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• SOS: Searching Out Stories/Info - Colonial Times
Advice, Comments and References from Storytellers,
Teachers and Librarians
SOS: SEARCHING OUT STORIES AND INFORMATION ABOUT COLONIAL TIMES
Advice, Comments and References from Storytellers, Teachers and Librarians
(excerpts from Storytell posts plus original research)
Book titles, movie titles and online links are in blue and underlined. Click on them to get more information.
Story and song titles are in italics.
To retell any stories, obtain permission from the copyright holder if the material is not in the public domain.
Posts are added chronologically as they are received by Story Lovers World.
1) Katie's Trunk by Ann Warren Turner
This is a touching story told from the point of view of a young Tory girl describing what it is like to have to hide from one's own neighbors. Hidden in the bottom of her mother's wedding dress trunk while a mob is tearing up the house, the girl is discovered by a neighbor who shows compassion and saves her life. This is a novel point of view (since usually it is the Patriots who are favored in American books) and leads up to he American Revolution.
Lesson plans here:
2) Caesar's Story, 1759: Young Americans Colonial Williamsburg (Colonial Williamsburg(R)) (Paperback) by Joan Lowery Nixon
A well-researched story told from the point of view of a nine-year-old slave. Caesar misses his happy-go-lucky childhood when he could play freely with the plantation owner's son. He resents the separation of his family when his sister is sent to the big house, and his father is hired out to do carpentry work in Williamsburg. Even after his mother explains their status as slaves, Caesar has difficulty accepting his fate, and he rebels when he is chosen to train as a personal servant to his former playmate.
3) Blue Feather's Vision: The Dawn of Colonial America (Adventures in Colonial America) by James E. Knight.
An aged Indian chief fears that white strangers who have visited his village will return to destroy the Indian way of life.
4) Lists of books written by colonialists...
William Bradford (1590-1657)
William Bradford was elected governor of Plymouth in the Massachusetts Bay Colony shortly after the Separatists landed. He was a deeply pious, self-educated man who had learned several languages, including Hebrew, in order to "see with his own eyes the ancient oracles of God in their native beauty." His participation in the migration to Holland and the Mayflower voyage to Plymouth, and his duties as governor, made him ideally suited to be the first historian of his colony. His history, Of Plymouth Plantation (Dover Value Editions) (1651), is a clear and compelling account of the colony's beginning. His description of the first view of America is justly famous:
Being thus passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles...they had now no friends to welcome them nor inns to entertain or refresh their weatherbeaten bodies; no houses or much less towns to repair to, to seek for succor...savage barbarians...were readier to fill their sides with arrows than otherwise. And for the reason it was winter, and they that know the winters of that country know them to be sharp and violent, and subject to cruel and fierce storms...all stand upon them with a weatherbeaten face, and the whole country, full of woods and thickets, represented a wild and savage hue.
Bradford also recorded the first document of colonial self-governance in the English New World, the Mayflower Compact, The - Documents of Freedom - The Stirring Story of the Famous Pilgrim Covenant That Laid the Basis for Self-Government in the New World drawn up while the Pilgrims were still on board ship. The compact was a harbinger of the Declaration of Independence to come a century and a half later.
Puritans disapproved of such secular amusements as dancing and card-playing, which were associated with ungodly aristocrats and immoral living. Reading or writing "light" books also fell into this category. Puritan minds poured their tremendous energies into nonfiction and pious genres: poetry, sermons, theological tracts, and histories. Their intimate diaries and meditations record the rich inner lives of this introspective and intense people.
Anne Bradstreet (c. 1612-1672)
The first published book of poems by an American was also the first American book to be published by a woman -- Anne Bradstreet. It is not surprising that the book was published in England, given the lack of printing presses in the early years of the first American colonies. Born and educated in England, Anne Bradstreet was the daughter of an earl's estate manager. She emigrated with her family when she was 18. Her husband eventually became governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which later grew into the great city of Boston. She preferred her long, religious poems on conventional subjects such as the seasons, but contemporary readers most enjoy the witty poems on subjects from daily life and her warm and loving poems to her husband and children. She was inspired by English metaphysical poetry, and her book The Tenth Muse, Lately Sprung Up in America (1650) shows the influence of Edmund Spenser, Philip Sidney, and other English poets as well. She often uses elaborate conceits or extended metaphors. Anne Bradstreet - The Complete Collection (1678) ( To My Dear and Loving Husband ) uses the oriental imagery, love theme, and idea of comparison popular in Europe at the time, but gives these a pious meaning at the poem's conclusion:
If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee;
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that rivers cannot quench,
Nor ought but love from thee, give recompense.
