Nina Baym’s Woman’s Fiction is an influential monograph that explores the rise of women’s fiction in the United States during the mid-nineteenth century. Baym is careful to inform readers early on that exploring the writings of these women “seems to be outside the interests and sympathies of male critics”, and at the time this was written, she was exploring uncharted territory.
Notably, Baym is not arguing for the elevation of the literature she explores to some form of “greatness”, rather she states: “I confess frankly that although I found much to interest me in these books, I have not unearthed a forgotten Jane Austen or George Eliot, or hit upon even one novel that I would propose to set alongside The Scarlett Letter.” Baym is simply arguing that the form is worthy of study and should not be relegated to the back corner of literary history in the United States.
Her ability to successfully argue that this literature is worthy of scholarly time and effort, while widely recognized now, was not guaranteed when this work was first published in 1978. Thus, Baym spends the opening chapters of Woman’s Fiction essentially attempting to justify the work’s existence. She explains that the novels she plans to examine have only ever been approached from either “a pre-feminist or antifeminist frame of mind” (16). Up until this time, critics had either dismissed these works as too feminine and sentimental, or conversely, applied to them a sort of “covert feminism” that may or may not be supported textually (18). Baym states that her own view “is that these novels represent a moderate, or limited, or pragmatic feminism, which is not in the least covert, but quite obvious, needing only to be assessed in mid-nineteenth century terms rather than those of a later century to be recognized for what it is” (18).
During the mid to late eighteenth century, Baym claims that “women were increasingly aware of their situations as gender determined and increasingly demanding of themselves and the world” (21). Whether the increase in women’s novels was a cause or outcome of this awareness, Baym is not ready to assert. She simply lays out the facts: that novels were being read in “unprecedented numbers” and that these novels told women something that “was most satisfying to hear” (21). When boiled down, Baym is simply stating that the mere existence of a dominating phenomenon of women novelists in the eighteenth is reason enough to warrant their study.
After spelling out her intentions, Baym moves on to a discussion of many of the novels written throughout the century (and some a bit before). She begins with the works of authors such as Catharine Sedgwick, Margaret Bayard Smith, Caroline Howard Gilman and more. For each work of each author, Baym provides a fairly detailed plot analysis, examining the role of women (and men) in the novel, the situation the heroines find themselves in, and the actions taken by the women to rise above their circumstances. Baym provides several accounts throughout this portion of her work, and they can become somewhat tedious and confusing as more emerge. After the third or fourth plot summary, readers may find themselves struggling to keep track of the individual plots due to the narrative similarities found in each of these novels.
Chapters three through nine follow a similar pattern in which Baym introduces authors, examines works by these authors, and explains how these works help to shape female or domestic identity in the culture of the time. Some of the authors she finds especially influential are Maria McIntosh, E.D.E.N. Southworth, Susan Warner, and Caroline Chesebro’, whom Baym refers to as “one of the most unusual writers of the 1850’s” (208).
In chapter ten, Baym explores the decline of “the novel of feminine trials and triumph”(276). She begins with a discussion of the novel St. Elmo by Augusta Evans, claiming that the novel represents the “most complex and most popular expression” of the female trial and triumph novel” (276). She compares the plot of St. Elmo with that of Evans’ later work, Vashti, which she claims to be “symptomatic of the end of a genre that had dominated American writing” (296). Baym marks the publication of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women as the beginning of the decline in woman’s fiction and the rise of girl’s fiction.Surveying almost a century’s worth of fiction is no small feat, but Baym not only succeeds in her mission, she excels.
Baym, Nina. Woman’s Fiction: A Guide to Novels by and about Women in America, 1820-1870. Ithica: Cornell University Press, 1978. Print.
“The husband is called the Head of the Woman, it belongs to the Head to rule and govern…wives are part of the House and Family, and ought to be under the Husband’s Government.” Benjamin Wadsworth, A Well Ordered Family (1712)
The role of women in colonial America is often characterized as subservient to that of men. Like today, many people believed that women were supposed to remain in home, and not meddle in the affairs of the men. These attitudes were most likely re-enforced by the strict, religious teachings that originally governed the Puritan and Quaker colonies. According Genesis, women were created as the helpmates of men, not equal or superior to them. However prevalent these attitudes were, not all women were content with the role assigned to them. Some women, like Anne Hutchinson and Anne Bradstreet challenged the status quo through their teaching and writing, while others, like Mary Rowlandson and Hannah Dunstan and other female captivity writers, showed women to be capable of strength, fortitude, and survival.
