“We Are One”: The Confinement and Consent of Colonial American Busks

Busk Photo 1_

A busk for a woman’s stays, wood, American-made in Canada, 1782. Photo courtesy of the Museum of the American Revolution.


Welcome to #ColonialCouture, our second annual roundtable on fashion in early America and material culture in the Atlantic World, which will run here for the next two weeks.

Today’s post is by Cynthia Chin, a doctoral student at Georgetown University who is researching eighteenth-century material culture, with a particular focus on what Martha Washington’s surviving extant gowns tell us about her, and the world in which she lived. Follow her @cynthiawriter.

Off with that happy busk, which I envy…” John Donne, To His Mistress Going to Bed

While Fashion Week Fall 2018 finds iconic designer John Galliano (ironically, and not so ironically) “liberating men with corsets[1] – the women of eighteenth-century British America were confined and complexly bound by stays and busks. Women during this period wore stays[2], often with a busk inserted inside. A busk is a flat, stiff, oblong object, and in eighteenth-century British America, most frequently carved from wood.[3] Providing additional structure and shaping to a pair of stays, a busk would be slipped inside a vertical channel in the stay’s center-front.[4] The wearing of a busk ensured that a woman achieved the fashionable (and socially prescribed) straight, flat, conical, enlongated torso that dominated the female aesthetic in the long eighteenth century. Continue reading

Guest Review: Never Caught: Ona Judge, the Washingtons, and the Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave

Guest reviewer Shana L. Haines is an Assistant Professor of English at Tidewater Community College in Portsmouth, Virginia. She is currently a Ph.D student in American Studies at William and Mary focusing on Race, Law, and Literature. She has her J.D. from Boston University School of Law and her Masters in British and American Literature from Hunter College.

Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Never Caught: Ona Judge, the Washingtons, and the Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017).

screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-11-19-43-pmOn May 21, 1796, as George and Martha Washington ate their supper in the Philadelphia Executive Mansion, their twenty-two year old house slave, Ona Judge, walked out of the house and into freedom. With the help of the free black community in Philadelphia, Judge made her way to Portsmouth, New Hampshire where the free black community and white supporters provided refuge.

One would expect the fatherly and compassionate George Washington of Hamilton or the stately Washington staring out from Mt. Rushmore over the South Dakota landscape would respond by—well, the Washingtons as slaveholders aren’t a topic that has had entered general discussion in the American collective consciousness. He’s the Revolutionary War hero, the elder statesman, the first President of the United States of America. Through Ona Judge’s story of flight and freedom, however, Dunbar presents us with another Washington; a Washington willing to abuse his office and power to hunt another human being. Even more revealing is how Judge’s enslavement and subsequent flight underscores Martha Washington’s unwavering support of slavery and the outrage that fueled her husband’s pursuit of Judge.
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The Week in Early American History

TWEAH

We have an abundance of links for your Sunday morning reading pleasure. Read on, fellow early Americanists:

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