directives and decisions. But, significantly, so are the replies of the surviving native women.
Although their motives and words are lost to us, their determination to keep the child's fate a tribal matter should be noted. Overriding their objections, Jackson appropriated the three-year-old child for his own. His act of adoption uncannily prefigures his later presidential policies of making some of the native inhabitants of these lands into "wards of the state" (Rogin 188). Jackson, of course, did not keep the child with him, but, according to Rogin, sent the boy to his wife, Rachel, telling her--in another strategically passive construction--that he had been rejected by his natural maternal protectors "because the whole race and family ... was destroyed" (qtd. in Rogin 189; emphasis added). Pursuing the active reimagining that Gaul advocates, we might ask how these women, whose actions were preempted and occulted by Jackson's charity, might have explained their attempts to deal with a child who was orphaned in the midst of a genocide. Did Jackson correctly interpret their motives? Or would they have scoffed at his explanation? Would they have charged him with kidnapping? With removing from their care the generation that would guarantee their survival? With attempting a genocide by assimilation to compensate for his soldiers' restraint in refusing to kill women and children? Do their actions anticipate those of enslaved women who chose infanticide over a life of enslavement for their children, actions that have captured the imaginations of authors such as Harriet Beecher Stowe and Toni Morrison?
Jackson took his model of appropriate womanly and manly behaviors from the book of chivalry, fancying the soldiers under his command as knights errant, valiantly protecting white womanhood and avenging the death of presumptively innocent noncombatants, some of whom lived with their husbands in American military forts in Georgia and others of whom later joined their husbands on newly American lands. Thus, in Sarah Allen's journey, we might read a Jacksonian pretext for violence. When native inhabitants of the Southeast sought to defend or to reclaim their homelands, they had no recourse to the rule of law; their consequent violent responses to white incursions elicited equally violent retaliations from whites, who understood themselves to be defending their lands and families against unprovoked and indiscriminate savage attack. In fact, the logic of revenging the deaths of innocent white women sparked the First Seminole War. In November 1817, a boat carrying wounded soldiers and seven women, defended by twenty soldiers, was attacked by a group of black and Seminole warriors retaliating against the destruction of Fowltown by American troops (Rogin 196). Of the forty-seven souls on board the boat, only six men and one woman, Elizabeth Stewart, survived the attack. Jackson, in a letter to Acting Secretary of War George Graham, proclaimed that "[h]elpless women have been butchered, and the cradle stained with the blood of innocence" (qtd. in Rogin 196).
The Seminole Wars were fought in the riverine and coastal environments of the Southeast, most especially along the Apalachicola River, which connected Fort Scott in southern Georgia, an American stronghold securing the newly ceded territories along the Florida-Georgia border, with the Gulf of Mexico, a body of water that was centrally important to exporting the agricultural commodities that had already begun to flow from the area. These routes needed to be secured from European aggression. Into these waters sailed the Mary, carrying Sarah Allen through the Gulf. After several days of being battered by a gale, the ship ran aground somewhere between the mouth of the Apalachicola River and the St. Marks River. As Allen tells it, the captain, knowing his ship to be in peril, "steered for Pensacola" (4); failing that, he ended up at "the Apalaches" (5), where, in high surf and dangerous tides, the Mary sank. After a long and arduous struggle, her passengers reached land. Lacking shelter, food, and water, they determined to split into two groups, "the object of each party being to reach St. Marks" (11). The fact that Allen does not elaborate on these details suggests that once aground, the survivors, although "lost," knew generally where they had landed and in which direction they must walk to make their way to St. Marks, a fortification first established by the Spanish in 1679, rebuilt in the mid-1700s, and still held by the Spanish, a location of strategic importance to Jackson's military efforts.
Allen describes the shipwrecked passengers as being in
a state of unutterable dispair! [sic]--nineteen souls of us on a wild and probably an uninhabited coast, without food or a prospect of obtaining any to satisfy the cravings of nature, and without the means to obtain a fire, by which to dry our cloaths [sic] and warm our limbs, now quite benumbed with cold and wet. ... Wild beasts were to be apprehended, and the meeting of savages, perhaps, not less dangerous than they. (9-10)
Her inclusion of "savages" in the list of things to be feared in fact marks her awareness of the ongoing warfare on the southeastern frontier. Her expectation of a dramatic ambush or skirmish with ferocious indigenes proves to be anti-climactic, however. The group of survivors endures more mundane, if equally miserable, trials. After days of struggling through underbrush, ravenous and beset by stinging insects, Allen collapsed, "conclud[ing] I had not many hours to survive" (19).