Thy love is such I can no way repay,
The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.
Then while we live, in love let s so persevere
That when we live no more, we may live ever.
Edward Taylor (c. 1644-1729)
Like Anne Bradstreet, and, in fact, all of New England's first writers, the intense, brilliant poet and minister Edward Taylor was born in England. The son of a yeoman farmer -- an independent farmer who owned his own land -- Taylor was a teacher who sailed to New England in 1668 rather than take an oath of loyalty to the Church of England. He studied at Harvard College, and, like most Harvard-trained ministers, he knew Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. A selfless and pious man, Taylor acted as a missionary to the settlers when he accepted his lifelong job as a minister in the frontier town of Westfield, Massachusetts, 160 kilometers into the thickly forested, wild interior. Taylor was the best-educated man in the area, and he put his knowledge to use, working as the town minister, doctor, and civic leader.
Modest, pious, and hard-working, Taylor never published his poetry, which was discovered only in the 1930s. He would, no doubt, have seen his work's discovery as divine providence; today's readers should be grateful to have his poems -- the finest examples of 17th-century poetry in North America.
Taylor wrote a variety of verse: funeral elegies, lyrics, a medieval "debate," and a 500-page Edward Taylor's Metrical history of Christianity (mainly a history of martyrs). His best works, according to modern critics, are the series of short Edward Taylor's Gods Determinations and Preparatory Meditations: A Critical Edition.
Michael Wigglesworth (1631-1705)
Michael Wigglesworth, like Taylor an English-born, Harvard-educated Puritan minister who practiced medicine, is the third New England colonial poet of note. He continues the Puritan themes in his best-known work, The Day Of Doom (1662). A long narrative that often falls into doggerel, this terrifying popularization of Calvinistic doctrine was the most popular poem of the colonial period. This first American best-seller is an appalling portrait of damnation to hell in ballad meter.
It is terrible poetry -- but everybody loved it. It fused the fascination of a horror story with the authority of John Calvin. For more than two centuries, people memorized this long, dreadful monument to religious terror; children proudly recited it, and elders quoted it in everyday speech. It is not such a leap from the terrible punishments of this poem to the ghastly self-inflicted wound of Nathaniel Hawthorne's guilty Puritan minister, Arthur Dimmesdale, in The Scarlet Letter: A Penguin Enriched eBook Classic (1850) or Herman Melville's crippled Captain Ahab, a New England Faust whose quest for forbidden knowledge sinks the ship of American humanity in Moby-Dick (Dover Giant Thrift Editions) (1851). (Moby-Dick was the favorite novel of 20th-century American novelist William Faulkner, whose profound and disturbing works suggest that the dark, metaphysical vision of Protestant America has not yet been exhausted.)
Like most colonial literature, the poems of early New England imitate the form and technique of the mother country, though the religious passion and frequent biblical references, as well as the new setting, give New England writing a special identity. Isolated New World writers also lived before the advent of rapid transportation and electronic communications. As a result, colonial writers were imitating writing that was already out of date in England. Thus, Edward Taylor, the best American poet of his day, wrote metaphysical poetry after it had become unfashionable in England. At times, as in Taylor's poetry, rich works of striking originality grew out of colonial isolation.
Colonial writers often seemed ignorant of such great English authors as Ben Jonson. Some colonial writers rejected English poets who belonged to a different sect as well, thereby cutting themselves off from the finest lyric and dramatic models the English language had produced. In addition, many colonials remained ignorant due to the lack of books.
The great model of writing, belief, and conduct was the Bible, in an authorized English translation that was already outdated when it came out. The age of the Bible, so much older than the Roman church, made it authoritative to Puritan eyes.
