The Captors' Narrative: Catholic Women and Their Puritan Men on the Early American Frontier

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9780801440595: The Captors' Narrative: Catholic Women and Their Puritan Men on the Early American Frontier

Between 1690 and 1760, close to two thousand New Englanders were taken captive by French Canadians and their Native American allies during five intercolonial wars. Puritan propagandists reacted by evoking the vulnerability of New England's homes and Protestant faith with images of captive women in sexual peril, a titillating vision only amplified in popular Victorian and modern portrayals of female captives as stock literary figures. In The Captors' Narrative, William Henry Foster demonstrates that the majority of Anglo-American captives taken along the New England frontier were, in fact, men.

Free French Canadian women (both secular and monastic) routinely became the men's captors and benefited from their labor when they were brought to New France. In testimonials written by returning male captives, Foster finds fascinating instances of protest and resistance against the female authority that Protestant New England deemed "illegitimate." In the tales of Catholic women captors, Foster uncovers evidence that the control of male captive domestic labor expanded the public roles of the women in charge. The author painstakingly reconstructs the lived experience of both captors and captives to show that captivity was always intertwined with gender struggles. The Captors' Narrative provides a novel perspective on the struggles over female authority pervasive in the early modern Atlantic world.

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About the Author:

William Henry Foster is Keasbey Research Fellow in American Studies, Selwyn College, University of Cambridge.

Review:

"Foster contributes to recent scholarship that places Colonial New England in wider social and geographic contexts by examining the Puritans' relationships with their Native American and French Canadian neighbors and frequent foes. . . . The inversion of Puritan gender roles―women supervised men and often assigned them to 'women's work'―socially emasculated the men, a position so humiliating that captivity narratives neglected descriptions of female captors, denied them agency, or portrayed them as stylized savage squaws, maidens of salvation, or surrogate mothers. Recommended."―Choice, November 2003



"Many British-American men lived under the wing or, as Foster tells it, under the thumb of women in New France. His book's title tells us that it is also about French Canada's Catholic women, but it is more sympathetic to New England captive men and underlines the gender differences for those men as opposed to their sisters and female counterparts. . . . Foster presents us with captive stories from three points of view: French-Canadian women and New England Puritan men and women. He writes well, raises questions, and gives some answers on peace and war, on prisoners of war, on women's versus men's advantages and disadvantages in war, and about trying to get along with neighbors with different languages, religions, and cultures. His book is a good place to ponder all of these problems."―June Namias, American Historical Review, April 2004



"Foster's suggestive study, rich in original data and stories of cross-cultural interactions, will prompt new questions about both the relation of archive to narrative and the categories we use to interpret the complexity of early colonial identities."―Teresa Toulouse, William and Mary Quarterly, April 2004



"Foster suggests that male captives published their accounts not only to promote Anglo-American cultural superiority but also as a personal means of redeeming their own masculinity and authority. . . . The Captors' Narrative is a well-thought and well-written contribution to the study of female authority in colonial America. At the same time, it is an important corrective to the growing literature on captivity narratives."―Emerson W. Baker, Journal of American History, June 2004



"The Captors' Narrative is a fresh and exciting book that sheds light on the complex intercultural nature of the North American frontier. It will appeal to those interested in New England, New France, Native Americans, and gender."―Leslie Choquette, Assumption College



"William Henry Foster's research and his familiarity with the historical and genealogical scholarship about New France are comprehensive. This book offers more than just a contribution to the history of captivity―readers of The Captors' Narrative will learn a lot about life in colonial Montreal and Quebec and how it differed from life in New England."―Gordon Sayre, University of Oregon



"Foster's fascinating book turns gender roles upside down in early modern North America. It is a remarkable account of the women captors in New France who exerted control over male captives from New England and the stunned response of those men whose masculinity was so surprisingly violated."―Elaine Forman Crane, author of Killed Strangely: The Death of Rebecca Cornell

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Foster, William Henry
Editorial: Cornell University Press (2003)
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Foster, William Henry
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Foster, William Henry
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