At this crucial moment, the group was "suddenly aroused by the accents of a human voice--and soon after discovered two Indians armed with muskets." The natives' reaction was anything but bellicose, however: "They looked stedfastly [sic] at us, motionless with surprize [sic] and horror," a reaction Allen attributes to the uncouth appearance of the unwashed, swollen, and unkempt members of her party. "[T]hey did not ... manifest the least inclination to approach us," she writes, until the captain made "supplicating" gestures. "They then began to manifest some marks of compassion. One of them, who could speak English, begged of the captain to inform them from whence we came" (20-21). Hearing their affecting tale, the natives departed and then returned with a canoe filled with provisions. When the castaways had sufficiently recovered, their native hosts conducted them to "their habitations," where they were cared for by "three Indians and a dozen women or children," who treated them "with the kindest hospitality." Eventually, the natives conducted the wayfarers to St. Marks, "about fifty miles distant," for "a small compensation" (22).
Compared to the harrowing details Allen offers about crossing raging rivers, struggling through dense underbrush, eating raw the few animals they were able to snare, and suffering swelling and infection from swarming insects, her narration of the party's rescue and return to St. Marks is brief and understated. She records neither fear nor horror at encountering the armed Indian men, despite her anticipatory fears. Nor does she seem surprised that one of the rescuers spoke English. Rather, she shifts her focus to the "kindest hospitality" with which they were received, a sensation that led her to apprehend the "hut" in which they were sheltered as an "abode of bliss" (22). As Allen concludes her narrative, she emphasizes that the "shocking" details of her experience were the deprivations she experienced while wandering. She emphasizes, in fact, that her "generous and benevolent" native rescuers were possessed of great "sensibility," unlike others "who, more deserving of the name of savages, might have unfeelingly stripped us and left us to perish" (23). This emphasis suggests a productive modification to the idea of "manifest domesticity." This model, while illuminating white women's complicity in US imperialism, locates its "domesticity" in quite conventional notions of "women" (a category delimited by white entitlement), seeing these women as the enforcers of civility on abject native peoples (Kaplan).
Sarah Allen's tale establishes a much earlier venue for imperialist incursions and, in the process, makes more complex the ideological thrust of manifest domesticity. Narrating the ministrations of Indian women to her, what is manifest is not Allen's domestic virtues, but those of her rescuers. Although primitive, the homes of these women are warm, welcoming, generous, and nurturing. While I do not intend uncritically to celebrate the moment, I do think that it foregrounds the mutuality of contact, asking that we see natives not as always the dupes of a blundering but overwhelming colonial incursion, but as capable of assessing the dangers of encounter and of formulating wise, measured, deliberative, and profitable responses. Because Allen's narrative is precisely dated, we can with some surety speculate that the hospitable natives who met the party of wanderers were Seminoles and that their apprehension was at least as much attributable to worry that the castaways represented an advance guard of new invaders as it was to their roughshod appearance. In the case of this providential rescue, the actions of this group of natives may also demonstrate their non-alliance with Seminole/black/British aggressors, and their conducting the shipwrecked party to St. Augustine was a service rendered for pay. That is to say, these rescuers were fully aware of their place in the ongoing hostilities and of the value of their local knowledge to this group of hapless white castaways.