Anne Hutchinson is certainly one of the most studied women of early America. Her fight against the male ministers of Massachusetts Bay has been well documented and explored by scholars, simply because it was so unique for the time. Feminist writer Ben Barker-Benfield claims that in some ways Hutchinson “represented the emergence of dynamic individual consciousness as a potential for everyone after the Reformation” (65). Hutchinson’s actions, though ultimately punished by excommunication and banishment, awakened women to the fact that they had voices and opinions other than the one’s prescribed to them by men. John Winthrop feared Hutchinson’s growing influence, and as a result made a public example of her. This fear stemmed not only from the beliefs Hutchinson promoted, but also the fact that her acts were not “comely in the sight of God nor fitting for [her] sex” (Puritans 156). The issue was not just that the accusations were being made, but that they were being made by a woman.
Anne Bradstreet lived during the same time as Anne Hutchinson and shared more than just a name with her fellow Puritan sister. Like Hutchinson, Bradstreet also struggled against the male dominated culture, but rather than playing host to voices of dissent, Bradstreet turned her struggle into art. In her poem “The Prologue”, Bradstreet immediately tackles the issue of male dominance by writing
“I am obnoxious to each carping tongue
who says in my hand a needle better fits
a poet’s pen all scorn I should thus wrong
for such despite they cast on female wits” (25-28).
Bradstreet makes it clear early on in her work that she is well aware of the predominate opinion of women writers. Her willingness to write in spite of these opinions shows fortitude and strength similar to that of Hutchinson, but without the very public confrontation that Hutchinson’s so-called rebellion led to. Bradstreet entered the public discussion of sex and gender roles through her poetry. Works like “The Prologue”, “Of the Four Humours in Man’s Constitution”, and “Of the Four Ages of Man” all contain passages asserting feminine strength and ability. Tamara Harvey writes that “Bradstreet mounts a feminist challenge to sexist hierarchies through direct engagement of debates and conventions of her time” (25).
While Bradstreet and Hutchinson are widely recognized as having promoted an early feminist mindset, there are other women that were perhaps even more influential in the cause – whether they intended to or not. Indian (Native American) captivity narratives were some of the most popular works published during the colonial years. Mary Rowlandson’s The Sovereignty and Goodness of God “went through four editions… and sold more than a thousand copies combined in American and England” (Captivity 3). The stories of other women, such as Hannah Dunstan and Elizabeth Hanson, were widely printed and disseminated as well. Given that these stories were reaching such a wide audience, it’s important to consider the effect of their content on the readers of the time.
Rowlandson’s tale is one of grit and survival. She holds back no details when describing the slaughter of the people in her village. She describes one man as having been “chopp’d into the Head with a Hatchet, and stripp’d naked, and yet was crawling up and down” (Rowlandson 14). This description seems more akin to a soldier’s recollection of battle than to the memoir of a Puritan woman. Likewise, Hannah Dunstan describes how the when captives became tired on their journey “Salvages would presently bury their Hatchets in their Brains and leave the Carcasses on the Ground for Birds and Beasts to Feed upon” (Dunstan 59). Later, Dunstan further sheds her femininity by scalping the Indians during her escape and forcing the Legislature to pay her for them.
The ability of these women to not only survive such brutal conditions, but to escape and relate the story later, implies a certain strength that was not often spoken of in regard to the “weaker sex.” It’s hard to believe that women reading these stories would not be somehow endowed with a sense of empowerment, or at the very least, the belief that given the right circumstances, a woman could embrace traditionally male qualities such as strength and power. Dunstan became so widely regarded as a hero that in the nineteenth century, not one, but two statues were erected in her honor. These women may not have intended to empower women, but their narratives certainly detailed the incredible strength women were capable of.
Barker-Benfield, Ben. “Anne Hutchinson and the Puritan Attitude Toward Women”. Feminist Studies. 1.2 (1972): 65-96. Web. 30 July 2013.
