In the border wars that wracked French and English colonies in northeastern North America during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, women assumed visible, often violent roles in frontier communities that blurred the lines between military and domestic actions as well as settler and soldier identities. Scholars who have noted incidents in which women take up arms in these conflicts largely see their actions as anomalous due to a lack of context and a fragmented source base. Using sources such as petitions, diaries, laws, sermons, newspapers, letters, and chronicles, this dissertation demonstrates that, far from anomalous, these incidents resulted from government policies and cultural beliefs that prompted and even encouraged women to assume central and supporting roles in these wars.
This comparative approach in studying Euro-American women in New England and New France, as well as Native women when sources permitted it, is relatively new. Women in the "northeastern borderlands" of seventeenth and eighteenth-century New England and New France remain poorly understood. This is particularly true regarding women's participation in the border wars. Often forbidden from evacuating to safety, women kept watch, worked directly with officials in administering forts, and fought alone and with their husbands when under attack. Far from marginalizing these women's actions, most important men in Euro-American societies met their activities with approval and encouragement. Political and religious leaders even used accounts of women's participation in the border wars as propaganda that served local, regional, and imperial agendas.
In the eighteenth century, a greater European military presence resulted in an increased separation of the home and the front. In response, debates arose in New England over the role of the Crown in protecting settlers whose fortified towns had previously acted as a first line of defense. In New France, where the danger shifted from the St. Lawrence River Valley to the coast, women's economic and bureaucratic roles increased, while their physical participation in the defense of the colony decreased. Stories of women's participation in these conflicts were culturally persistent, and nineteenth-century authors employed these accounts to express new identities and agendas. Appearing in both local and regional histories, stories of women's participation in the border wars both reflected and shaped a new ideology of separate spheres while justifying past, present, and future colonization of the continent. In examining women's participation in the wars of the northeastern borderlands, this dissertation complicates commonly held assumptions regarding the roles of women in early modern societies. It also argues that these roles may have been more flexible than previously recognized.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. May 2012. Major: History. Advisor: Dr. Kirsten Fischer. 1 computer file (PDF); vi, 309 pages.
Martino-Trutor, Gina Michelle.
"Her extraordinary sufferings and services": women and war in New England and New France, 1630-1763.
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