AMERICAN WOMEN WRITERS
As I have suggested above, Sarah Allen's Narrative draws our attention to the geographical and ideological boundaries of American identity. Although her home was in Boston and she was now, in 1816-17, an American, she would have been among the first to take that identity as the result of her birth; her parents were most likely English. She was en route to territories that were not yet American, and the conditions of her letter are framed by a war often characterized as the second war for American independence. These observations suggest the incomplete realization of the terms and ideals of American-ness even in the early nineteenth century, as Gustafson has noted. Asking what we, as readers and writers associated with a journal that identifies its subject matter to be American, understand to be an American text calls attention to the many women who preceded and followed Sarah Allen--British, French, Spanish, Native, African, German, Dutch, Russian, Chinese, Japanese--who temporarily or permanently resided in or wrote about locations yet to become American. For example, in 1689 Aphra Behn, a British subject who never set foot in continental American territory, wrote a play, The Widdow Ranter, set in colonial Virginia. The plot revolves around Bacon's Rebellion and reminds us of the indentured servants whose labors supported early colonial ventures. Its genre, drama, often overlooked in conventional literary histories of pre-twentieth-century America, highlights the performative dimensions of gender in a colony that still saw itself as British. In Bacon's Virginia, as imagined by a woman of the motherland, a looser class structure brought into contact a motley crew of women: Indian queens, entrepreneurs and merchants, heiresses, and bellicose, dueling cross-dressers.
A counterpart, albeit at a later period, to Behn's "widdow" and her compatriots was Fanny Kemble, the grandmother of Owen Wister. In the words of John Missall and Mary Lou Missall, Kemble "[found] herself the mistress of a large Georgia plantation during the years of the Second Seminole War [1834-1842]" (26). We might want to question the passive construction of that attribution, wondering how anyone, but especially a woman of Kemble's quite evident intellectual capacities, "finds herself" to be a slaveholder. In 1834, Kemble married Pierce Mease Butler, a Georgia planter. Presumably she knew of the conditions on which the Butler fortunes were founded and surely did not "find herself" in the midst of this condition. Indeed, her repulsion for the practice of slavery led her to divorce Butler in 1849. She wrote feelingly that "every southern woman to whom I have spoken on the subject [slavery], has admitted to me that they live in terror of their slaves" (qtd. in Missall and Missall 26). Kemble, although conventionally referred to as a British actress, author, and antislavery activist, thus should be seen at least as hybrid--both British and American.
The enslaved peoples who haunted southern white women like Kemble included those who had escaped and taken refuge with native peoples in the Apalachicola headlands where the Mary ran aground. These enslaved peoples, these natives--were they, too, American? The routes whereby these women--free, indentured, and enslaved--transited the Atlantic suggest paths along which new research might be charted. As Marcus Rediker and Peter Linebaugh, W. Jeffrey Bolster, Paul Gilroy, and others have so suggestively established, along water routes moved not only trade goods but also ideas of revolution. Suggestive as this work has been, its primary and unmarked assumption that maritime travelers and workers were exclusively men has only recently been substantially challenged. Work such as that collected by Margaret S. Creighton and Lisa Norling in Iron Men, Wooden Women, and the more recent Many Middle Passages, edited by Emma Christopher, Cassandra Pybus, and Marcus Rediker, demonstrates that women, too, traveled to and from the Americas on oceangoing vessels--not only as passengers, but also as captains, as wives of crew members, as chambermaids in passenger vessels, as indentured workers and slaves, as personal servants or concubines, or as cargo, themselves goods to be bartered and traded. Some were indigenous women, taken captive in the colonial northeast and sold into Caribbean slavery. This trade in bodies supported and was supported by the very colonizing and civilizing projects in the American Southeast involving Sarah Allen and her husband.
The mobility of these seafaring subjects puts American identity into question, suggesting that the very concept is situationally produced. That is to say, some women are American by virtue of their indigeneity, the place of their nativity and residence equating to their subjectivities. (6) Others became Americans by revolutionary transformation (the British colonial subjects) or by legal fiat, through naturalization. Still others were never specifically or legally American but entered American spaces such as ships, territories, and literary canons wherein they were accorded honorary status as American, as my discussion of Olaudah Equiano and Mary Prince below will establish. The route followed by the Mary led down the Atlantic coast to the Caribbean basin and the Gulf of Mexico and paralleled other seaways around Cape Horn and into the Pacific, where New England fishing boats followed whaling migrations and merchant vessels plied the Asia trade. In the years following Sarah Allen's voyage, women sailed through the Gulf of Mexico or the Caribbean, transited Central America on foot, by mule, or, eventually, aboard vessels that sailed through the Panama Canal, perhaps staying in boardinghouses owned and run by women immigrants who had followed this trade since gold-rush days. They crossed the Pacific to work as missionaries and teachers in new colonial enterprises in Hawaii and the Philippines, with the specific intent of teaching their wards and students to speak, read, and write English, skills that signified civilization and that were administered under a regime of what Laura Wexler has termed tender violence. Do we consider these wards and students--transformed American colonial subjects--to be Americans?