Bradstreet, Anne. “The Prologue.” Puritans in America: A Narrative Anthology. Eds. Alan Heimert and Andrew Delbanco. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985. 131. Print.
Harvey, Tamera. “‘Now Sisters Impart Your Usefulnesse, and Force’ Anne Bradstreet’s Feminist Functionalism in The Tenth Muse (1650).” Early American Literature. 35.1 (2000): 5-28. Web. 29 July 2013.
Derounian-Stodola, Kathryn Zabelle. Women’s Indian Captivity Narratives. New York: Penguin, 1998. Print.
Dunstan, Hannah. “A Notable Exploit; wherein, Dux Faemina Facti.” Women’s Indian Captivity Narratives. Ed. Kathryn Zabelle Derounian-Stodola. New York. Penguin, 1998. 58-60. Print.
Rowlandson, Mary. “The Sovereignty and Goodness of God.” Women’s Indian Captivity Narratives. Ed. Kathryn Zabelle Derounian-Stodola. New York: Penguin, 1998. 3-51. Print.
This short bibliography features online databases that focus primarily on digital copies of newspapers, periodicals, and print journals. Several of these sites offer readers opportunities to explore vast collections of papers preserved for over 150 years. For literature students, the ability to explore these papers will be invaluable when seeking to place works within an historical and cultural context.
Accessible Archives Corp, 1990. Web. 23 July 2013.
Accessible Archives provides readers with the ability to explore a healthy variety of journals and newspapers printed in the United States during the 1800’s. Aesthetically, the site is nice to look at and easy to use. Tabs at the top of the page give readers the option of the viewing the entirety of the collections or searching for more specific topics. For example, within the search option, researchers can select a newspaper (or journal, periodical or book) such as The Pennsylvania Gazette and search for the word “negro” within the text of every issue available of that specific paper. This search results in 775 items from advertisements for the sale of slaves to reward offers for returned runaways – and that’s just one of many newspapers available for exploration on the site.
Even though it’s called Accessible Archives, a drawback of this site is its lack of accessibility for those who are not subscribers. However, unlike many subscription-based sites, Accessible Archives does allow individuals to purchase subscriptions for $59.95 for 12-months, and they accept credit, debit, and even PayPal as methods of payment. Some people might be unwilling to shell out money in order to gain access for this content, but for those who are have the means, this site can be used as a nice alternative to the more expensive, subscription based sites that are not available to individuals.
African American Newspapers, Readex, Web. 23 July, 2013.
African American Newspapers is a database available through Readex, a subscription based program available only to those who have access to an institution (academic or public library) that has paid for the use of Readex databases. Thus, African American Newspapers might not be available to everyone interested in the topic. That said, AAN is a specialized database, catering to those with a very specific interest. Given the content, the collection is much smaller than many of the other newspaper or journal databases available online, but what it lacks in quantity is makes up for in quality. While the site itself is nothing special to look at and can, at times, be confusing to navigate, it features a strong collection of newspapers published between 1827 and 1998.
One of the nice features of the site is that, rather than looking at the entire paper at once, researchers can look at scanned copies of individual articles. This makes for a much quicker search experience because finding relevant articles is as easy as reading from a list. Another excellent feature of the site is the ability to download full issues in .pdf format (up to 75 pages). Overall, if you have even just a general interest in African American studies, this site will prove invaluable.
American Periodical Series Online, ProQuest. 25 July, 2013.
American Periodical Series Online is part of the ProQuest network of databases and offers researchers access to a wealth of information found in hundreds of newspapers and periodicals published between America’s formative, colonial years and the year 2000. Given the wide range of time that this database covers, it works as a great resource for those looking to examine trends across both time and location. The search features on this site are some of the best available and include the ability to restrict searches by terms, dates, publication types, and even type of document (advertisement, letter to the editor, illustrations, etc.).
As an example, a researcher who is interested in examining the trend of public perceptions of African Americans during the turn of the 20th century can start by searching the term “negro” within letters to the editor and limit the years to those he or she is interested in. This yields very specific and limited results that are easy to access and read. Like most of the databases examined in this bibliography, APS is subscription based and doesn’t allow for individuals to subscribe, which will inhibit many readers from accessing this information. Those who are able to access this database will find that it is both easy to use and incredibly useful.
