You just woke up on a plantation. The year is 1750.
There’s no electricity, no sounds but the chirping of birds and the crowing of a rooster–and perhaps, a baby crying. There’s no running water for a shower, no hair dryer. In fact, there’s not even a toilet.
welcome to colonial america
I just love history, don’t you? Okay, maybe you don’t. Maybe to you history means dozing against the wall during long, dull lectures, memorization of names and dates you don’t care about, or reading long chapters in tiny print the night before an exam. Maybe you even studied hard and got As and Bs, but you don’t remember a single thing from your courses, because it was something you did because you had to–certainly not because you wanted to.
But I’m here to tell you: History is anything but dull. When you leave the classroom and the textbooks and start looking for stories about people, history becomes interesting, even–dare I say?–exciting.
What fascinates me most when studying history are the everyday lives of the people. This aspect is scarcely addressed in high school and undergraduate History courses; it’s something that I have studied outside of school. I was fortunate to have been given an independent research project on the subject of my choice; I chose to study the role of women in American Colonial society.
I wondered about the everyday lives of women prior to the American Revolution. Women like Pocahontas. When we read the history, we find that Pocahontas was only about ten years old when she met John Smith; unlikely that they were the lovers portrayed in popular cinema. And what about Dorothy Bradford, the wife of the first governor of Plymouth Colony. Did she really kill herself? or did she fall off the Mayflower accidentally? The more I research, the less I seem to know; I feel that I could spend the rest of my life looking for the answers to my questions. After all, the records of the women of history are sketchy. Much of what we “know” of these women is surmised from the brief references made by the men who were so busy recording their own exploits they seemed to have had little space left for documenting the day to day affairs of their women folk.
And of course we know why the women weren’t documenting their own history. Even if they had realized how important their roles were, they were deep into those roles; they were living their lives. They were working for their own and their families’ survival. How many of us today have the energy to keep records of our days? Besides, what do I have to say that anyone will care about two hundred years from now? In what way is my life remarkable?
Like women of today, the women in Colonial America were busy, often working to make a living as well as raising and educating children, and not least, supporting the men in their lives, who, from the text book point of view, seem to have had the most important influence on the history of the world.
I would like to present a different point of view.
Nowadays, we don’t think it’s unusual for women to have important roles in society. We don’t blink when Sara Palin runs for vice-president, or Sue Grafton makes the New York Times bestseller list again. Thankfully, women nowadays have the same opportunities as men–for the most part. We have the freedom and the right to pursue happiness in any and all ways we choose.
It hasn’t always been this way, of course; we think of the women of American history, and how they were “owned,” first by their fathers, and then by their husbands, much like livestock, and we shudder to think how awful it must have been.
Unimaginably awful if you were black.
But there are women who stand out from the herd, so to speak. Like many of us today, some women back then found themselves in unexpected roles, roles they may have never imagined for themselves, roles which stretched their mental and physical abilities far beyond the expectations of the society in which they lived; and no doubt their own private expectations as well.
I have found so many interesting people, so many stories! There is Elizabeth Timothy, the first female newspaper publisher in America. There is Coosaponakeesa, also known as Mary Musgrove, who was a key player in the founding of the state of Georgia. There is Eliza Lucas, who as a sixteen-year-old girl was given the management of three South Carolina plantations, and developed indigo as an important Colonial product.
I’ve also found stories about unknown women that I find fascinating–for example, a girl who leapt a fence in her underclothes to stop a bull-baiting. I can’t wait to find out more about this story. Such an escapade even today would raise eyebrows–and probably get you on the evening news. (Imagine, if you will, a scantily-clad young woman running into a rodeo arena to stop a calf-roping.)
I have begun a journey of discovery that I expect will lead me to many more fascinating places. I hope you enjoy reading about these characters as much as I enjoy finding them. You won’t find scholarly writing here (well, not very often, anyway) but you will find, I hope, an interesting take on the daily lives of the women who shaped the beginning of our American experience.