For every Sarah Allen who traveled southward, a Caribbean, Mexican, Central American, or South American counterpart made her way north as a tourist, journalist, wife, teacher, or domestic worker. Routes of travel are, after all, two-way transits, and port cities such as New Orleans might productively be studied as sites of vibrant and multivalent oral and print cultures, as Kirsten Silva Gruesz has suggested (110). Gruesz draws our attention to a New England intellectual and author, Maria Gowen Brooks/Maria del Occidente, who published the first canto of her "Orientalist epic [poem] Zophiel, or the Bride of Seven ... in Boston in 1825" and finished her work on the text in 1829 in Cuba (34, 62). Luisa Campuzano has written eloquently of Cuban women who, by the "second decade of the nineteenth century," had produced "a varied and practically unexplored body of texts" (164). A North-South axis transposed to the Pacific rim and sited chronologically in the California of 1848 leads us to recognize that Mexican women intellectuals became American at the stroke of a treaty pen and that some of these women, those who belonged to literary salons in Los Angeles and Virginia City, Nevada, wrote poems, critiqued each others' writings, and saw their work distributed in Spanish-language newspapers published within American spaces (Gruesz 179).
From a new vantage point that turns our attention to the south and west of New England, we can recognize other American women such as newly freed women of color who worked Exoduster claims in Kansas and Nebraska in 1879-1880 (Painter), but we can also trace in the genealogies of the land on which they staked their claims the lives and cultural work of native women whose tribes had been removed from those places to make room for this newest wave of settlement. What Toni Morrison's Paradise does in fiction might be paralleled in our own historically based analytical studies. Were the study of white women to yield the spotlight to studies of interactions of various women--black, Mexican, Asian, and Native--who shared the lands secured by the wars of aggression following the Civil War, how might we tell those intersecting and intertwining stories? What new formations might complicate or replace gentle tamers, tender violence, and manifest domesticity?
AMERICAN WOMEN WRITERS
Sarah Allen's narrative pays little overt attention to gender or to its interrelated signifiers of race and class, yet those intertwined identities are attested to by the deference, respect, and care given her by the other nineteen travelers aboard the Mary, a regard she seems to accept as her due. A reoriented perspective allows us to imagine other shipwreck stories with decidedly less positive outcomes--for enslaved or indentured women, for example, vital but unremarked presences on larger sailing vessel as cooks, laundresses, and sex workers. Such women might not have been helped to survive the Mary's wreck, and if they had, they likely would not have written about it, although they would have told their stories to others. As Tim Armstrong's work on the infamous Zong case has demonstrated, had they struggled their way to land, they surely would not have elicited the patient care Allen did. The Zong, having missed its reprovisioning stop in Jamaica, "with sickness endemic and water supplies low," was in dire straits. Captain Luke Collingwood thus ordered 134 of nearly five hundred slaves comprising the Zong's cargo to be thrown overboard, for, as cargo (not as humans), these chattel were covered by the ship's insurance. Thus, Armstrong concludes, "Collingwood ... brutally converted an uninsurable loss (general mortality) into general average loss, a sacrifice of parts of a cargo for the benefit of the whole" (173). We may presume that women were among those sacrificed to Collingwood's mercantile logic.
