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Abraham in Arms

War and Gender in Colonial New England

By Ann M. Little

Publication Year: 2011

In 1678, the Puritan minister Samuel Nowell preached a sermon he called "Abraham in Arms," in which he urged his listeners to remember that "Hence it is no wayes unbecoming a Christian to learn to be a Souldier." The title of Nowell's sermon was well chosen. Abraham of the Old Testament resonated deeply with New England men, as he embodied the ideal of the householder-patriarch, at once obedient to God and the unquestioned leader of his family and his people in war and peace. Yet enemies challenged Abraham's authority in New England: Indians threatened the safety of his household, subordinates in his own family threatened his status, and wives and daughters taken into captivity became baptized Catholics, married French or Indian men, and refused to return to New England.

In a bold reinterpretation of the years between 1620 and 1763, Ann M. Little reveals how ideas about gender and family life were central to the ways people in colonial New England, and their neighbors in New France and Indian Country, described their experiences in cross-cultural warfare. Little argues that English, French, and Indian people had broadly similar ideas about gender and authority. Because they understood both warfare and political power to be intertwined expressions of manhood, colonial warfare may be understood as a contest of different styles of masculinity. For New England men, what had once been a masculinity based on household headship, Christian piety, and the duty to protect family and faith became one built around the more abstract notions of British nationalism, anti-Catholicism, and soldiering for the Empire.

Based on archival research in both French and English sources, court records, captivity narratives, and the private correspondence of ministers and war officials, Abraham in Arms reconstructs colonial New England as a frontier borderland in which religious, cultural, linguistic, and geographic boundaries were permeable, fragile, and contested by Europeans and Indians alike.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Early American Studies


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pp. c-ii

Title Page

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p. iii-iii

Copyright Page

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p. iv-iv


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pp. v-vi

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

List of Wars of the Northeastern Borderlands, 1636-1763

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pp. ix-x

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Introduction: Onward Christian Soldiers, 1678

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pp. 1-11

In 1678 Samuel Nowell preached an artillery election sermon he called Abraham in Arms, in which he urged New England men to remember that "Hence it is no wayes unbecoming a Christian to learn to be a Souldier, not only a Spiritual Souldier but in the true proper sence of the letter." His warning was timely, and prescient: Nowell preached in the wake of King Philip's War (also known as Metacom's Rebellion), a united Indian uprising ...

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1: "You dare not fight, you are all one like women": The Contest of Masculinities in the Seventeenth Century

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pp. 12-55

Most recent scholars of the Pequot War (1636-37) agree that it was a thinly disguised war of conquest. The Pequots were convenient targets, as they had allied with early Dutch settlements in an attempt to dominate Euro-Indian trade in the region, and therefore over the course of the previous several years the Pequots had alienated their Indian neighbors....

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2: "What are you an Indian or an Englishman?" Cultural Cross-Dressing in the Northeastern Borderlands

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pp. 56-90

Warfare on the colonial northeastern frontier was a Hobbesian test of survival: it was nasty, brutish, and often mercifully short. It was also complicated and almost hopelessly confusing: in every war, some Indians fought on the side of the English, although the same allies could be enemies in the next war, and by the 168os, the English waged wars out of rivalry with the French as well as out of a lust for Indian lands. Each side fought in a ...

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3: "Insolent" Squaws and "Unreasonable" Masters: Indian Captivity and Family Life

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pp. 91-126

For English families, being taken captive by Indians in frontier warfare was objectively a terrifying experience: their homes invaded by strange enemies, they usually witnessed the killing of some of the adult men, and then the horrifyingly brutal murder of a toddler or two. Wives and mothers, suckling infants, and children who were old enough to keep ...

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4: "A Jesuit will ruin you Body & Soul!'' Daughters of New England in Canada

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pp. 127-165

In the 1690s in the midst of the first war with New France, English depictions of frontier warfare and captivity shifted dramatically from identifying Indians as the primary danger to New England to portraying the French and their Catholicism as the chief threat to the New England way. While Indians were still formidable opponents in the battle, in New England ...

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5: "Who will be Masters of America The French or the English?" Manhood and Imperial Warfare in the Eighteenth Century

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pp. 166-204

As we have seen, English and Indian men saw war and politics as important fields for proving manhood and establishing mastery over the enemy. Similarly, when the imperial struggle between Britain and France moved to the center of wars in the northeastern borderlands, English and French men experienced their struggle in part as a contest of masculinities. ...

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Epilogue: On the Plains of Abraham

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pp. 205-208

The Plains of Abraham, site of the Battle of Quebec just outside the old city walls, today is called le Pare des Champs-de-Battaille (Battle fields Park), and the grounds are now the province of morning joggers, tour buses, and families on outings. Historians of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have used General James Wolfe's daring surprise attack on Que ...


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pp. 209-252


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pp. 253-258


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pp. 259-263

E-ISBN-13: 9780812202649
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812219616

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Early American Studies