Early American History Seminar: Sarah Pearsall, Andrews University, Scotland

Early American History and Culture Seminar
Thursday, April 21, 2005

5:30 pm to 7:00 pm

“Tyranny and Sympathy: Trans-Atlantic Family Correspondence in the Age of Revolution
Sarah Pearsall, Andrews University, Scotland
Would the husband return to his wife after the war ended? This question vexed fictional and historical couples during the American Revolutionary War. The War divided not only countries but also married couples, who, even in peace, sometimes found themselves separated by the Atlantic. The microhistory of Charles and Catherine Dudley, like many similar stories, raises significant issues about marriage and gender in a state of political, economic, and military flux. This paper argues that emphasis on ties of marriage kept connections up across war and the Atlantic, even as it also signaled disagreement and the complex working out of domestic authority. The destructiveness of war forced couples into liminal settings, as households were broken apart. These settings propelled a re-thinking of the strength of sentimental ties, in a world in which such sentiment often received little reward. Letters were a critical means for many to keep together and also to re-order their worlds. This paper, like the larger project from which it comes, interrogates letters from families divided by the Atlantic in a revolutionary age in order both to argue for the strength of transatlantic epistolary sensibility, especially in the hands of women, and to delineate its limits.