Chronicling America. Library of Congress and National Endowment for the Humanities, Web. 24 July, 2013.
Chronicling America is an immensely useful source of information for those interested in studying early American literature. Featuring newspapers from across the country, this database provides inquiring minds with the ability to step back in time and read newspapers dating as far back as 1836. The digitally replicated newspapers featured on this site are of the highest quality available on the Internet and are easily readable. Chronicling America is available free to researchers, and does not require a subscription, making it an accessible choice for those who enjoy working from home.
One of the problems that readers will run into is the struggle to find exactly what they’re searching for. While the site offers the ability to perform an advanced search, the results are normally overcrowded with names, places, and other general terms. For example, performing a general search for the term “negro” results in almost 950,000 hits. The advanced search option is better because it allows you to restrict the search by specific states, newspaper titles, and time frames. This yields fewer results and makes it easier for researchers to find articles that are helpful to their projects. Overall, Chronicling America is an excellent resource.
Making of America. University of Michigan and Cornell University, 1995. Web. 24 July, 2013.
Making of America is a site designed for searching and browsing journals, periodicals, and books. The site boasts over 10,000 books and over 50,000 journal articles. The initial focus of the site was the antebellum and reconstruction period lasting from around 1850 through 1877. The site explores a wide variety of subjects, from algebra to zoology, which are all conveniently catalogued under the “browse” option. General searching on the MoA site is not as easy as it could be. The site offers only a few search restrictions, which means that some people will spend a lot of time picking out what interests them from a large group of topics that are irrelevant.
However, the search option does feature the ability to perform Boolean, proximity, bibliographic, and historical searches, which can be immensely useful when looking for a very specific topic or work. For example, when searching the term “Poe” under the basic search option with no restrictions, 1104 records are found. When searching for Poe under bibliographic, only 14 records are found, making the quest for Poe-centric data much easier. Overall, Making of America is an excellent resource for someone planning a research project on the United States in the late 1800’s.
Early English Books Online, the Internet Archives, and Chronicling America are specialized online databases that provide researchers with the ability to access, read, and in most cases, download full replications of hard to find, early American texts. Each of these databases features different types of historical collections and specialize in specific texts. These databases, also known as Internet libraries or collections, are highly useful for established scholars, graduate students, or anyone with an interest in literary history.
Early English Books Online, or EBBO, is a self-described “incomparable collection” of texts printed or published in England between 1475 and 1700. The collection features texts taken from Pollard & Redgrave’s Short-Title Catalogue, Wing’s Short-Title Catalogue, the Thomason Tracts, and the Early English Books tract supplement. The site design is simple and easy to use, allowing for quick searches of the vast materials available on the site. Users can search by keywords, bibliographic numbers, and dates, allowing for a focused search that yields only the results relevant to their research or studies.
A site called Early English Books Online might not seem useful for the purpose of studying American literature, but for the study of Early American literature, EEBO proves to be an invaluable resource. Many texts from early colonial America can be found on EEBO including tracts, sermons, pamphlets, and narratives written by English settlers in the New World. While classified as “English”, these texts provide first hand details of the origin stories of the United States. The roots of American identity are found on this site and conveniently replicated for perusal via a quick .pdf download. While perhaps not as inspiring as having the original copies of these works in hand, just seeing some of their original, handwritten covers is enough to give a researcher a sense of historical significance.
Similar to EEBO, Eighteenth Century Collections Online or, ECCO, is another valuable database for those interested in the study of early American literature. ECCO picks up right where EEBO leaves off and features works starting in 1700. Again, this site predominately features books published in England in the eighteenth century, however, unlike EEBO, ECCO also includes thousands of works from other places on the globe. For example, many of Benjamin Franklin’s works, published and printed in the United States are made available on ECCO. Like EEBO, the site prevents people from downloading full .pdf files, but does allow single page downloads. So if someone has plenty of time and energy, this person can theoretically sit down and download individually all 745 pages of the original three volumes of Edgar Huntly by Charles Brockden Brown. Obviously, this task might prove quite tedious for some, but the option is available for those with the stomach for it. For everyone else, each work is fully available and explorable online as a digital copy.
