“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

Black Patriotic Masculinity in the Letters of Impressed Sailor Jacob Israel Potter

Black men in early America strived for masculine recognition in their society which did not provide many opportunities for Black men to publicly present themselves as men. In 2007, through The William and Mary Quarterly, maritime historian W. Jeffrey Bolster published “Letters by African American Sailors, 1799-1814,” which is useful in examining how Black men performed masculinity to not only provide for themselves and their families, but also to provide opportunities to be recognized as men. In my first post for The Junto, I decided to focus on the life of one of the Black sailors involved in the letters named Jacob Israel Potter. As an early nineteenth century impressed, or captured, Black sailor from Lewes, Delaware by the British Royal Navy, conceptually speaking, the parameters of freedom were far different for him as a person of African descent than someone white. Generally, Black freedom was always in tension with Black mobility. Scholars like Elizabeth Pryor examine this tension in the lives of Black antebellum activists from the late 1820s until just before the Civil War, but this post, in part, examines this tension with the added caveats of how Black masculinity and Black patriotism coincided with this tension as well.[1] Continue reading

Shadows of History in the Boston Marathon Manhunt

lexingtonandconcordPublic radio station WHYY in Philadelphia airs BBC World Update at 5 a.m. on weekdays. So on Friday morning, oddly enough, it was from the British Broadcasting Corporation rather than any domestic service that I heard surprising news from Boston.

During the night, police had chased two bombing (and robbery) suspects through the labyrinthine streets of Cambridge and Watertown, engaging in at least one major firefight along the way. Now the police seemed to be laying siege to a Watertown neighborhood. The reports at that hour were confused and confusing–not to mention frequently wrong. But as the hunt for the surviving terrorist suspect continued during the day, it became clear that the story was also, in several different ways, strangely familiar.

Continue reading