The Grammar Of Kinship: Black And Native Intimacies In The Nineteenth Century
Recent scholarship on Black and Native studies has brought new focus to the entangled histories of Black and Indigenous presence in the Americas. Less attention, however, has been paid to interrogating how Black and Indigenous intimacies have been effaced in the American literary canon. My dissertation, “The Grammar of Kinship: Black and Native Intimacies in the 19th Century” extends this discourse by exploring these intermeshed histories and the literary and legal documents that record, regulate, prohibit and deny this history. Building on the work of scholars in Black and Indigenous studies, such as Mark Rifkin, Tiffany Lethabo King, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Robyn Maynard, and Jodi Byrd, this dissertation constructs a theory of intimacy and kinship in the context of non-belonging, settler colonialism and impossible citizenship. Through turning to a diverse range of works by Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Lydia Maria Child, Dion Bouicault, Harriet Jacobs, and E.Pauline Johnson, “The Grammar of Kinship” examines how enslaved and formerly enslaved Afro-Cherokees, African American and Indigenous writers produced radical responses to the reorganization of their kinship networks. A primary aim of the project is to challenge the assumptions and critical frameworks that make it virtually impossible to think about Black and Indigenous people in relation. The first chapter, “Testimonials of Intergenerational Kinship: Afro-Cherokee Practices of Family and Belonging” traces the emerging discourse of race in early 19th century Cherokee law, which excluded African peoples from citizenship and political participation, and from the terms of kinship and belonging. I examine several legal documents—a slave petition filed by William Shoe Boots, who was a Cherokee military officer to emancipate the three children born to his enslaved Black wife, Doll, her land bounty application, and the citizenship applications of their children, and argue that despite the failure of these documents to grant either freedom or citizenship, they are important representations of the imagined possibilities and alternative modes of conceptualizing sociopolitical living, and Black and Native intimacy. The second chapter, “Unnatural Bonds: Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Lydia Maria Child and the Frontier Romance” examines how the narrative construction of Black and Native non-relationality shaped early American frontier romances. It explores how the ideological work of the frontier romance transposed Anglo-Indian violent conflict into accounts of love and friendship, and this intimacy required positioning Black and Native people in opposition or by erasing the physical presence of Black people. The third chapter, “Performing Black and Native Bonds in Dion Boucicault’s The Octoroon” focuses on two understudied figures in the play—Paul, a slave and Wahnotee, a Lipan Apache, and rereads their pairing as situated in the coercive, colonial language of friendship and Black kinlessness. The final chapter pairs Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of A Slave Girl with Canadian Mohawk writer E. Pauline Johnson’s performance poetry and short story “A Red Girl’s Reasoning.” The chapter focuses on the ways in which the two writers mobilized distinct political subjectivities that converged around the social and political critique of the foundations of settler concepts of family and motherhood. Through an interdisciplinary and intertextual approach, this dissertation reinserts the testimonials of enslaved Afro-Cherokee people into a literary frame that opens new understandings of histories of slavery and articulations of settler colonialism, dispossession and sovereignty more broadly. In reading frontier fiction, slave narratives, and racial melodrama alongside the testimonials of enslaved Afro-Cherokee women, this project aims to illuminate new literary forms and intimacies between Black and Indigenous people that emerged over the course of the nineteenth-century.
Saidiya V. Hartman