New England Puritans clung to the tales of the Jews in the Old Testament, believing that they, like the Jews, were persecuted for their faith, that they knew the one true God, and that they were the chosen elect who would establish the New Jerusalem -- a heaven on Earth. The Puritans were aware of the parallels between the ancient Jews of the Old Testament and themselves. Moses led the Israelites out of captivity from Egypt, parted the Red Sea through God's miraculous assistance so that his people could escape, and received the divine law in the form of the Ten Commandments. Like Moses, Puritan leaders felt they were rescuing their people from spiritual corruption in England, passing miraculously over a wild sea with God's aid, and fashioning new laws and new forms of government after God's wishes.
Colonial worlds tend to be archaic, and New England certainly was no exception. New England Puritans were archaic by choice, conviction, and circumstance.
Samuel Sewall (1652-1730)
Easier to read than the highly religious poetry full of Biblical references are the historical and secular accounts that recount real events using lively details. The Journal of John Winthrop, 1630-1649, Abridged Edition (The John Harvard Library) (1790) provides the best information on the early Massachusetts Bay Colony and Puritan political theory.
Diary of Samuel Sewall: 1674-1729. v. 1 [-3] (Collections of the Massachusetts historical society. ser. 5), which records the years 1674 to 1729, is lively and engaging. Sewall fits the pattern of early New England writers we have seen in Bradford and Taylor. Born in England, Sewall was brought to the colonies at an early age. He made his home in the Boston area, where he graduated from Harvard, and made a career of legal, administrative, and religious work.
Sewall was born late enough to see the change from the early, strict religious life of the Puritans to the later, more worldly Yankee period of mercantile wealth in the New England colonies; his Diary, which is often compared to Pepys' Diary (Highbridge Classics) of the same period, inadvertently records the transition.
Like Pepys' Diary (Highbridge Classics), Sewall's is a minute record of his daily life, reflecting his interest in living piously and well. He notes little purchases of sweets for a woman he was courting, and their disagreements over whether he should affect aristocratic and expensive ways such as wearing a wig and using a coach.
Mary Rowlandson (c.1635-c.1678)
The earliest woman prose writer of note is Mary Rowlandson, a minister's wife who gives a clear, moving account of her 11-week captivity by Indians during an Indian massacre in 1676. The book undoubtedly fanned the flame of anti-Indian sentiment, as did John Williams's The Redeemed Captive Returning to Zion (1707), describing his two years in captivity by French and Indians after a massacre. Such writings as women produced are usually domestic accounts requiring no special education. It may be argued that women's literature benefits from its homey realism and common-sense wit; certainly works like The Journals of Madam Knight: and Rev. Mr. Buckingham. From the original manuscripts, written in 1704 & 1710 (published posthumously in 1825) of a daring solo trip in 1704 from Boston to New York and back escapes the baroque complexity of much Puritan writing
Cotton Mather (1663-1728)
No account of New England colonial literature would be complete without mentioning Cotton Mather, the master pedant. The third in the four-generation Mather dynasty of Massachusetts Bay, he wrote at length of New England in over 500 books and pamphlets. Mather's 1702 Magnalia Christi Americana Or The Ecclesiastical History Of New England V2: From Its First Planting In The Year 1620 Unto The Year Of Our Lord 1698, his most ambitious work, exhaustively chronicles the settlement of New England through a series of biographies. The huge book presents the holy Puritan errand into the wilderness to establish God's kingdom; its structure is a narrative progression of representative American "Saints' Lives." His zeal somewhat redeems his pompousness: "I write the wonders of the Christian religion, flying from the deprivations of Europe to the American strand."
Roger Williams (c. 1603-1683)
As the 1600s wore on into the 1700s, religious dogmatism gradually dwindled, despite sporadic, harsh Puritan efforts to stem the tide of tolerance. The minister Roger Williams suffered for his own views on religion. An English-born son of a tailor, he was banished from Massachusetts in the middle of New England's ferocious winter in 1635. Secretly warned by Governor John Winthrop of Massachusetts, he survived only by living with Indians; in 1636, he established a new colony at Rhode Island that would welcome persons of different religions.
