Guest Post: Julia de Recour, the Digital Archive, and the Histories of Atlantic Children of Color

Baltimore

Vue du Port de Baltimore, ca. 1834 by Louis Garneray (photo courtesy of the Enoch Pratt Free Library)

Today’s Guest Post comes from Nathan H. Dize, Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of French and Italian at Vanderbilt University.  He specializes in Haitian literature and history. His dissertation, currently entitled “Mortuary Poetics: Power and the Performance of Mourning in the Haitian Literary Imaginary,” explores how Haitian writers and artists revivify the dead through creative acts of mourning to challenge official memories and mythologies of the Haitian past. He is a content curator, translator, and editor of A Colony in Crisis: The Saint-Domingue Grain Shortage of 1789.  He is also the co-editor of the H-Haiti series “Haiti in Translation,” which interviews translators of Haitian writing. Nathan has published articles, reviews, and translations in journals such as sx archipelagos, the Journal of Haitian StudiesFrancosphèresSX SalonContemporary French Civilization, and the Haitian History Journal of which he is also an advisory board member. Follow him on Twitter @NathanHDize.

In September 1782, Julia de Recour boarded the St. Patrick in Cap Français with her mother, a woman of about 40, to join some relations in Baltimore. When she arrived, Charles Biddle writes that she had the “good fortune” of attracting the French First Consul, Charles François Adrien Le Paulmier le Chevalier d’Annemours, who immediately took her as his wife.[1] Biddle describes Julia as a lively French lady and a “spritely brown girl of 16.”[2] Biddle’s account of Julia’s travel on the St. Patrick is shrouded in innuendo, particularly when Julia took to the ship’s deck in the cold to dance and “perform some other monkey tricks.”[3] Without providing more information Biddle writes in his autobiography that we do not know when or where Julia died, but that it is reasonable to believe that she was not living in 1792. As Saidiya Hartman once wrote of the enslaved girl immortalized in William Wilberforce’s speech before the House of Commons in April of 1792, “a few musty lines […] are the entire story of a girl’s life.”[4]

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Guest Post: “young appearance”: Assessing Age through Appearance in Early America

Holly+Headshot_2bw[2]Today’s guest post comes from Holly N.S. White (Ph.D., College of William & Mary) who is an assistant editor of Publications and Digital Projects at the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and an assistant producer of Ben Franklin’s World: A Podcast about Early American History. She specializes in the history of age, childhood, and youth as well as the histories of gender, family, and law in the early America. Her research focuses on the definition and negotiability of age in early American law and society, which is the subject of her forthcoming first book, Negotiating American Youth: Age, Law, and Culture in the Early Nineteenth Century.

Children and adolescents are regularly described as big for their age, small for their age, or mature for their age– but what purpose does it serve to judge a person’s age against their appearance? Today, with birth certificates to prove our age it doesn’t actually mean much. But in early America, where no such formalized, institutionally supported forms of record keeping existed, appearing young or old relative to one’s age could have significant ramifications on a person’s life. Continue reading

Part of the Long History of Child Trafficking: 18th-Century French Louisiana

2005-0011As we continue to learn more about the seizure and internment of migrant infants and children, both along the U.S.-Mexico border and in ICE raids throughout the nation, historians have asked us to wrestle with our long history of child-snatching, family separation, and child trafficking. I’ve read these pieces with a keen sense that while this is a particularly acute theme in American history, separating and abducting children from their families has been a tactic that many regimes have used for centuries to bolster their power. Whether we’re discussing slavery, the expulsion of Moriscos from Spain, or even pronatalist policies to populate early modern colonies, trafficking children has been an enduring state tactic. As a historian of #VastEarlyAmerica, with a focus on the French context, I keep thinking about the growth of the Louisiana colony in the eighteenth century. In addition to the forced migration and abduction of thousands of enslaved Africans, many of whom were children and adolescents, eighteenth-century French Louisiana was also populated with trafficked French children. Continue reading

Why We Doubt Capable Children: Constructing Childhood in the Revolutionary Era

Mann_Page_Elizabeth_Page_John_Wollaston“My friends and I might still be 11, and we might still be in elementary school, but we know . . . that we have seven short years until we too have the right to vote.”[1] Speaking at the March for Our Lives event, 11-year old Naomi Wadler eloquently reminded us that childhood is ephemeral. Since they are future voters, she warned Capitol Hill to take the words, emotions, and pleas of children seriously. In many ways, she was also speaking to Florida State Representative Elizabeth Porter who recently exclaimed, “The adults make the law because we have the age, we has [sic] the wisdom, and we have the experience.”[2] For many like Rep. Porter, there has been something disturbing in this moment of youth activism. It cuts to the core of social stability based on the patriarchal family order—that children are subordinate, passive members of society. We inherited this idea from the eighteenth-century revolutionary era, a point in time when age became a main determinant in who could be considered a citizen and an adult. Continue reading