Decades of recovery of women's writing have followed sometimes parallel, sometimes intersecting, paths with the recovery of cultural work by peoples of color, whose foundation is the slave narrative. Taken together, these traditions demonstrate a selective attribution of American identity. That attribution also is reciprocally resonant with "woman writer," for inclusion in the so-called American literary tradition seems to be linked to a determination of how closely a work conforms to preexisting gender-linked ideological presumptions. Olaudah Equiano's Interesting Narrative is a case in point. This text, in full or in part, is routinely included in American literature anthologies and collections of American autobiographical writing, even though Equiano may have spent only a brief time in American places. While scholars currently debate the actual place of Equiano's birth, the answer to which might definitively establish his American nativity, it has heretofore been less Equiano's national identity that has attracted our attention than his mercantile success within American spaces and his self-fashioning as a free man of color. The content of the Narrative binds it to the American tradition: An enterprising young man, Equiano found a way to pursue his own mercantile interests as a sailor, eventually earning the price of his freedom; he then married an Englishwoman and became a respectable, Christian merchant. In the American tradition, his writing anticipates both Benjamin Franklin's narrative of the self-made entrepreneurial man and the self-fashioning through writing that we attribute to Frederick Douglass.
Juxtaposing Equiano's narrative with another similar tale, this one also written by an enslaved subject with a nontraditional claim on American identity, makes clear the gendered subtext on which the canon of entrepreneurial American identity has been constructed. Born into slavery in Bermuda in 1788, Mary Prince was, like Equiano, a transatlantic traveler and a merchant who earned money to purchase her freedom by (re)selling waterfront commodities. Her tale does not comport with the usually vaunted mercantile virtues, however, for she seems also to have bartered sex for money. Among other liaisons was her self-initiated seven-year-long relationship with a Captain Abbott, who loaned her money "to help to buy [her] freedom" (81). As has Equiano's, Prince's narrative has been challenged as inauthentic. Yet the challenge to hers is intimately intertwined with presumptions about gender. Her story, told to British antislavery activists and fashioned by them to meet their particular interests and legal demands, has also, some claim, cast doubt on the veracity of her tale. The parts of her narrative given as court testimony were triply compromised, coming as they did from a woman of color with a checkered sexual past. Mary Prince's story asks us to identify and to resist ideological assumptions--in this case about the entrepreneurial spirit and about the conditions under which women, as well as men, may determine the value of their bodies, may purchase and own themselves, and may voice their stories within narrative models that are disentangled from gendered, nationalistic moralizing.
Just here it seems wise to pause to consider the issue of authenticity, since it is at least likely that Sarah Allen's Narrative may also be inauthentic: There is nothing to prevent us from imagining that the letter is a hoax, similar to The Female Marine, also widely circulated in that time and place. Both these books might be seen as capitalizing on public interest in the War of 1812, with Allen's text attracting attention because of its location in one of the war's frontiers. Were verification and authenticity necessary, it would likely be possible to trace shipping records, trying to establish that a ship named Mary followed this route and was wrecked, perhaps even locating passenger logs. But it also seems to be beside the point, except perhaps for the historical or genealogical researcher, for whether Sarah Allen were a biographically real person seems less meaningful than the fact that her story exists so comfortably alongside Lucy Brewer's, or Fanny Kemble's, or Mary Prince's. Despite its veracity or its fictionality, its details fit their historical and cultural context, and its assumptions, about gender and other categories, are those of the period.
The stories of women such as Lucy Brewer or Sarah Allen, entangled more or less directly in imperial expansionist activities, anticipate similar feminine involvements in later periods, after Andrew Jackson removed himself from the battlefront and ensconced himself in the White House. A period in which we are used to locating women as sentimental subjects engaged in the less bellicose activities of what Richard H. Brodhead has called "disciplinary intimacy" (71) gains a productive texture when we remember that the phrase "Manifest Destiny" was likely coined by "author, adventurer, and lobbyist Jane McManus Storm Cazneau," a woman firmly committed to American expansionism, and that dozens of other women filibusters added their talents and energies to mid- nineteenth-century expansionist enterprises (May 1172). Are Cazneau, journalists Anne Royall and Anna Ella Carroll, lecturer Sarah Pellet, and teacher Amy Morris Bradley, among others, to be exempted by their gender from a general culpability for promoting these projects? How might we read these and other cultural interventions by women that register in our own moment as less than laudable, such as defenses of slavery written by women of the South? How do we explain textual oddities such as Mary Peabody Mann's Juanita, an abolitionist novel written as a result of that author's work as a governess/teacher in Cuba in the 1830s but not published until well after emancipation had been accomplished? We need both a willingness to read for women at the margins, with views that do not accord with our own, and an incisive theoretical and historical framework for dealing with the texts that become newly visible when we reorient our scholarly compass bearings.