A graduate of Cambridge University (England), he retained sympathy for working people and diverse views. His ideas were ahead of his time. He was an early critic of imperialism, insisting that European kings had no right to grant land charters because American land belonged to the Indians. Williams also believed in the separation between church and state -- still a fundamental principle in America today. He held that the law courts should not have the power to punish people for religious reasons -- a stand that undermined the strict New England theocracies. A believer in equality and democracy, he was a lifelong friend of the Indians. Williams's numerous books include one of the first phrase books of Indian languages, A Key Into the Language of America (1643). The book also is an embryonic ethnography, giving bold descriptions of Indian life based on the time he had lived among the tribes. Each chapter is devoted to one topic -- for example, eating and mealtime. Indian words andphrases pertaining to this topic are mixed with comments, anecdotes, and a concluding poem. The end of the first chapter reads:
If nature's sons, both wild and tame,
Humane and courteous be,
How ill becomes it sons of God
To want humanity.
In the chapter on words about entertainment, he comments that "it is a strange truth that a man shall generally find more free entertainment and refreshing among these barbarians, than amongst thousands that call themselves Christians."
Williams's life is uniquely inspiring. On a visit to England during the bloody Civil War there, he drew upon his survival in frigid New England to organize firewood deliveries to the poor of London during the winter, after their supply of coal had been cut off. He wrote lively defenses of religious toleration not only for different Christian sects, but also for non-Christians. "It is the will and command of God, that...a permission of the most Paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or Antichristian consciences and worships, be granted to all men, in all nations...," he wrote in The Bloody Tenet of Persecution for Cause of Conscience (1644). The intercultural experience of living among gracious and humane Indians undoubtedly accounts for much of his wisdom.
Influence was two-way in the colonies. For example, John Eliot translated the Bible into Narragansett. Some Indians converted to Christianity. Even today, the Native American church is a mixture of Christianity and Indian traditional belief.
The spirit of toleration and religious freedom that gradually grew in the American colonies was first established in Rhode Island and Pennsylvania, home of the Quakers. The humane and tolerant Quakers, or "Friends," as they were known, believed in the sacredness of the individual conscience as the fountainhead of social order and morality. The fundamental Quaker belief in universal love and brotherhood made them deeply democratic and opposed to dogmatic religious authority. Driven out of strict Massachusetts, which feared their influence, they established a very successful colony, Pennsylvania, under William Penn in 1681.
John Woolman (1720-1772)
The best-known Quaker work is the long The Journal and Major Essays of John Woolman, documenting his inner life in a pure, heartfelt style of great sweetness that has drawn praise from many American and English writers. This remarkable man left his comfortable home in town to sojourn with the Indians in the wild interior because he thought he might learn from them and share their ideas. He writes simply of his desire to "feel and understand their life, and the Spirit they live in." Woolman's justice-loving spirit naturally turns to social criticism: "I perceived that many white People do often sell Rum to the Indians, which, I believe, is a great Evil."
Woolman was also one of the first antislavery writers, publishing two essays, Some Considerations on the Keeping of Negroes in 1754 and 1762. An ardent humanitarian, he followed a path of "passive obedience" to authorities and laws he foundunjust, prefiguring Henry David Thoreau's celebrated essay, Civil Disobedience (1849), by generations.
Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)
The antithesis of John Woolman is Jonathan Edwards, who was born only 17 years before the Quaker notable. Woolman had little formal schooling; Edwards was highly educated. Woolman followed his inner light; Edwards was devoted to the law and authority. Both men were fine writers, but they reveal opposite poles of the colonial religious experience.
Edwards was molded by his extreme sense of duty and by the rigid Puritan environment, which conspired to make him defend strict and gloomy Calvinism from the forces of liberalism springing up around him. He is best known for his frightening, powerful sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God / (A Pure Gold Classic) (Classic Collection) (1741):
[I]f God should let you go, you would immediately sink, and sinfully descend, and plunge into the bottomless gulf....The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked....he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the bottomless gulf.