While EEBO and ECCO are both excellent resources, they might prove troublesome for some researchers. People researching at home might run into an issue due to the fact that EEBO and ECCO are not readily available to those without a subscription. Most college campuses will grant their students access to these databases, but those who are not able to connect to a network with those subscriptions are not going to be able to access the materials. Both EEBO and ECCO are not normally available for individual subscription trials, but those interested in accessing the sites may be able to have their public library request a free trial of EEBO and ECCO.
For those without the ability to connect to EENO or ECCO, the Internet Archive is a great resource for searching Early American literature texts. The Internet Archive is free and open and features a wider variety of materials than EEBO or ECCO as well, including text messages, Internet pages, and other, more contemporary writings that may deal with the eighteenth or nineteenth century topics. The mission of the Internet Archive is to offer “historical collections that exist in digital format.” This non-profit organization was “founded to build an Internet library” and succeeds insofar as the range of materials is concerned.
The Internet Archive is an excellent resource for anyone with an interest in the digital humanities or digital technology in general. Unlike Early English Books Online and Eighteenth Century Collections Online, the Internet Archive may include several different copies of one work. For example, when searching for Romeo and Juliet on Internet Archive, the search results will include copies of Shakespeare’s text digitized by Project Gutenberg, Google, and Open Library. In addition, researchers might find Librivox recordings of the play, orchestral arrangements inspired by the play, and YouTube videos of recorded high school performances of Romeo and Juliet. If a scholar is looking for more than simply the source material, Internet Archives would prove much more useful than Early English Books Online and Eighteenth Century Collections Online. The downside, of course, is that much material available, searching on the site can become difficult when looking for a very specific text or author. Most of the time this problem can be avoided by simply using the “Advanced Search” option, but not always. If a reader is interested in looking up a general or vague topic, they should be prepared to sift through thousands of results before finding something relevant. At times the site can feel a bit bloated.
Each of the databases discussed in this post have their benefits and drawbacks. Not everyone will find these sites useful, available, or user friendly. However, those interested in studying early American literature, with a little time and effort, will find these sites to be incredible resources, especially in their pursuit of scholarship and primary texts.
Early English Books Online, ProQuest. Web. 20 July, 2013.
Eighteenth Century Collections Online, Gale. Web. 20 July, 2013.
Internet Archive, The Internet Archive. Web. 21, July 2013.
This bibliography contains the primary materials used to examine the black presence in the Puritan colonies. While by no means an exhaustive list, the selections named here offer readers a variety of perspectives, from the influential clergy to the black man himself.
Calef, Robert. More Wonders of the Invisible World. London: Golden Bible, 1700. Print.
Calef’s “More Wonders of the Invisible World”, which was written in response to Dr. Mather’s “The Wonders of the Invisible World,” is designed to both shed light on the events surrounding the case of Margaret Rule and critique the abuses of power and influence that Cotton Mather and the church were exerting over colonists at the time. In it, Calef argues that the church has abandoned scriptural principles in its pursuit of superstition and hearsay. He is especially keen to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the accusations of witchcraft that Dr. Mather and other leaders in the church were perpetuating.
The work is split into five parts, each designed for a particular purpose in supporting Calef’s argument against church behavior. Part one is a reprint of Cotton Mather’s account of the events surrounding the afflictions of Margaret Rule. Part two is a series of correspondence between Calef and Cotton Mather in which Calef relays his version of Margaret Rule’s afflictions and calls into question Mather’s methods of treatment. Parts three, four, and five are all related to the events surrounding the Salem Witch Trials and contain many court documents and letters from judges and administrators.
Marrant, John. A Narrative of the Lord’s Wonderful Dealings with John Marrant, a Black. Dublin: Dugdale, 1790. Print.
The captivity narrative of John Marrant is of particular importance to early American studies in blackness due to the fact Marrant was himself black. His recollections offer readers a unique perspective and shed some valuable light on the relationship between the black colonists and the Native Indians. In one especially telling passage, Marrant claims that the Indians were more likely to attack white villages, due to their poor treatment by white colonists, than they were to attack areas with more blacks. This kind of look at early American racial tension is valuable for a comprehensive discussion of how blackness was perceived.