AMERICAN WOMEN WRITERS
Perhaps the most promising area in which our collective efforts might be expanded in Legacy's future work requires that we rethink our valuation of the printed text. Sarah Allen's account of her journey is enriched by our trying to imagine how other women who lacked access to print and to publication might have experienced the same or similar circumstances. These imaginings might focus on the performances of the native women whose domesticity she valued and/or the native women whose putative ferocity Andrew Jackson deplored. They might also range farther afield, linking Allen with other unnamed and unimagined women whose lives were encompassed in the colonial occupation of the Southeast. And although Allen's work did see print, it was quickly forgotten, only recently recovered in a large project of converting such sources to electronic form. While continuing to recover writing by women working in a much more broadly conceived idea of American spaces, we will be aided by such electronic databases, resources that could not even have been imagined when Legacy was founded. Such riches should not also blind us to the limits, real and ideological, of taking writing as our sole focus. First, following such a straitened path has confined us to an unexpressed but assumed addendum: "American women's writing [in English]" Such pioneering efforts as Marc Shell and Werner Sollors's Multilingual Anthology of American Literature have pointed the way to texts that would allow us to make use of the facility in other languages we were required to demonstrate at our qualifying examinations, but which many of us have not used since. Two other, similarly multivalent anthologies should be mentioned here, Literatura Chicana, 1965-1995, which features writing in Spanish, English, and Calo, and Infinite Divisions: An Anthology of Chicana Literature, edited by Tey Diana Rebolledo and Eliana S. Rivero, which includes texts in multiple languages and is enriched by narratives transcribed from "the oral tradition."
A focus on the multiple languages spoken in American spaces could also lead us to form productive alliances with colleagues whose interests may overlap our own ideologically and textually but who seem separated from us by departmental or university affiliations. I will mention here two cases of the kinds of work such collaboration can produce. Karen Sanchez-Eppler's recent American Quarterly essay, "Copying and Conversion," is an incisive and exemplary analytical work that focuses on a friendship album made by a Chinese student at the Cornwall Foreign Mission School in 1818, decades before we usually acknowledge the presence of Chinese in America. Her work was enriched by a collaborator/translator/colleague-consultant, Paola Zamperini. Similarly, Ghada Osman and Camille Forbes have collaborated to modify our understanding of slave narratives by translating and analyzing what they call "the earliest piece of extant Arabic writing on American soil," produced by Omar Ibn Said, "a Muslim slave who was already literate" before arriving in America in 1807 (331). Such collaborations have opened fascinating new avenues of work that can show us the cosmopolitan nature of American spaces.
We might productively turn our attention to an expanded conception of texts ranging from the bound book through the manuscript collection (such as the autograph album studied by Sanchez-Eppler and the scrapbooks whose interpretation Ellen Gruber Garvey has so effectively theorized). We must also put under question our own opportunistic embrace of orality, which has led us to include civic oratorical productions in early America but to selectively ignore them in the nineteenth century. Our recognition of the importance of Sojourner Truth as a thinker and as a producer of culture should lead us to seek similar cases and to expand our notion of the oral, perhaps by using instead the idea of orature, a concept Joseph Roach has borrowed from Kenyan scholar Ngugi wa Thiong'o: "Orature comprises a range of forms, which, though they may invest themselves variously in gesture, song, dance, processions, storytelling, proverbs, gossip, customs, rites, and rituals, are nevertheless produced alongside or within mediated literacies of various kinds and degrees. ... [O]rature ... acknowledges that [literacy and orality] have produced one another interactively over time" (11).
