Current Issue Article Abstracts
Spring 2018, Vol. 16.2
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Missing the Boat: Ancient Dugout Canoes in the Mississippi-Missouri Watershed
Peter H. Wood /pp. 197-254
Dugout canoes, though far less familiar in American iconography than northeastern birch-bark canoes, were once central on North American coasts and rivers. Their existence in diverse forms on the Atlantic, Gulf, and Northwest coasts is well known. This article focuses on the less well-explored territory of the Mississippi River and its tributaries, where log boats were important before, during, and after the rise of Mississippian cultures more than a thousand years ago. Though archaeological examples remain scarce, suggestive documentary evidence is ample. But the arrival of modern industrial society altered river transport, drastically changed the river system itself, decimated the bottomland forests, and destroyed the huge trees from which these large boats were made. So it is now hard for anyone—specialists and public alike—to imagine the size and abundance of such canoes, much less their mobility and their centrality to an ancient river-based way of life.
Literate New Englanders, captives, missionaries, and soldiers swept up in borderlands conflicts left numerous accounts of hunger dating from the start of King Philip's War (1675), to the end of the Seven Years' War (1763), when New England was at war more often than at peace. In the violent borderlands of New England, hunger produced cultural coping measures, or "hunger cultures," as Native peoples and English colonists conceptualized hunger differently. Hunger cultures also created practical strategies, or "hunger knowledges," used to survive the material realities of want. Northeastern woodlands Indians had broad and deep hunger knowledges that allowed them to cope with seasonal cycles of feast and famine. Because England was spared the scarcity that wracked much of the rest of Europe between the mid-seventeenth and mid-eighteenth centuries, English colonists brought to America a hunger culture characterized by a dearth of hunger knowledge. Despite encountering Native approaches to hunger, the majority of English colonists did not create new hunger cultures or knowledges in New England. The concepts of hunger culture and knowledge offer a framework for understanding hunger as a cultural actor in early America and beyond.
James McCarty was born into slavery in the late 1710s in Shrewsbury, Monmouth County, New Jersey, before being emancipated in 1744. As a successful free man he accumulated property before he died intestate in 1763. Leading New Jersey and Pennsylvania Quakers then worked to fulfill McCarty's wish that his wealth be used to secure the freedom of his relatives who were still enslaved. It took the Quakers involved almost five years before they achieved their goal because they had to overcome discriminatory laws, enslavers' resistance, and divisions within the Quaker community itself. Over the ensuing decades, they exhibited a persevering, paternalistic benevolence in protecting and caring for McCarty's kinfolk. Their experience in the McCarty imbroglio changed the Quakers' thinking about slavery and emancipation and advanced the emerging antislavery movement during a seminal period on the eve of the American Revolution.
My work analyzes the cultural performance of politics across generations and over time. I explore the ways Deborah Read Franklin and Sally Franklin Bache constructed and were constructed by the public resistance to the British. For both women, the Philadelphia community and Benjamin Franklin entailed complex, intertwined audiences for their theatricalities. In 1764 a fifty-five-year-old Deborah bravely defended the Franklin house when a mob raided it during the Stamp Act crisis. Putting on a courageous face to the outside world, she proved she could protect her domain. Yet Deborah alluded often to the security of her home, a place from which she became temporarily engaged in political matters but also a place to which she retreated from political strife. These were shifting [End Page 317] strategic choices she made about her performances as a gendered subject, as a political actor in her own right, and as the wife of Benjamin Franklin. Sixteen years later, as the war continued to take a toll on the Continental Army, a thirty-seven-year-old Sally Bache and a group of elite women in Philadelphia constructed a theater of urban politics, spending the summer walking the city streets seeking monetary donations from rich and poor friends, neighbors, and strangers. The women had launched their campaign with the broadside "Sentiments of an American Woman," published first in the Pennsylvania Gazette and then in newspapers across the country. By proudly proclaiming her duty to the cause, Sally publicly and self-consciously fashioned herself as a Patriot. Between 1765 and 1780 the Franklins elder and younger experienced conflict, resistance, and resolution in Revolutionary Philadelphia. To differing degrees at separate times they engaged in a gendered intergenerational theater of identity politics.
In the 1790s agricultural improvers in the northeastern and mid-Atlantic United States began to promote the growth of a domestic maple sugar industry, and their enthusiasm for this regional product resulted in a short-lived "maple sugar bubble" that remains an understudied episode in early American food politics. Not only did these boosters conduct their own maple experiments, but they composed a series of poems, pamphlets, and personal correspondence in support of the movement. Merging the tradition of georgic literature with abolitionist rhetoric, these maple sugar georgics imagined a form of agricultural and economic resistance to the injustices of slavery; thus, they constitute an alternative antislavery georgic that promises to enrich our understanding of the relationship among political discourse, agricultural reform, and artistic production in the early republic. In the maple sugar writings of Benjamin Rush, Tench Coxe, David Humphreys, and Thomas Jefferson, three key aspects of agricultural discourse come to light: its use of the georgic mode to promote economic and ethical agendas; its concern for questions of environmental justice; and its struggle to negotiate factors of environmental and cultural resistance.
Philadelphia's 1793 yellow fever epidemic is well known in the history of the early republic, and so too is Mathew Carey's Short Account of the Malignant Fever, the influential pamphlet that described the city's moral breakdown and recovery during the pestilence. Some historians have criticized the Short Account's unflattering depictions of the African Americans who volunteered to aid the sick, but most have taken it as an accurate account of the city's response. This article offers another way of thinking about the work. By reconstructing the circumstances of its composition, and by deconstructing its narrative elements, it shows that Carey's Short Account was a literary creation, one that imitated historical plague stories. This reading of the Short Account illuminates little-known aspects of the literary culture and historical consciousness of early republicans. More important, it opens a window onto the "archaeology of plague narratives"—the pattern of narrative mimicry that predisposed plague writers to tell the events of epidemics in certain ways. The view it offers calls into question not only what happened in Philadelphia in 1793, but also what happens to communities when plagues strike.