History Book Club
Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Colonization in America
Life in Plimoth Plantation, 1627
Wednesday, November 30, 2016: Colonization in America. Jamestown, Plymouth, Gloucester, St. Augustine, Junipero Serra, Roger Williams, Quebec, Nieuw Amsterdam, more.
White, Sophie, Wild Frenchmen and Frenchified Indians: Material Culture and Race in Colonial Louisiana; Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013. 360 pp.
Voyageurs at dawn, Upper Mississippi
The author of Wild Frenchmen, Sophie White of Notre Dame University, takes a unique approach to describing the French colonization of America. She did a great deal of research in how Indians and French women and men dressed in settlements in Upper Louisiana, the land of the Illinois, and Lower Louisiana, the Mississippi River territories south to New Orleans.
She also tells the story of race, as Frenchmen picked brides from the local Indian tribes, and African slaves had children by Frenchmen and by Indians, and, by the way they dressed, affected the perception of these mixed-breed new Americans.
If people are not able to leave a written record, history is often lost. Sophie White’s method of examining whatever was available from the early days of French voyageurs discovering new lands, meeting Indians, learning to trade with them, and eventually marrying their women. In addition to written records, there were bits of fabric or a deerskin moccasin, shards of pottery, and early photographs of French and Indian people, their cabins, tents, cooking equipment, blankets, weapons. All of this helps to produce a multi-dimensional picture of life in these times and places.
For many Americans, “colonization” in our early history means Pilgrims and Plymouth Colony, and Jamestown. However, the story of how the French colonized America is also important. The French arrived early (the 16th century) in what is now New England and eastern Canada, with fishermen and fur trappers. In the 17th century the Habitants arrived, and families began to put down roots. French Roman Catholic missionaries were among the first to arrive, and they did a marvelous job of converting whole tribes of Indians to Christianity.
The Catholic missionaries taught Indians French agricultural techniques, introduced Indians to the plow, showed them how to raise pigs, chickens and keep cattle. Indians learned to cultivate wheat and the missionaries built flour mills, helping to build a thriving agriculture. They shipped the flour down river to New Orleans and environs, where the semi-tropical climate prevented growing wheat.
If you look at a map of North America you see how the French put their brand on the country, from Quebec, down through the Great Lakes, down the Mississippi, and along the rivers that fed it. You see St. Louis, MO and Louisville, KY named for the King, Des Moines, IA, named after “River of the Monks”, Fond du Lac, WI, Montpelier, VT, Boise, ID, Terre Haute, IN. Illinois is named after the French name for the Illini tribe, and they also named the Sioux, the Nez Perce, Pied Noir, Algonquin, and more. French Colonization extended all the way down the Mississippi to Nouvelle Orleans, or New Orleans, which also was strongly connected to French colonies in the Caribbean.
French law in 17th and 18th century America encouraged Frenchmen to marry Indian women, and with Catholic missionaries along on the trip, convert them to Christianity. Part of this process was “Frenchification”, which included dressing the newly married Indian wives in French clothing.
Much of Sophie White’s story centers on the records of the Ursuline nuns in their convent in New Orleans, which was in Lower Louisiana, as it was called in the 17th and 18th centuries. It’s interesting to see how New Orleans became a meeting place for the Canadian French and Indian tribes in Upper Louisiana, and French Colonials and Africans both free and slave, coming from Haiti, French Guiana and elsewhere.
Missionaries in Upper Louisiana, in the land of the Illinois, sent prospects to become nuns down the Mississippi to the nearest convent, in New Orleans. White spends a great deal of time writing about the convent, and the life of the nuns, particularly since some Indian women joined the order.
The French were particularly astute at concentrating education on girls, recognizing that by teaching girls French, writing, and childrearing and housekeeping skills, they were preparing the next generation of loyal, well-adjusted French citizens. In the colonies, Indian girls, who elected to leave the tribe and become “Frenchified” would be washed to remove the coating of grease that Indians wore, then given French clothing to wear. After that, they were treated the same. Indian girls were even given a cow as dowry to encourage Frenchmen to marry them.
Kickapoo woman, Ahteewatomee
Marie Rouensa was the daughter of a powerful Illini chief of the Illinois Confederation. She was a faithful convert to Catholicism. The chief offered Marie in marriage to a Frenchman in order to cement an alliance. Marie objected, declaring that she wished to give herself to God. She obeyed her father, however, and married, bearing two sons. When her husband died, she married another Frenchman, and bore another six children. After the second husband died, she became a nun. By then she had acquired significant wealth in the town of Kahokia, on the banks of the Mississippi. Kahokia was an ancient home of the Illinois tribes, at one time had a population of over 7,000. The French built their homes apart from the Indian camp. Today the population of Kahokia numbers 14.
Marie provided an excellent example of the adaptability of Illinois women to the French life and ways. Her life as documented by French priests to give us a glimpse into life in a French colonial village in Illinois territory, and how French and Illinois cultures intermingled.
Sophie White gave me a much greater appreciation for the many ways that the French put their unique brand on Les Etats-Unis.
HISTORY BOOK CLUB TOPICS FOR 2017
Wednesday, January 18 (vice 25), 2017: History of Cape Ann. Read about the history of Gloucester, or Rockport, or about how Gloucester became famous as a fishing port, or how Rockport gained fame with granite quarrying. Read about Cape Ann as an art colony. Read about the Revolutionary War and privateers off Cape Ann, or the Royal Navy attacking in the War of 1812. Read about how the Sicilian, Portuguese, and Scandinavian immigrants joined the original English settlers here.
Wednesday, February 22, 2017: Pick your favorite Chinese dynasty. Whether it’s Xia dynasty, Shang, Chou (Zhou), Qin, Han, Sui, Tang, or any of the others, you’ll learn Chinese history. [Suggested by Walt Frederick].
Wednesday, March 29, 2017: What made America powerful? Was it our geography, size, natural resources, protection of two oceans, our choice of immigrants, our leaders? [Suggested by Janos Posfai]
Wednesday, April 26, 2017: History of Class in America We’ve often bragged that Americans started out resisting the class structure, but our Founding Fathers included men like Thomas Jefferson, owners of much land and slaves. At the same time, indentured servants arrived in young America, to fill the bottom rungs of society. [Suggested by Sam Coulbourn]
Wednesday, May 31, 2017: Famines in the World [Suggested by Linda Burkell and Walt Frederick]
Wednesday, June 28, 2017: History of English/British Colonialism It started in the latter part of the 15th Century with plantations in Ireland. Read how the United Kingdom grew to become the greatest Empire in the history of the world. If you wish, home in on British slave trade, and how the U.K. colonized the New World, bringing slaves to grow sugar and cotton. Then Napoleonic Wars and Britain’s seizure of French Colonies. America and Canada. Colonization of Asia in Hong Kong, Malaya, Australia, New Zealand, India, Burma. Africa, and more for you to discover. [Suggested by Richard Heuser]
Wednesday, July 26, 2017:euser]
Treasure Hunts in History. This is your opportunity to find a treasure and discover the hunt for it, whether it is the quest for gold in California, diamonds in Africa, the hunt for the pharaohs buried in the pyramids, the hunt to discover a cure for polio or yellow fever, the terracotta army buried with Qin Shi Huang, the First Emperor of China, the search for the source of the Nile, the discovery of Neanderthal man… This topic is for you to imagine! [Suggested by Walt Frederick].