Perhaps even orature is not a broad enough concept to account for material texts that are central to cultural identity and that display--in Edward Rothstein's memorable phrase--"the literacy of meticulous workmanship" (C5). As scholars in native studies have demonstrated, to focus only on written text is to endorse an ideological formation that claims literacy as the unfailing signifier of advanced reasoning and a superior ethical and moral culture. Women, as teachers and missionaries, as readers and writers, have been especially apt purveyors of this assumption. Yet feminist scholars have been quick to see that household arts--weaving and quilting especially--can yield richly evocative cultural productions. Keeping in sight this marker of work already promisingly begun, we might recognize rock art, maps, baskets, and beadwork, among other mediated objects, as potential texts. Such a change in focus will require a willingness to abandon our preferential valuation of the linear, logical print text and to explore sensitive and even revolutionary epistemological shifts. The stunning new anthology edited by Kristina Bross and Hilary E. Wyss, reviewed in this issue by Theresa Gaul, contains several essays that exemplify these new paths. Among other suggestive essays is Stephanie Fitzgerald's "The Cultural Work of a Mohegan Painted Basket," which asserts that "[t]he Mohegan word for painting, wuskuswang, is the same word used for writing, inducting painted baskets in a long textual tradition that includes decorative birch bark etching, beadwork, wampum belts, and the written word" (52). In a similar vein, Shawn Michelle Smith's essay in this issue suggests that visual texts can be read within and in dialogue with texts we have traditionally valued, to the enhancement of both text and image.
Each of the essays in this anniversary issue celebrates the immense and important work of the past twenty-five years. We intend to honor and continue its imperatives, hoping to match the exuberant and generative energy it has exemplified. In the past, scholars of women's culture convinced the scholarly world at large that women did indeed think and write in complex and important ways. Their archival researches recovered a myriad of texts that both expanded the canonical tradition and demanded--and produced--theories and methodologies that would account for the multiplicity of a literary tradition that included writing women. In the future, we must make that heritage more complex and vibrant, redrawing a scholarly map that emplaces a wide range of cultural productions by women in American spaces within a global context.
Thanks to Theresa Strouth Gaul, Sharon M. Harris, Jennifer S. Tuttle, and Robin L. Cadwallader for invaluable discussion and thoughtful feedback that helped to shape this essay. The energy and enthusiasm of the members of my graduate seminar in Seafaring Narratives in fall 2008 fueled this inquiry; from that group, Jeff Gagnon, who caught the vision of the Sarah Allen project, shared his notes with me to help me remember the outcomes of our in-class work on Allen's Narrative, and Patrick Gleason's encyclopedic knowledge of maritime narratives was an invaluable resource.
(1.) Terminologies such as squatters and settlers are centrally important to the gendering of such activities: squatters implies masculine and lower-class illegal incursion; settlers implies a middle-class out-migration of heterosexual families whose intent is to improve and permanently live on (fictively) unsettled or vacant lands.
(2.) The precise dating of Allen's letter (2 July 1816) is in tension with the "May last" of the Narrative's subtitle, which could be either May 1815 or May 1816, each date suggesting a slightly different context within the ongoing Seminole Wars.
(3.) The Creek Wars occurred thirty to forty years before the US-Mexico war, claimed by Shelley Streeby as a new marker for incipient US imperial aggression.
(4.) In her presentation at the Maine Women Writers Collection Fiftieth Anniversary Symposium, Gaul demonstrated the efficacy of a methodology of reading that would search for the traces of native "women's voices and experiences as they echo through the reportage of male-authored journals and letters" and, as the example above demonstrates, through male-authored histories of white male heroes.
(5.) Battlefield abductions of native children might be read less as expressions of mercy than as the taking of battlefield souvenirs, a practice that is infrequently mentioned but that appears to have been common throughout, the centuries of Indian warfare. Some eighty years later, at the Battle of Wounded Knee, General Leonard Colby similarly appropriated a Lakota infant, Lost Bird (Zintkala Nuni), who survived the massacre of women and children. Her subsequent life involved hard labor, neglect, and abuse. See Flood and "Lost Bird of Wounded Knee."
(6.) Here I am following the theoretical distinction between place and space as articulated by Henri Lefebvre and his more recent interpreters, especially Arif Dirlik. I use place to suggest a grounded topography and an experienced environmental surround, one that is the basis for the production of space, a more abstract notion enabled by practices such as Cartesian mapping, containment within imaginary boundaries, and conversion of use value into exchange value. I understand such abstractions to be intimately connected with establishing the equivalences of land, resources, and peoples that underwrite the capitalist and colonial exploitations of territory.
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University of California, San Diego
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|Publication:||Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2009|
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