Edwards's sermons had enormous impact, sending whole congregations into hysterical fits of weeping. In the long run, though, their grotesque harshness alienated people from the Calvinism that Edwards valiantly defended. Edwards's dogmatic, medieval sermons no longer fit the experiences of relatively peaceful, prosperous 18th-century colonists. After Edwards, fresh, liberal currents of tolerance gathered force.
LITERATURE IN THE SOUTHERN AND MIDDLE COLONIES
Pre-revolutionary southern literature was aristocratic and secular, reflecting the dominant social and economic systems of the southern plantations. Early English immigrants were drawn to the southern colonies because of economic opportunity rather than religious freedom.
Although many southerners were poor farmers or tradespeople living not much better than slaves, the southern literate upper class was shaped by the classical, Old World ideal of a noble landed gentry made possible by slavery. The institution released wealthy southern whites from manual labor, afforded them leisure, and made the dream of an aristocratic life in the American wilderness possible. The Puritan emphasis on hard work, education and earnestness was rare -- instead we hear of such pleasures as horseback riding and hunting. The church was the focus of a genteel social life, not a forum for minute examinations of conscience.
William Byrd (1674-1744)
Southern culture naturally revolved around the ideal of the gentleman. A Renaissance man equally good at managing a farm and reading classical Greek, he had the power of a feudal lord.
William Byrd describes the gracious way of life at his plantation, Westover, in his famous letter of 1726 to his English friend Charles Boyle, Earl of Orrery:
Besides the advantages of pure air, we abound in all kinds of provisions without expense (I mean we who have plantations). I have a large family of my own, and my doors are open to everybody, yet I have no bills to pay, and half- a-crown will rest undisturbed in my pockets for many moons altogether.
Like one of the patriarchs, I have my flock and herds, my bondmen and bondwomen, and every sort of trade amongst my own servants, so that I live in a kind of independence on everyone but Providence...
William Byrd epitomizes the spirit of the southern colonial gentry. The heir to 1,040 hectares, which he enlarged to 7,160 hectares, he was a merchant, trader, and planter. His library of 3,600 books was the largest in the South. He was born with a lively intelligence that his father augmented by sending him to excellent schools in England and Holland. He visited the French Court, became a Fellow of the Royal Society, and was friendly with some of the leading English writers of his day, particularly William Wycherley and William Congreve. His London diaries are the opposite of those of the New England Puritans, full of fancy dinners, glittering parties, and womanizing, with little introspective soul-searching.
Byrd is best known today for his lively History of the Dividing Line, a diary of a 1729 trip of some weeks and 960 kilometers into the interior to survey the line dividing the neighboring colonies of Virginia and North Carolina. The quick impressions that vast wilderness, Indians, half-savage whites, wild beasts, and every sort of difficulty made on this civilized gentleman form a uniquely American and very southern book. He ridicules the first Virginia colonists, "about a hundred men, most of them reprobates of good families," and jokes that at Jamestown, "like true Englishmen, they built a church that cost no more than fifty pounds, and a tavern that cost five hundred." Byrd's writings are fine examples of the keen interest Southerners took in the material world: the land, Indians, plants, animals, and settlers.
Robert Beverley (c. 1673-1722)
Robert Beverley, another wealthy planter and author of THE HISTORY AND PRESENT STATE OF VIRGINIA A selection (1705, 1722) records the history of the Virginia colony in a humane and vigorous style. Like Byrd, he admired the Indians and remarked on the strange European superstitions about Virginia -- for example, the belief "that the country turns all people black who go there." He noted the great hospitality of southerners, a trait maintained today.
Humorous satire -- a literary work in which human vice or folly is attacked through irony, derision, or wit -- appears frequently in the colonial South. A group of irritated settlers lampooned Georgia's philanthropic founder, General James Oglethorpe, in a tract entitled A True and Historical Narrative of the Colony of Georgia (1741). They pretended to praise him for keeping them so poor and overworked that they had to develop "the valuable virtue of humility" and shun "the anxieties of any further ambition."
The rowdy, satirical poem The Sotweed Factor satirizes the colony of Maryland, where the author, an Englishman named Ebenezer Cook, had unsuccessfully tried his hand as a tobacco merchant. Cook exposed the crude ways of the colony with high-spirited humor, and accused the colonists of cheating him. The poem concludes with an exaggerated curse: "May wrath divine then lay those regions waste / Where no man's faithful nor a woman chaste."