Like most captivity narratives, Marrant’s work is on the shorter side (wrapping up after only 36 pages) and details not much other than his time spent within the Indian camps. To some readers, calling this a captivity narrative might seem strange, given Marrant’s ultimate influence over the Indians and ability to move freely among them as a leader of sorts, but it holds all the features of the traditional captivity stories –entering the wilderness, detailing removes, and ultimately escaping and assimilating back into civilized society. While not as exciting as Rowlandson’s narrative, Marrant’s is significant given his race and standing.
Mather, Cotton. The Negro Christianized. Boston: B. Green, 1706. Print.
Published in 1706, Mather’s essay “The Negroe Christianized” provides contemporary scholars with a complicated look at how both slaves and free black men were perceived in early America. Mather’s argument is rather simple. He believes that his countrymen should see black slaves as candidates for salvation, and endorses the conversion and recruitment of these people for the work of God. In the essay, Mather addresses the potential origin of the black race and the notion that they may lack souls altogether — a notion that he describes as “brutish”. Mather provides his readers with four reasons why they should be aiming to convert their black slaves to Christianity, First, because God commands it and requires it. Second, because conversion is a Christian duty. Third, the servants are crying to be Christianized. Forth, the eternal benefits of saving a soul.
While Mather’s writing makes a strong case for the equality of souls in the eyes of God, he never treads into emancipation territory. Instead, Mather extols the black slaves for their diligence in service and hard work, while reassuring his congregation that baptizing a black man will not relieve him of his earthly slavery, but will make him a free man of the Lord.
Mather, Cotton. The Wonders of the Invisible World. Boston: Raven in the Poultry,1693. Print.
Cotton Mather begins The Wonders of the Invisible World with a pre-emptive defense of his intentions. He attempts to justify the publication by noting the lack of any other works detailing the witchcraft epidemic, an issue that he saw as being widespread and dangerous to the survival of the church in the colonies. Mather’s work acts as an argument in favor of the persecution of those accused of participating in witchcraft or associating with those who did. Being published in both Boston and London, Wonders was clearly intended for wide dissemination in both the old and new countries. This indicates that Mather saw this writing as crucial to not only the survival of the colonies, but the survival of the church as a whole.
Mather’s work is divided into five sections and four curiosities. Each section of the work provides details regarding the trials of people accused of witchcraft. Mather makes an effort to provide an historical account of these trials, often simply stating the each stage of the events. For the trial of Susannah Martin, Mather provides a partial transcript of the trial proceedings. The inclusion of these trial accounts is designed to support Mather’s argument by highlighting not only the atrocities of the accused, but their unwillingness to admit their crimes.
Rowlandson, Mary. The Sovereignty and Goodness of God. Cambridge: Samuel Green, 1682. Early English Books Online. Web. 24 July 2013. Wing R2093.
In her captivity memoir, The Sovereignty and Goodness of God, Mary Rowlandson gives readers an account of her time spent as a prisoner of the Native Indians. She spares very little detail in recalling the events leading up to and after her capture, often painting brutal pictures of death and suffering. She frequently refers to the natives as “black creatures”, demonstrating the belief that anyone who wasn’t a white, Christianized, Englishman was considered “black”. She divides her work up into twenty removes, beginning just before her capture and leading up to her eventual reunion with her husband and surviving children.
Rowlandson also makes frequent use of Bible verses, which, for her, serve as evidence of the Lord’s presence in every step of her struggle and act as a sustaining force when she is troubled. While the abundance of these scriptural passages can be distracting, they provide key insights into how she was able to cope with such suffering. Given that this narrative was written a few years after her release from captivity and with the help of religious leaders, the reliability of the facts may be called into question. Rowlandson’s work was widely circulated at the time, buffeted by endorsements of church leaders. Contemporary readers should wonder whether or not the church had sought to gain from this publication, and whether or not it was Puritan propaganda.
