- Navigating Rivers and Opening Territories
For over four decades, Annette Kolodny has been opening up new ways to investigate women's frontier writings. In a discussion of Elizabeth House Trist's journey, for example, Kolodny notes this particularly difficult moment: "Enduring 'excessive cold' and maneuvering treacherous inclines where the horses were 'scarce able to keep their feet' (Trist. Jan. 8, 1784), Trist nonetheless seems to have been eyeing the surrounding countryside with avid curiosity" ( The Land before Her, 39). Rather than conquering her surroundings, Trist is intent on adjusting to and evaluating them. This focusing in on the diary entry and then showing Trist's larger view illustrates Kolodny's technique of carefully integrating voice, setting, and context. This discussion expanded when Kolodny brought "The Travel Diary of Elizabeth House Trist: Philadelphia to Natchez, 1783–84" into publication for the first time in Journeys in New Worlds: Early American Women's Narratives. This volume, skillfully edited by William L. Andrews, includes four narratives with scholarly introductions: Sargent Bush, Jr., on Sarah Kemble Knight, Amy Schrager Lang on Mary Rowlandson, Daniel B. Shea on Elizabeth Ashbridge, and Kolodny on Elizabeth House Trist. Journeys in New Worldsis a model of scholarship and editing, with extensive, excellent notes and illustrations. 1
In Annette Kolodny's introduction to Trist's diary, she masterfully integrates historical context with Elizabeth Trist's own observations to draw us into this dramatic narrative. In doing so, she explains the circumstances [End Page 897]surrounding Trist's winter departure and her determination to be reunited with her husband, Nicholas Trist, who had traveled to Natchez to establish a home for Elizabeth and their young son. Regarding the text's larger significance, Kolodny notes, "as the earliest extant diary by a white woman traveling downriver to frontier Natchez, the Trist manuscript offers a unique account of the conditions of frontier life in the years immediately following the Revolution" (188). Along these lines, Kolodny describes Thomas Jefferson's interest in Trist's pending journey, the two having met in Philadelphia where Elizabeth's mother, Mary House, ran a boardinghouse. Kolodny elaborates on the interaction between this friendship and some of Trist's observations: "The description of the coal deposits outside Pittsburgh, for example, was a response both to Jefferson's interest in geography and to his political interest in the potential economic resources of the western territories" (187). These connections bring interesting dimensions to each: Trist as part of a founding westward narrative and Jefferson as an inquisitive friend eager to learn more about the frontier territory.
Kolodny's meticulous scholarship is again evident as she recounts her intensive search for the manuscript that was eventually located in the University of Virginia's Alderman Library in a collection separate from both the Trist and Jefferson family papers (introduction 198). This information also proves instructive, for not only are early American women's writings very often cataloged under a husband or father's family papers rather than by a woman's name but a diary may be even more difficult to find. After describing the diary's pages as 6 by 81/2 inches, Kolodny prefaces the manuscript with this note: "The first two pages of the diary are missing; the third page is badly torn along the right margin, and several lines along the bottom are missing" (199; Trist 201). These physical details allow us to visualize the manuscript, if not to imagine its weather-beaten state, which is all too evident in one of the first extant entries dated December 24, 1783, from Lancaster: "Arose very early with an intention to set of [sic] before Breakfast, but it set in to snow very fast which detained us till 10 O' clock." Rising rivers present another hazard, as on January 6, 1784: "My Horse cou'd scarcely keep his feet. He fell with me once, but I was so lucky as to keep my saddle" (Trist...