In general, the colonial South may fairly be linked with a light, worldly, informative, and realistic literary tradition. Imitative of English literary fashions, the southerners attained imaginative heights in witty, precise observations of distinctive New World conditions.
Olaudah Equiano (Gustavus Vassa) (c. 1745-c. 1797)
Important black writers like Olaudah Equiano and Jupiter Hammon emerged during the colonial period. Equiano, an Ibo from Niger (West Africa), was the first black in America to write an autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano: Written by Himself (Bedford Series in History & Culture). In the book - - an early example of the slave narrative genre -- Equiano gives an account of his native land and the horrors and cruelties of his captivity and enslavement in the West Indies. Equiano, who converted to Christianity, movingly laments his cruel "un-Christian" treatment by Christians -- a sentiment many African-Americans would voice in centuries to come.
Jupiter Hammon (c. 1720-c. 1800)
The black American poet Jupiter Hammon, a slave on Long Island, New York, is remembered for his religious poems as well as for An address to the negroes in the state of New York (In Narrative of the uncommon suffering ... By Briton Hammon) (1787), in which he advocated freeing children of slaves instead of condemning them to hereditary slavery. His poem An Evening Thought was the first poem published by a black male in America.
5) Carol Hurst's Children's Literature site. Children's stories told during the Colonial period in America.
6) Life in Colonial America
7) American Revolution - Grades 5-7
"The Time Has Come to Make a Choice" by Jo Ann Brown, Teacher, F. J. Dutile School, Billerica, MA
Living Adventures from American History: VOLUME 1
Running Time: 1 Hour
Tapes $11.95 - CD's $14.95
Paul Revere –
The Midnight Ride for Freedom
Paul Revere’s historic ride through the North End of Boston that sparked the American Revolution for freedom from King George of England.
Two Soldiers –
One Winter’s Day at Valley Forge
The dramatic story of how two shivering young soldiers kept America’s hopes alive during the bitter cold winter at Valley Forge.
Molly Pitcher –
The Lady with the Cannon
The inspirational story of how a teenage girl in pigtails, carrying only a pitcher, was the true winner in America’s vital victory in the Battle of Monmouth.
Nathan Hale –
The Spy who Died a Hero. A passionate story of how a young American officer sacrificed his life to safeguard George Washington’s fight for freedom.
9) Look for stories like the Jack Tales, which were brought over by English, Irish, and even German (Hans) settlers during the colonial period and became concentrated in Appalachia as that area was settled. Specifically, look for Jack in Two Worlds: Contemporary North American Tales and Their Tellers (Publications of the American Folklore Society), ed. by William Bernard McCarthy (1994) - to my mind, an essential work.
I found this a difficult topic to research for an American Studies class on the colonial period. I found I had to look first at books on colonial settling that emphasized folk cultures, such as Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America (America: a Cultural History) by David Hackett Fischer and a few books by Bernard Bailyn, such as Voyagers to the West: A Passage in the Peopling of America on the Eve of the Revolution (probably too densely academic for your needs) to get discussion of folk traditions that were present and how they interacted, but I found very little on specific tales - more on music, folk medicine, witchcraft, etc. Then I had to extrapolate to see which tales from European cultures would have been prevalent at that time period in Europe and were apparently brought with them, judging from the variants found in both continents.
Also look at American Folklore (The Chicago History of American Civilization) by Richard Dorson (1964) or Handbook of American Folklore (A Midland Book) , ed. by Dorson (1983) for more background on folklore and folk culture, not necessarily folk tales.
Richard Chase's Grandfather Tales is another good collection of tales that would probably have been told at this time - tales like Whitebear Whittington and Sody Sallyratus, not only Jack Tales. What is difficult, of course, is not so much determining "which" tales were told as what "versions" of the tales were told at that time, since they would probably have changed from the versions that we know that were collected at a later date.
Also, of course, look for tales of American Indians in various regions, which would certainly have been told, although not necessarily to colonial settlers, as well as African Americans.
Vicky D. 11/16/05
Created 2003; last update 7/17/09.
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