In 1693, shorty after what is now referred to as the Salem Witch Trials, Cotton Mather published a book entitled The Wonders of the Invisible World. In it, Mather details the events of the Salem trials, providing court records and transcripts of the events that ultimately lead to nineteen executions. Mather makes a strong case to the people that they need to protect themselves from those who would seek to do them (and their communities) spiritual harm. He seeks to “countermine the whole plot of the Devil against New England, in every branch of it, as far as one of my Darkness can comprehend such a world of Darkness” (2). With this statement Mather makes it clear that the battle being fought is one of light versus dark. Thus, the dichotomy was established between lightness and blackness. While, Mather may have been speaking of blackness of the soul, it’s clear from the early texts that the distrust and wariness was applied to blackness of skin as well.
In her captivity narrative, The Sovereignty and Goodness of God, Mary Rowlandson details her capture and life among the Indians. At one point during her captivity she describes the natives as “black creatures”, distancing her own, white, English-born community from the savage natives and othering them by simply lumping them into the black category (6). If not white, then black. The attribution of “black” to any enemy or savage is founds in several of captivity narratives. The enemy was always black
Rowlandson’s capture occurred in 1676 and twenty years later the colonists were still confronting their perception of blackness, but this time through the fog of witchcraft. Returning once again to Cotton Mather and his Wonders of the Invisible World, many of the people accused of participating in witchcraft, as detailed in sections I-V, were said to have been seen talking or interacting with a black man.
One of these women, Susanna Martin, vehemently denied the charge. In a transcript of her trial, someone eventually “cried out that there was a black man with her” (344). She is immediately asked “What is the black man whispering to you?” Her reply was to simply say the “none whispered to her” (344). This passage makes apparent that association with this other, black character is incendiary enough to be used as evidence of witchcraft and ultimately execution.
In 1700, Robert Calef published “More Wonders of the Invisible World” as a critique of Mather’s witch hunts. He includes in his work Mather’s account of “The Afflictions of Margaret Rule”. In this narrative, Mather references the appearance of a black man several times. First, he shares a story about a Christian Indian who was approached by a “Black Man, of a terrible aspect and more than humane dimensions, threatening bitterly to kill him if he would not promise to leave of preaching as he did” (Calef 2). This recollection once again places the black man in league with the devil, directly opposing the Christian faith. Later, while describing the preternatural behavior of Margaret Rule, Mather claims that “scores of miserable people were troubled by horrible appearances of a Black-Man, accompanied with spectres wearing these and those human shapes” (Calef 3).
While seemingly rigid and merciless during the Salem witch-hunt, Mather’s overall view of black slaves seems to be a bit more complicated. In “The Negro Christianized” he strongly argues for the salvation of black slaves and exhorts his followers to “teach [their] Negroes the Truths of the Glorious Gospel” (Mather 2). Mather’s writing indicates that he believed that God saw both the black man and the white man as equally worthy of grace and salvation. However, he makes it very clear that leaving a black slave to salvation is not the same as setting him free. He claims that there is a difference between being “the Lord’s free-man” and just a regular free man. Still, Mather’s apparent concern for the well being of the souls of black slaves is notable given just how complicated the perception of blackness was at the time.
Still, it’s difficult to assess the evolution of colonial perceptions of blackness, simply because there are as many perceptions as there are people. What is clear, however, is that, at least for a time, the Puritans were led to believe that blackness represented evil and stood in direct opposition to the good or Godly. It’s hard to imagine that this perception didn’t inform the Puritan’s opinions of the “black” (including natives) people amongst them and lead to a sort of indoctrinated racism where skin color was partnered with a certain morality.
Calef, Robert. More Wonders of the Invisible World. London: Golden Bible, Early English Books Online. 1700. Web. 22 July 2013.
Marrant, John. A Narrative of the Lord’s Wonderful Dealings with John Marrant, a Black. Dublin: Dugdale, 1790. Web. 22 July 2013.
Mather, Cotton. The Wonders of the Invisible World. Boston: Raven in the Poultry, Early English Books Online. 1693. Web. 22 July 2013.
— The Negro Christianized. Boston: B. Green, 1706. Web. 23 July 2013
Rowlandson, Mary. The Sovereignty and Goodness of God. Cambridge: Samuel Green, Early English Books Online. 1682. Web. 21 July 2013.